We’re approaching the time of year when you’re “supposed to” set new year resolutions for the year ahead and goals for your career and life.

Whether this is a happy thought for you or fills you with dread, there’s another more foundational way to prepare yourself for the year to come. One that’s energizing and inspiring.

It’s about setting a personal vision for yourself. One that acts as a guiding light throughout the year. A beacon to head toward rather than a list of goals and promises you make to yourself but might struggle to keep.

Here are three questions to ask yourself instead:

  • Who do I want to become in a year’s time?
  • What circles do I want to be traveling in?
  • How do I want to be creating value in the world?

These questions are helpful because they allow you to take a holistic view of yourself. With our lives and work increasingly intermingled, it’s important to view yourself as a whole person, not a series of separate compartments.

These questions also provide you with the equivalent of a compass, not a map. With things changing all the time, it’s far more useful to have a compass that guides you rather than a map that can become outdated and lead you astray.

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Who do you want to become in a year’s time?

This is about the kind of person you want to be rather than a set of accomplishments you want to check off your list. In other words, it’s about being rather than doing.

For example, maybe you want to become someone who feels comfortable in your own skin. Having the confidence that leads to your speaking up without anxiety. It’s a feeling you’ll have, not a task to accomplish. And you can envision how that will feel once you’ve arrived. Maybe you already feel it when you’re with your closest friends and you’d like to extend that to the situations at work where it will help you be at your best.

For me, it’s to become someone who doesn’t worry about things outside of my control. I can envision the freedom that comes from putting down the mental baggage of worrying. I’ll be able to do more and enjoy life more as well.

When I was in my corporate career, it was about being aligned with my values. For years, I said that my family came first but then never took my husband’s calls when I was in the office.

One day as I was talking to my boss’s boss, the call director yelled across the trading desk that it was my husband on the line. I shouted back my usual, “I’ll call him back”. My boss’s boss insisted that I pick up the call, saying, “you would pick up a client call, and your husband is more important than your client”.

My husband was amazed to hear my voice on the line. And appreciative. From that day on, I gave my husband “client status” and always picked up his phone calls. So, I became the kind of person who honors my family and actually puts them first.

How about you? Who do you want to become in a year’s time? And what steps can you take toward being that person?

Which brings us to the second question.

What circles do you want to be traveling in?

This is another way to think about the people you want to be spending time with and the ideas you want to expose yourself to.

If your career aspirations include becoming a CEO one day, you may want to broaden your network of relationships to include places where you can rub shoulders with senior thought leaders. And if you’re interested in becoming more creative, then it could mean expanding your connections in the arts arena. 

When you know which circles you want to be traveling in, you’ll have an easier time deciding what events to attend and how to invest in your network.

For example, the $30,000 investment required to spend a week with Sir Richard Branson and a dozen people on Neckar Island could be a no-brainer if you aspire to truly senior circles and want to be among interesting people… and an extravagant expenditure to someone with different interests.

Imagine what would happen when you’re around senior thought leaders more of the time. Would it make you feel more comfortable to approach senior level clients? And like my client Susan, could it raise your awareness of the issues and opportunities that top management cares most about while at the same time developing a greater understanding of what “gravitas” and “executive presence” looks, feels and sounds like?

And it might be refreshing and energizing for you to spend time with artists and musicians who have a completely different way of looking at the world and bring this back to transform your own work.

This is what I discovered when I went on an artist’s creative retreat to learn jazz piano earlier this year. The lessons on improvisation showed me the importance of being relaxed and “in the moment”.  I experienced what it’s like to have there be no “wrong” notes and no single right way to do things. It’s all about giving yourself the permission and freedom to create something without judging it.

What might you pick up from being around a different circle of people and how could this influence your career and life in a positive way?

Which leads us to the third question.

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How do you want to be creating value in the world?

Most of us want to do something meaningful. To contribute to the world in some way. It could be through your work, the personal projects you take on or some combination. What does that look like for you?

During my investment banking career, the way I created value had little to do with finance or capital markets or any of the technical skills I was using. In fact, I often felt like a fish out of water. Like I didn’t really belong.

It was only through conversations I had with my husband that I realized I was creating value by bringing positivity to all my interactions, whether with clients or colleagues. This in turn brought out the best in the people around me and enabled them to create value.

And with few female Chinese bankers, I was also creating value simply by being there and showing it was possible.

These days, I like to create value by sharing what I’ve learned and helping others reach their potential.

For you, it might be to create something of beauty through your hobby as a painter or musician. Or to contribute your genius as a problem solver to help your organization leapfrog the competition.

Whatever it is, make sure it’s enjoyable for you and not pressure filled. As my mother said to me early on in my career, “do not be pressured by your own potential.”

But what if you don’t have time to do this visioning?

The beauty of these questions is there is no one right answer and you can always change your mind. So don’t think of it as a pressure to “get this right”.

Instead, just write down these questions where you’ll be able to see them. And let them percolate in the back of your mind as you go about your daily life.

I’ve found it’s especially useful to pull out these questions while doing simple tasks that don’t require much thinking, like folding laundry, running on a treadmill, brushing your teeth or taking a walk. This is when you can let your mind wander and marinate on these questions. You’ll be surprised what can pop up if you allow it to!

There’s no need to set aside large blocks of time

Just set the intention to envision what you’d like your life to be like in a year’s time and allow the answers to emerge.

So go ahead and ask yourself these three questions and start marinating on them as we head toward yearend:

  • Who do I want to become in a year’s time? It’s about the kind of person you want to be rather than the things you want to do. What’s your aspiration?
  • What circles do I want to be traveling in? Envision the kind of people and ideas you want to surround yourself with. How different is this from where you are today?
  • How do I want to be creating value in the world? Think broadly about the value you contribute and what makes that meaningful for you and those around you. Are you making the most of your talents and interests?

Which of these questions will most help you create your vision for yourself in the new year? And how do you envision your life to be in a year’s time?

Leave a comment below – I’d love to know!