In Part I of this two-part series, I shared four things to consider before taking on a new opportunity. In this post, I introduce you to seven critical questions to ask yourself before you decide on your next project.
Why We Must Question Our Intentions
First, it is important to understand the benefits of evaluating our intentions. For instance:
- We slow down the decision-making process.
- We’re forced to weigh the pros and cons of a situation before we act.
- We learn to create better boundaries.
- We develop intentionality.
As you review the seven questions below, I challenge you create your own checklist using these or others to help you before committing to something new.
7 Critical Questions to Ask Yourself
1. Is this the very most important thing I should do with my time and resources right now?
Greg McKeown, author of the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, says we should always ask ourselves this question. Because time and resources are often finite, it’s imperative that we take inventory of what we have available to give—i.e. you can’t pour into others when your cup is empty. McKeown noted many trade-offs of trying to do it all: “20% of our efforts produce 80% of results, so focus on the 20%”. He argues we should pick and choose what we focus on—the essentials.
2. How does this opportunity align with my values?
Do you know what your values are? Values act as guides for a way of life, our true north. A simple values clarification exercise like the one in this worksheet can ensure your actions are in alignment with your core values and authentic self. When we do things that don’t reflect who we really are and what we value most, we can fall victim to getting lost in the daily grind. As a result, our behaviors don’t match what we truly value, which can lead to misrepresentation and fruitless sacrifice.
3. How does this new opportunity align with my goals for personal or professional development? This year? Next year? Or in five years?
When deciding about taking on a new growth opportunity, it’s helpful to refer to a goals list or a personal development plan. If you haven’t taken the time to create career and personal goals for yourself, it’ll be more difficult to discern which opportunities will be worth your time to explore.
If an opportunity doesn’t align with your goals, yet you want to pursue it anyway, I suggest asking yourself why. I also recommend prioritizing when you want to accomplish the goal, so that other goals you’ve identified move lower on your priority list or taken off completely. Once you’ve done that, create an action plan and stick to it!
4. Will I gain new skills, experiences or professional connections because of my involvement?
There is always room to grow and develop your professional skills and networks, regardless of your level of experience and years in the workforce. Herminia Ibarra, Professor of Organizational Behavior, INSEAD Business School, emphasizes the importance of building effective networks to help elevate your careers and develop professionally. According to Ibarra, there are three kinds of networks: operational, personal and strategic. Of the three, a strategic network is the most important network for career advancement and should be broad, connective and dynamic to be most effective. So, the next time you consider a new opportunity, ask yourself how this experience can bolster your strategic network right now.
5. Can I give 100% effort to this opportunity?
You may struggle with unhelpful thoughts like: “If I’m not doing something, then I’m not being productive” or “If I’m not contributing, then I’m not really a team player.” STOP it! If you can’t give 100% of yourself, it’s much more effective to be honest about what you can do. Be transparent with others about your time and resource limitations. If you suffer from a “fear of missing out,” McKeown promotes avoiding commitment traps by getting over the fear of missing out and setting boundaries with yourself.
6. If I say I do, what else would I need to give up to make room for this?
We often forget how much casual commitments can pile up. Before you know it, you have over-committed yourself to multiple things and, even worse, you don’t have the energy necessary to fulfill each commitment. If this sounds like you, then I urge you to PAUSE and RE-EVALUATE everything on your plate. Is there something you can delegate to someone else, reduce the time spent on it or move it off your to-do list completely?
McKeown’s 21 Day Essentialism Challenge could help get you back on track, focusing only on the most critical things right now.
7. In what ways can I add value?
As you consider new career adventures, also think about how you can add value to the project or assignment. Some questions you might ponder are: How can I add my unique strengths and abilities to this project or assignment? Are there improvements I could make by bringing my expertise and personal perspective? Is this the best fit for my talent and interests? To help you identify your unique strengths and skill sets, I recommend taking the VIA Character Strengths Inventory. Armed with this information, you can be confident in what you bring to the table.
The bottom line is that we say yes to new opportunities for a variety of reasons. Decisions in life may be motivated by a desire to make an impact meaningfully, to learn something new or to develop new or stronger relationships. Whatever your reason, remember to ask yourself these seven critical questions before making a commitment. It can save you time and energy in the long run.
ShaKima Tozay is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and subject matter expert (SME) on counseling and advocacy programs in her current role. Her government career spans 15 years, starting in the Navy. Kima completed her Masters in Social Work degree from the University of Washington and has held positions with the Veterans Affairs Department (VA) and the Army. Kima is passionate about Diversity and Inclusion workplace issues. She earned a certificate from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business in Leveraging Diversity and Inclusion for Organizational Success. She also holds certifications in Executive Leadership and Women in Leadership Programs. You can connect with Kima on LinkedIn.
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