I had a real moment of clarity this week, and I have to tell you, there is nothing better!
It started when I had dinner with two very dear friends of mine. We hadn't seen each other for a while, so it was a great opportunity to catch up. I was curious as to how they were going - both in very big, very busy senior roles in corporate land. They were just as curious to see how I was going since departing that same corporate land to build my own business.
I described what I had been doing, and the push/pull reality of starting up a business. That endless balancing between making sure you give your existing clients outstanding value and a great experience, and the constant need to be doing business development and getting your message out there.
As an aside, even when you are an established and successful business, you can't neglect one over the other. I have seen many businesses on the cusp of failure because they relentlessly chase new business at the expense of existing and loyal clients, and I have also seen others come to grief because they don't have a sustainable model in place and avoid marketing and business development work at all costs.
In my case, I recounted to my friends that whilst I had brilliant clients already, I was very conscious that I had to always be planning ahead for future growth. It was at this point that one of my mates asked "...but don't you just trust that the universe will make it happen when you are ready?" She went on to say that in her career (which is both diverse and impressive), opportunities had "just appeared at the right time" rather than her overtly planning for them.
This was a great question for me, because if you had asked me two years ago how I had gone about planning my career, I would have said pretty much the same thing - I never planned it, I never set my sights on particular roles, and opportunities 'just' came from being "tapped on the shoulder".
Our conversation made me think about these two different schools of thought - one being that you meticulously plan and 'hunt down' every opportunity, and the other - when the time is right, the path will unfold before you.
For me, neither of those approaches rings completely true.
Upon reflection, my approach to succeeding in both my previous career and now in my own business, is the same. Whilst I am not someone who plans to the nth degree, I also don't just sit back and wait for opportunities to emerge.
So what is it that I actually do?
I figured out that I spend my time doing the things that will set up an environment conducive to 'producing' opportunities. This environment is made up a few component parts:
I set up a clear vision (what I want to achieve at a big picture level);
I reverse-engineer that vision and figure out how I will achieve it (my goals);
I adopt a very disciplined approach to where I spend my energy, time and focus (this is the difference between drowning in 'busyness' and being productive);
I invest significantly in continuous learning, having high quality mentors and developing my skills; and
I surround myself with people that I respect, admire and aspire to be like.
If I look back at my 20+ year career, I realise that I have been doing this for a long time, although in the early days it was more by instinct than design. It's true that I never mapped out my career, but I did create an environment around myself that meant opportunities 'found' me:
I was open to change;
I threw myself into getting the best results I could in whatever the job was at the time;
I jumped at challenges;
I was always striving to be better;
I invested in growing my skills and experience; and
I surrounded myself with great people.
How does this relate back to the advice I give to my clients now? If you have worked with me in the past, are working with me now, or are yet to take the leap and are still just reading and observing, you will see the link very clearly. What I am describing here are actually the foundations that I talk about and employ every single day with my clients - both aspiring corporate leaders and ambitious entrepreneurs:
Get clear on what you want from life;
Have a vision that serves as your north star;
Make sure that you are disciplined in aligning your time, energy and focus (your most precious resources) to achieving that vision;
Constantly invest in improving yourself and developing your skills; and
Surround yourself with people that you respect, admire and aspire to be like.
The fact is, that these foundations transcend what you do, and relate more to the how and the why. Once you get this right, it's true - the right opportunities will 'appear' before you..as if by magic!