The beginning of any year is a natural time to take stock – the ideal time to look back on what we have achieved, and forward to ambitions that still lie ahead. At the outset of a new decade, that is especially true: we tend to think not just about 12 months but 10 years – a perspective that encourages focus on the long-term hopes and dreams that are most significant in life.
As you ponder your next decade – and the people, places and plans that are going to define it – I would offer one piece of advice. Don’t just look outwards, to the specific goals you want to achieve and the steps that will take you towards them. Also take some time to look inwards, to the kind of person you are and want to be. Think, perhaps for the first time, about your values.
Why values before goals? Simply because a goal is nothing more than a destination. It tells us where we want to end up, but not how to get there. By contrast values provide a compass: helping us navigate difficult decisions, overcome uncertainty and stay true to ourselves at the same time as evolving as people.
A decade gives us enough perspective to recognise what has changed and what stayed the same. The changes are usually to the circumstances of our lives: our careers develop and branch off in sometimes unexpected directions; people both enter and leave our lives in ways that profoundly affect us; and the world in which we live changes, sometimes radically.
We navigate these changes by changing ourselves: gaining physical and emotional maturity, learning new things, progressing further on the lifelong journey of becoming comfortable with our flawed selves.
But in important ways we do not change. We remain guided by the values that were instilled in us from a young age, orwhich we learned through formative experience. For most, life has already taught us the most important things about ourselves: whether we most of all prize loyalty, crave adventure, seek quiet, pursue justice or find opportunities to show solidarity. Whether we recognise them or not, we all have values such as these within us – beliefs that are the basis of every important decision we take.
So as you look ahead to your goals and dreams of the coming decade, start by thinking about the values that motivate you. Try to list all of those that you can think of, then whittle themdown to a final five that are your tiebreakers. Finally, use the values you have identified to start shaping the goals you want to set yourself. Which goals are most aligned with your values– allowing you to express your deepest needs and beliefs as a person? Why do you want to do a certain thing, and do you have the intrinsic motivation to really achieve it?
Whatever your values may be, you need goals for the next year and decade that fulfil and amplify them – allowing you to be the fullest and truest version of yourself. My best wishes for a successful, happy and values-filled 2020.
Mandeep Rai is author of The Values Compass: What 101 Countries Teach Us About Purpose, Life and Leadership.