You are not who you are because of a decision you recently made. You are not who you are because of an action you recently took. You are not who you are because of a vow you recently spoke. You are who you are today because of what you decided, did, and vowed well before today. You are who you are now because of who you were becoming then. You are currently becoming the person you will be in five to ten years.
When Matthew McConaughey was named Best Actor at the 2014 Academy Awards for his role in Dallas Buyers Club, he gave one of the most inspirational speeches in Oscars history. He thanked his hero, the person he chases. He revealed that his hero is the person he wants to be in ten years. He explained he never came close to being his hero, but he would always keep chasing that person. “So you see every day, every week, every month, and every year of my life, my hero is always ten years away. I’m never going to beat my hero. I’m not going to obtain that, I know I’m not. And that’s just fine with me because that keeps me with somebody to keep on chasing.”
While I have learned in life that it takes consistent, dedicated action to become the person you want to be and live the life you want to live, the reverse is not true. What you have worked so hard to build can be destroyed in the blink of an eye with one wrong decision, action, or word. So I urge all of you to decide who you want to be and take action on a regular basis to become this person. Let me give you some tips on how to become the person you want to be.
Evaluate Your Current Self
Before you can become who you want to be, you must evaluate who you are. This is the hardest part for some people. We often don’t like to look at ourselves in the mirror, whether literally or figuratively. The mirror not only reflects your current self, but it brings with it the successes and failures of your past. Ask the bodybuilder who looks in the mirror what it reveals, and he will tell you about the countless hours in the gym. Ask the CEO of a large corporation who she sees in the mirror, and she will tell you about the hours of study, hard work, and company politics she had to endure. Ask the Olympian what the mirror is reflecting, and he will tell you about the training and repetition for years on end.
So you need to look in the mirror, but are you doing so effectively? Are you taking a passing glance before you step out the door, or are you giving yourself time to stop and stare for a while? Are you using the right mirror? Are you using a large, wide mirror to get an overall picture of yourself, or are you using a vanity-top, magnifying mirror to deeply focus on particular areas? True self-evaluation may mean going to people you know and asking for brutal honesty about what they see in you. Such evaluation may also mean getting professional help to focus on particular issues. Psychological tests may be in order as well so that you get to know who you really are or discover issues you didn’t know existed.
When in law school preparing for the moot court competition, my partner and I used to video record ourselves so that we could see how each of us looked when delivering our arguments. We studied not only our speech patterns and enunciation but also our body movements and hand placements. Over time, we improved both the content of our arguments and the form of our deliveries. One without the other was pointless. While my partner and I did not win the competition, we did better than we expected and grew exponentially as future litigators.
I encourage you to truly and deeply evaluate yourselves before you look toward the future.
Envision Your Future Self
Once you have evaluated your current self, you next need to envision your future self. Although we can begin to wander aimlessly, the better approach is to recognize our destination. This is true both in traveling and living.
Most of you have heard of vision boards by now. A vision, or image, board is a place to store all the images of your future life. When you see something you want or that represents something you want to have or do or be in your future life, you take this image and place it on the image board. As the image board fills up, it’s a constant reminder to you of what you are working to achieve.
If you are unable to visualize where you want to be later in life, it’s quite difficult to move on to the next step of moving toward your future self. So, before you start creating goals to accomplish for yourself, first determine who you want to be in the future and then figure out how to become that person.
Move Toward Your Future Self
Once you have decided who you are and who you want to be, you must establish goals, both big and small, to direct your actions as you work to become your future self. Goal setting is often an underutilized tool and a poorly developed skill. How many times have you given yourself a project and just started working at it without taking the time to break it into bite-sized pieces? Even modern-day case management software has “work flows” so that you can break down tasks into simpler steps and thus ensure that you and your staff are doing the task correctly.
Your goals are different than your vision. If you envision yourself 30 pounds lighter next year, your goal should not be “lose 30 pounds.” Instead, you should set concrete goals such as walking three miles four times a week, eating more vegetables, moving your body from your office chair every hour or so, etc. If you want to increase the size of your firm to be more productive and take on more clients, you could just say “I’m going to hire a new paralegal in a month,” but the better plan would be to ensure that you develop work flows within your firm that allow you to be more productive, evaluate the metrics of your firm so that you know how your firm is performing, and then determine how a new employee will best help your firm. Once you have done that, you can figure out what skills are most needed from a new employee and then search for the right hire. By the time the employee is hired and put into place, you can feel confident that you hired the right and best person for the job. Why hire a paralegal when you need an administrative assistant, or vice versa?
Once you have set your goals, the final step is taking action on them. As Tony Robbins is so fond of saying, “The path to success is to take massive, determined action.” Usually there are several different actions you can take to achieve a goal. There is no one right way to accomplish your goal—you’ll need to examine your options and determine what is right for you. For example, if you want to write a 100,000-word book, you’ll have to determine if you’re the kind of person who will be able to write 1,000 words per day for 100 days, or if you’d rather take writing retreats every so often and maybe bust out 25,000 words in each of four retreats. I have read many interviews with authors, and I have learned there is no one right way to write a book. Each author had to evaluate himself or herself and then decide how to best accomplish the goal. Some authors know they won’t write a book unless they set a daily writing goal and set up a place and time each day to write. Others write when they are in the mood and then generate a great deal of writing over a week or two. No matter what the vision is, you must take action on the goals you developed to accomplish the vision.
People often forget this step. Your life is not a one-way trajectory toward a certain vision. Just as a boat is constantly thrown off course by changing weather and must repeatedly readjust its route, so, too, are you thrown off by the weather of your life. We can’t anticipate all the battles and obstacles we will face. Sometimes we get so set on our vision that we don’t realize just how off course we really are.
Give yourself time to re-evaluate yourself and where you are every so often. Make sure that your vision of your future self is still the one you want. It’s okay to change your mind based on your circumstances. The person who has to put college on hold to take care of a sick parent may decide that being an entrepreneur with an Internet business is the best route to go based on his values and circumstances. Maybe the person who thought she wanted to write a book decides she likes writing articles and columns instead. We have free will—so use it as you evaluate yourself, envision your future self, and set goals and take action on those goals. Do this regularly, and soon you will find you have become the person you wanted to be!