Forget Resolutions: Make Real Changes for You and Your Career in 2014

Photograph by Gallery Stock

Let’s agree not to make any ordinary resolutions this year. No tangible goals around money, titles, or acquired objects. No banal promises to be kinder, wiser, bolder, or gentler. Leave the increased time spent smelling roses to someone else. I’m talking real changes here. If you want to step out of the rut, cut a new track, or create a new purpose and energy around your work and life, you’re going to have to come at it in an entirely new way. So before you read further, grab a pencil and piece of paper. (Yes, put your smartphone down.) Let’s lay the groundwork to make some real changes in the coming year. Give yourself your full attention for a minute or two and consider the following questions:

Instead of asking, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” try this: “Who do I want to be? How do I want to feel when I wake up in the morning?” By shifting the focus onto being instead of getting, you multiply the potential paths you can take to get there.

One client told me he just wanted to get off the treadmill of his job. I started where I always do with clients who are feeling restless: What does your dream life look like? To this, he replied, “Tropical informality, hosting an intimate group of friends at a beachfront home in Miami.” The big problem with his dream was that he lived in Chicago! So we broke the Miami beach scenario into its components and discovered that my client’s dream life boiled down to authenticity. In every aspect of his life, he wanted to be real. He was able to start that journey once he was able to name it. Being real drew the attention of his next employer, who liked ’s honesty and genuine interest in his work and his people. My client hasn’t made it to Miami yet, but he is now working and living an authentic life on Chicago’s lakefront. The beach is a stone’s throw away.

A further question you might consider: When you look up from your laptop, what do you see? Who are you working with? Where are you? What are you working on? What does it feel like to work? Thirty years ago, just out of college, I made a list describing what my ideal work life would look like. It would take time to get there, to be sure, but this wasn’t about a job. It was about crafting a life. I knew my work wouldn’t be done from an office. (no 9 to 5 for me!) I would be out in the world, thinking hard and fast, moving from project to project. Work would always be new and challenging. I rediscovered that list not long ago, wedged into an old book; as an executive coach and consultant, I can honestly say I’m living the dream of my college-grad self.

When you can name what it is you want—when you can create a vivid image of what your dream life looks like—you set in motion the capacity to change your life. You will see that you already have some of the things you are looking for. Where your life falls short of the dream, you will be able to identify the smaller steps necessary to move in the right direction. By making concrete the images that make up your dream life, you light up a subconscious awareness. Our brains are wired to seek and confirm what we know. When you know what you want and make it imaginable, you are not only primed to grasp that perfect opportunity when it passes in front of you. You prepare yourself to take action in pursuit of your goals.

You don’t need to make a New Year’s resolution to get closer to your dream life. But you do need to know what you want. On Jan. 1, make your dream life real. Write it down in all its wonderful detail. Then look up. The first opportunity to take a step closer may be right in front of you.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.