How to Figure Out if You're on the Right Path
If you’re looking for the perfect solution to your problem, the best way to accomplish your goal, the ideal method to improve your skills – then you’re focusing on the wrong things. There is almost never one perfect way to move forward. Focus a little differently and you’ll discover options and opportunities you never knew you had.
Derek Sivers, the founder of CD Baby, relays an important life lesson he learned by studying singing. In his book, Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur, Sivers tells how he would show up for his voice lesson and launch into a pop song he wanted to improve.
His teacher would then ask him to sing it up an octave, deaf to his protests that he couldn’t sing that high. After screeching through the song up an octave, his teacher would insist that he sing it down an octave. Then at double tempo, then half as fast as normal.
Even then, his teacher wasn’t done with him. He made Sivers sing the song in the style of various pop stars, then as if he were singing the song upon waking suddenly at 4 a.m., and several other comical variations.
The point of this exercise was not to improve his vocal technique (indeed, many voice teachers would disapprove of the physical toll these outlandish variations take on the voice) or to find the “right” style for the song. After Sivers had finished, his teacher would query, “Now, how did that song go again?”
The point is that the way we think a song is supposed to go is only one possibility among many. And so it is with creating a business, running a marathon, learning a language, climbing up the career ladder, or any other goal you may set for yourself.
Some options may be better than others, but there is never just one. And often, the best option for you is not the first one you try or the one you think is “the way it’s supposed to be done.”
Sivers finishes his story by applying the principle behind his vocal experiments to other areas of life. And so can you.
The Benefits of Exploring Many Options
By mentally exploring multiple possibilities for any given situation, you free up your thinking and broaden your perspective. You will approach your issue with a new mental flexibility that will enable you to find the best options that work for you. You will more easily pivot to new and more optimal approaches whenever you need to, rather than remaining fixated on the same path that may no longer be serving your needs.
This may sound a bit like brainstorming. When you brainstorm, you spontaneously list multiple possibilities in an effort to find a solution to a problem. However, exploring multiple options is broader in scope and more strategic than typical brainstorming.
Instead of simply writing down any ideas that come to you, as you would with typical brainstorming, you decide in advance on a number of options and then rehearse what each option would feel like.
You are going to actively explore each option and see where it might take you. When you’re done, you might settle on one of the options, or you might choose elements from several options that seem worth pursuing.
The main point of the exercise, however, is that you will now be looking at your issue with a broad perspective, which will enable you to navigate your path flexibly and optimally as it unfolds.
How to Explore Many Options
Sivers offers an example of how you might think about your current path in life if you're unsure of your next step. First, explore what it would be like if you were living in New York City and pursuing success. Next, how would it feel if you were a free spirit backpacking in Thailand? Then, imagine yourself as a popular and confident extrovert. Then as a married person whose kids are the center of your life. Then, spending a few years in seclusion.
You can do this with anything. If you want to start a business, you could create half a dozen ways to get there. What if your business were a storefront? What if it were only internet-based? How would you build your business with no internet presence? With multiple locations? Working out of your home? How would you run it if the plan you have now didn’t work?
You don’t need a big goal like starting a business. You can apply this approach to smaller projects too.
Need to write a report for work and not quite sure how to proceed? Explore what you would do if you had to finish it in 48 hours. If you needed to complete it but had to omit an important piece of information that was unavailable to you. If you were working with a partner on the report. If your report was going to be shared with the CEO, who would then make a decision whether to promote you. If you wanted to emphasize one aspect of the report and minimize another.
Try it. Five ways you could incorporate a fitness regimen into your schedule. Seven ways you could make your spouse or significant other feel special. Ten ways you could stop procrastinating. Four radically different vacations you could take.
Pick one goal or project and give it a go. Explore all the options. At the end of it, you’ll have a much better feel for which path is right for you.