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We are travellers on this life journey. In this programme, you will develop a map to help you navigate and find your path and create a system of actions to keep you on course. Enter into this with an adventurous heart ready to explore what you truly value, set your purpose and aspirations as your compass and develop your strategy map so that you can travel anywhere and not get lost, even when you are not sure where you are.

“I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving—we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it—but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor.” Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr (1)

Growth through struggle

Hope is not a strategy, yet “We need hope like we need air; to live without hope is to risk suffocating on hopelessness and despair”, notes Brené Brown in Atlas of the Heart.(2) C.R. Snyder (3) calls hope “a trilogy of goals, pathways and agency.” This means that we have set realistic aspirations and intentions as to where we want to go, we have worked out how to achieve them with the flexibility to course-correct with alternative paths and options, and we believe in ourselves and our choices to make it happen. 

People with high levels of hope have experienced adversity – they have been given the opportunity to struggle, and in doing that, they learn how to believe in themselves and their abilities. 

In an experiment, researchers asked people to assess their abilities. They found that people spontaneously compared themselves with the best achiever of their discipline they could think of and then deemed themselves not so great. (4) Over the last 30 years, the desire to be perfect has shot up by nearly 33% in the Western world. (5) Perfectionism is an unrealistic drive to be flawless, combined with intensely negative self-talk. 

By obsessing over getting it exactly right, we undermine our ability to succeed. When high achievers mess up, they see it as a learning experience, course correct, and move on. Psychologist Thomas S. Greenspan, author of ‘Moving Past Perfect’ (6) found that across jobs, the most successful people are less likely to be perfectionists. That’s because the anxiety about making mistakes gets in the perfectionist’s way. (4)

An Achievement-focused way of thinking is highly associated with personal and leadership effectiveness. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Never throughout history has a man who lived a life of ease left a name worth remembering” (7). We learn through struggle and emerge with new insights. The key to success in life is practice!


Why strategy fails

A strategy is only as good as the capability to execute it successfully.

The vast majority of strategies fail, resolutions are not realised, and dreams remain unfulfilled. I’ve spent the last twenty years engaged in understanding what it takes to make strategy, resolutions and dreams a reality firstly in an organisational context and more latterly, in a whole-of-life approach. Strategy is all about getting from here to there; making it happen is all about managing change.

Working with Kaplan and Norton (the founders and creators of the strategy execution methodology Balanced Scorecard), I learned about why strategies fail and the best practices of those who succeed.

Strategies typically fail due to a lack of clarity and failure to articulate and communicate the strategic story successfully, not aligning resources and capabilities and an absence of agency through not paying attention to intention.  When the environment, system or culture doesn’t support the behaviours required, then the strategy gets eaten for breakfast! However, those people and organisations that use a framework and holistic system to articulate and manage their strategy are 70% more likely to succeed (8). The framework that we use in this programme is rooted in the Kaplan-Norton Balanced Scorecard methodology. It is designed to help you make and activate better choices in your life; because if you want to change your life, you need to make different choices.


Taking a strategic approach to life

Being strategic requires you to put your smallest decisions in the context of broader goals, and critically important to this is creating the space to reflect before making decisions.  Often our intensely busy lives squeeze out thinking time, and the result is making decisions that are more based on reflex than reflection, on what has worked for you in the past. That would be fine if our world were static, but it’s not. What brought you to this place might not take you to where you want to go. Doing what you’ve always done can be as risky as exploring new approaches.

Without stepping back and taking a wider perspective, you might miss the whole picture and where you would be best placed in that wider context. Your response to your harried life might be to make a list of things to accomplish, put your head down and get things done. But focusing too narrowly restricts your chance to be strategic. When we are so focused on the day-to-day execution of urgent tasks and perfecting the current situation, we may miss that there would be a better focus for our attention. As Peter Drucker said, “There is nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency, something that should not be done at all.” (9)

Being adept at strategic thinking is a distinct advantage, both personally and professionally. It enables you to allocate your resources – energy, time, talent and finances – where they will have the greatest impact. Making conscious choices about what you will do and what you won’t do is a critical part of being strategic. Possibilities are unlimited, but your resources are not. Closing one door in favour of another requires the courage to act and the confidence to abandon an alternative. It is at the point of choice that your ability to be strategic is fully tested. It isn’t without risks, but the risk of not choosing or spreading limited resources over too many options is greater. It is better to choose to act and course-correct than to choose to stagnate and do nothing or to stall due to trying to do everything.

We instinctively overweigh the losses of changing over the gains. This keeps us trapped in the status quo default position, explains Daniel Kahneman in ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’. (10) It requires intentional thinking to consider what opportunity we might lose by not taking a new approach or a different path, evaluating the real (vs perceived) cost of stopping or revising this activity, saying no or clarifying boundaries or leaving this (mental or physical) place.

When you are launching into, or currently going through, a transition in some part of your life (and most of us are most of the time), it’s a great time to have a map as a guide to overcome anxiety about the future and its uncertainty. Strategic thinking requires you to become more comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity, approach possibilities with curiosity rather than judgement and readily challenge your assumptions.


The Jar of Life

When we spend our life prioritising others’ wants over our needs, consumed with pleasing others, life has less meaning, and we lose our sense of purpose and empowerment.

Starting this programme heralds the opportunity to make some practical changes to the way you live so that it’s more in line with who you are, what you value and who you want to become. Setting priorities involves choosing some things over others. Consider your life like a jar – when filling it, you must put the big rocks in first and fit the pebbles and sand to fit in the spaces between them; if you start with the sand and pebbles, the big rocks will never fit.

In this analogy, the big rocks represent the vital things in your life, like your well-being, your significant relationships, and your passions; the pebbles represent important things like your work and education; and the sand represents everything else, the day-to-day busyness and demands of life. If you fill your jar with sand first by prioritising the little things over what’s most important, you won’t have room for what really matters.


“The choices we make today shape the people we become tomorrow.” Victoria Osteen (11)

Life is a choice, and every choice that you make makes you. You cannot always choose the deck of cards that you get dealt, but you can choose how to play those cards.

Your decisions about how you allocate your personal time, energy and talent ultimately shape your life’s strategy and become your destiny.

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (12)

Start with ‘Good Enough’

In our multifaceted lives, we have so many competing priorities and pursuits. How to balance a successful and fulfilling career, raising great kids, having rewarding relationships, contributing meaningfully to the community and causes and being my best self without making trade-offs that usually mean that I sacrifice my needs for everything else? A lack of clarity on which path to take adds to the confusion and feeling of overwhelm. It’s easier to make no decision than make a wrong one. But you cannot stay on the same path and arrive at a different destination.

Voltaire’s observation of ‘Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good’ (13) is something to be mindful of as you approach creating your whole-of-life strategy. When we aim for perfection, it doesn’t allow any room for error and can stop us from moving forward. When we care for something so deeply, we can easily get stuck in procrastination, afraid of making the wrong decision and never getting to the finish line. Aim for good enough. 

Recognise when good enough is good enough. A lot of things that are worth doing at 100% are still worth doing at 20%. Even if you don’t run five miles, a one-mile run is better than nothing. 

Every choice doesn’t have to be a perfect choice; it just has to be a choice that’s good enough to take you to the next step. And by making a series of good choices, we can build to where we want to go. At each stage of the programme, strive to make progress, get to ‘good enough’ and move forward, don’t try and perfect it – you can return and refine it. This is a journey; keep moving forward, testing, learning and adapting as you go.

In each module you are invited to review what you’ve done, reflect on the questions being posed, and refine your work. As the American composer, Truman Fisher, said: “The pause is as important as the note.” (14) Make sure that you put time into the reflection in this process. There’s a good balance to be struck between spending time to reflect and iterating and maintaining momentum by moving forward to the next module.


Strategy as an ecosystem

Many well-being approaches seek to balance our work commitments with life objectives; in Personal Strategy, we look at our priorities in a whole-of-life interconnected system where choices are congruent with what we value and in line with what we aspire to be.

When you are so focused on a narrow goal or target, other priorities can get skewed, and you can miss the greater potential from considering the whole system. When we’re so busy doing what we think is expected of us, we can lose the point of the pursuit. By understanding the connections in a system, you can often end up with a far better outcome.

Nature gives us some great examples. 

I love this (abridged) story from Peter Wohlleben in ‘The Secret Network of Nature’(15), where he writes about the delicate balance of all living things. He writes: “Wolves are a wonderful example of how complex the connections in nature can be. For, amazingly enough, these predators are able to reshape riverbanks and change the course of rivers.”

In Yellowstone Park in the USA, wolves were systematically eradicated from the park until, by 1926, they were entirely eliminated, primarily in response to pressure from ranchers prioritising their grazing livestock. The consequences became clear – elk populations began to increase steadily, and large parts of the park were stripped bare by the voracious animals. The predominant herbivores consumed the grass, shrubs and young trees along the riverbanks, resulting in a drastic decline in birds, insects and beavers. The riverbanks became wastelands, and without any vegetation to protect the ground, seasonal flooding resulted in accelerated soil erosion, silting up the rivers and causing them to take a meandering path through the landscape, exacerbating the situation and causing problems for communities downstream.

The whole ecosystem was disrupted by prioritising one part of the ecosystem (herbivores) and the absence of a key element. The strategic solution to this challenge was, in 1995, to reintroduce a small pack of wolves as top predators into the natural ecosystem. This reduced the population of deer, elk, and the like and, more importantly, kept them moving, allowing the vegetation to grow back and restoring the rest of the ecosystem. This happened over a small number of years. The river started to flow again and stopped flooding. Beavers moved in, and the river changed its course, taking a path which was far more beneficial than the communities downstream could ever have imagined. 

In an interconnected system such as life, we must always be aware of the unintended consequences of prioritising one element over another and of the impact that making a change in one part of your life has on another part. So, approach this whole-of-life strategy as a living, learning ecosystem, being aware of the implications of your choices on the whole. 

This programme has been designed to allow you to have the flexibility to develop your personal strategy in modules that fit together in an integrated ecosystem. You are invited at each point to consider how every choice connects, impacts or has (intended or unintended) consequences in other parts of your life. 


The language we use

Language has the power to define experience.

Our self-talk determines how we feel and how we behave. When we are our own harshest critic, we approach situations feeling that we are not good enough and become defensive; when we are idealistic and overly optimistic, we can set aims that are unbelievable and unachievable. When you’ve heard something multiple times, you can start to believe that it’s true or adopt it as your own opinion. Daniel Kahneman (10) describes this environmental conditioning resulting in an inability to distinguish between falsehoods and fact as Frequent Exposure Bias. Be aware of how you are being influenced, by what you’ve heard  and how you speak to yourself.

Ponder the words that you use to create your map so that they are meaningful to you, and really help you to define what you want. The clearer the articulation and description, the more engagement and commitment you will develop to deliver on your intentions.

“You cannot go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” C.S. Lewis (16)

This programme aims to support you on your journey forward, wherever you are, from wherever you came, to give you a map to use to navigate and plan your path forward. Whether you are moving at a great pace, or just taking one step at a time, use this guide as much or as little as you need right now. Take time to pause and reflect but if you’re getting stuck, move on. Do the exercises that resonate with you – you can always come back later and work on others when the time is right. Keep the forward momentum.