Using the Essentialness Test when you’re at a Crossroads

Recently, a student in the class I’m teaching at CSUN this Fall (2019) asked me for advice on his particular situation. In the previous session, I had talked about a problematic pattern (and its variations) that I’ve seen people get trapped in without realizing it.

In his particular case, it was an initiative that the student had undertaken with the hopes of getting a start on his career. However, it wasn’t going anywhere and was proving to be a drain. He could relate to what I had talked about in the previous class and sought my advice. Below is what I told him. However, note that most of these considerations also apply when you’re experiencing “success” but are lacking the satisfaction or fulfillment from it.

At a high level, what you’re dealing with is the consequence of decisions made based on “tactical” (think narrow view/short term) rather than “strategic” (think big picture/long term) considerations. Yes, it’d make logical sense to start [the initiative in question] for the reasons you outlined. However, that decision doesn’t necessarily pass what I call the Essentialness Test.

Imagine that your aim is to go from point A to point B. Now, there are likely an infinite number of ways to make this journey. Let’s say you break this journey down into steps and stops. Again, you could pick from a potentially infinite number of steps as well as stops based on the desired experience and speed of travel. However, there likely are some essential stops or steps that you simply can’t skip or bypass. For example, to get on an island, let’s say, you have to use the connecting bridge. But outside of these essential steps and stops, you have the freedom to make any kinds of choices you’d like.

Going back to your situation, is what you’re doing currently an “essential” step? Or is it one of the infinite number of things you could be doing right now? If you knew what you’re doing is essential, no matter what happened, you’d find the motivation and drive to follow through on it. Wouldn’t you agree?

However, the problem is that you may not have a way to determine whether this is an essential or a non-essential step. For example, you’re probably not clear about what is that point B that you’d like to reach in 15-20 years from now. If you had a sense about that, you might be back to work your plan backwards and make some of these choices. And that is exactly what we’ll try to do in the “Inspiring Ends” portion of the current module we’re working on.

So if you’re at a crossroads, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you know what your intended destination (think 10-15 years out) is?
  • If not, what can you do to decide that first?
  • If you know where you’d like to be, have you stepped back and isolated the various steps and stops for your journey? More importantly, do you have the essential steps and stops identified?
  • And when you encounter a new possibility, do you have a framework for evaluating whether it falls into the essential category or not?

PS: We offer tools and programs to help with all aspects of this journey, in case you’re interested. Get in touch here.