If you know the fairy tale Hansel and Gretl, you know that the children dropped bread crumbs to find their way back out of the forrest as they ran from the wicked witch. That word concept is also used in the IT world to refer to navigating where you are in your computer system. The concepts refer to finding your way forward when the way feels confusing and uncertain. Those breadcrumbs serve as familiar and concrete markers so you can push past the anxiety and confusion in making decisions in the face of uncertainty. Though this might seem easier and more tangible when navigating a computer system or seeing physical bread crumbs on the forest floor, but much less so with life and career decisions.
I recently made a significant life and career decision to retire from a successful and meaningful 30 year career at the University of Michigan. My work and clients were great, I was making a very comfortable living, and yet I knew the professional path I was on wasn’t the right one for me any longer. My values and vision had changed from my organization’s, and it just didn’t fit me anymore. The bigger question I had to figure out was, what path did I want to take? What path or rather decision would provide me again with that positive energy and engagement that had once filled my professional life. Ironically, in a blinding flash of the obvious and with the supportive encouragement of trusted colleagues/friends, I had to follow my own advice that I coach others on; follow my own breadcrumb trail: my values, purpose, and passion. Here is what I mean by that.
Your values are those things that are most important to you in the way you live and work. They’re those things that drive your conscious or unconscious decision making. Deep down, they’re probably the measures you use to tell if your life is turning out the way you want it. And if not, the consequences will create negative emotional and physical impacts. During my last year at the University, that’s when I knew I had to make a change when my body was showing physical signs of stress and emotionally I was burnout and unhappy.
The traditional definition we think of to the word is the level of physical capacity we have. Using the Gallup organization’s work based on employee engagement, it means the innate thoughts, feelings and behaviors that create joy, energy and engagement in response to those activities we are doing. My strengths are those activities where I feel at my best self when engaged in them.
What is that one or many things that gets you up in the morning? It’s those activities that motivate you and create meaning. A strong life purpose should guide and influence your decisions and actions, provide a sense of direction, and create meaning for you. For me, that’s helping people realize their true talent and for organizations to realize its strengths.
As of this writing, I choose the path of being an entrepreneur. I wake up every morning filled with the excitement and energy that I get to do work that aligns to my values, leverages my strengths, and allows me to focus on my life purpose and passion—building stronger people and organizations.
So what are your breadcrumbs? And are they leading you on the path that is filled with positive energy and meaning? And if not? Study your breadcrumbs and be open to exploring a new path.