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Bill George

Harvard Business School Professor, former Medtronic CEO

Part 3: Shape Your Future

We’ve looked at where you’ve come from and where you are now; it’s time to examine your future. Unlike your past and present, the future is vague and nebulous. Don’t let the unknown intimidate you. Each choice you make now will impact your path to your goals. Instead of worrying about what lies ahead, seize control of it. You are in charge of your own destiny, regardless of your circumstances. Don’t rely on luck to get you where you want to go; hard work trumps good luck every time. Answer these questions to narrow your focus and define your future.

1. What do you want your legacy to be? 10, 20, 50 years from now, what will your name mean?

In the grand scheme of things, we only have a short time on this earth. What are you going to do with it? Don’t just think about your legacy in 50 or 100 years from now. Think about your reputation in 10 years. What is important to you? What do you want to be known as? This isn’t necessarily fame and fortune. What do you want people to say about you when your name comes up in casual conversation? Will they talk about your philanthropic efforts and your generous soul? Your ambition and sharp mind for business? The skills and personality traits you hone now will become your legacy later.

2. Who do you look up to? Who are your mentors, both those you know personally and those who inspire you from afar?

Mentors are essential to success. They act as a sounding board in life and in business. Often, we’re so mired in our own problems or concerns that we can’t see the forest for the trees. A good mentor helps us to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. When it comes to shaping your future, mentors can give you more than a helping hand. Look at the journeys of those who inspire you, even if you’ve never met them. When faced with decisions, where did they succeed? Where did they stumble? Learning from the lessons of those you admire is easier than trying to clear a new path to the same destination.

3. Fast-forward ten or twenty years. What is the one thing that, if you never pursued, you’d always regret?

This is a big picture question. Chances are your answer won’t be something like, “I wish I had taken that position at Google,” or “I wish I had worked more hours.” What is something you’ve always wanted to do? Perhaps you’ve always thought you could write a book. Go for it! You’ll never have to wonder what might have been. Many people have a goal that they want to pursue, but don’t because they are afraid to fail. In the long run, the regret of not trying your hardest to achieve your dreams will haunt you more than if you tried and didn’t succeed.

4. Fill in the blank: My life is a quest for ________. What motivates you? Money? Love? Acceptance?

What is it that you want out of life? Be honest with yourself about what truly makes you feel good. Think of the last time you felt an overwhelming sense of happiness. Were you surrounded by family and friends? Did you just get a raise at work? Maybe you were simply relaxing on the beach and reading a good book. What is the Holy Grail in your life? Don’t be too specific. Think about the general things you’d get out of it, like a sense of security and respect from others.

5. Now that you’ve answered these questions, what is your action plan? What steps will you take today?

You’re creating your tomorrows, today. Each moment in time sets the stage for all the moments following it. You can spend your time wisely, furthering your goals and creating a better future for yourself, or you can squander it. You’ve thought about your future and you have a good idea of where you’d like to be in the next 5, 10, and 20 years. What is the first next step to getting there? And why not take it today?

For more thought-provoking questions, read my blog on 30 Questions to Help You Discover Your True North. The fourth blog in this six-part series will help to identify your strengths and weaknesses.