When I want to reach a big, life-changing goal, these are the strategies I use
It’s exciting, you would really want the results that come from achieving it, but you think that you don’t have enough time, or you are afraid that your motivation will wane as soon as the first difficulty appears, or you don’t believe that you can (really) do it. As you well know, life always gets in the way.
Move away from the urgent,
to work on what is important
But that’s the problem: if you keep working on emergencies, and never make time to work on what is truly important, you will always be stuck in the urgent and end up being exhausted from it. You will have the feeling of constantly putting out fires, and running to stand still.
To get out of the vicious circle, you have to formulate a plan to make more space for what is truly important, whether that’s spending more time with your family, or improving your finances, or changing careers, or creating a business – anything that you would love to do, that gets you excited, that gets your heart racing, but that you’re afraid you’ll never have the time for.
Nowhere is this made clearer than in professional development: somebody needs to think about this – either yourself, your employer, your business partner or another person who has an interest and a stake in your betterment.
And because it’s not urgent, although it is important, it easily gets pushed back in our list of priorities, while we attend to the million emergencies that make up our day-to-day life, both at work and at home.
So how do you juggle your existing commitments with a demanding project, keeping your sanity all the while? You have to have a strategy.
Prioritizing and seeing things to completion:
the secret to a rich life
I want to share the strategies that I used to choose a big project and then see it to completion. Over the past number of years, I studied for and passed each of the exams for the Chartered Financial Analyst exams. I did the first two levels in 2010 and 2011. I took two years out at that stage as I had just started the company and then went back to do the last one. I failed this exam on the first attempt and then passed on repeating it the next year. It was a gruelling time but one that I would do again in a heartbeat if you asked me, quite simply because while it took years to complete with countless hours and sacrifice during that time, the benefits will last for life.
I hope these study and time-management tips will help both students in general and those who already have a career, but want the stimulation of a challenge, and the increased employability that comes when you pass a professional exam.
In fact, these techniques are useful whenever you want to get anything done – I used variations of them while in secondary school, when I first started my own business, when writing both books, when considering international expansion, now that we are building the #SavvyTeenAcademy and in several other cases where I worked on expanding my comfort zone.
First things first, pick something
that you enjoy… a lot
Ensure that you study what you like as opposed to what you, or somebody else, think you should do. So if it’s not too late, make sure to choose your study topic (CFA or anything else!) wisely. If you’re in full-time education, you have a choice about how you take your field of study and either specialise during the next phase or progress into a career that you can shape.
No matter the degree or the industry, the passionate person will always outdo the person who half-heartedly went into it because the job was prestigious, or the pay was good, or somebody else wanted it so. In my case, I loved maths, finance-related topics, logical thinking and anything with a number.
I chose BSc Financial Maths & Economics in NUI Galway with a view to becoming an actuary. Little did I know at the time, but I was simultaneously getting a good foundation in topics covered in the CFA.
But if you’re already in the workplace and you would like to take it to the next level in finance, the CFA charter is the gold standard. Indeed, if you like finance and want to work and aim high in this industry, you might find studying for the exam thoroughly enjoyable, as I did. Passing the exam tremendously increases your employability, especially as there are, in fact, not that many people who do – there are just over 100,000 CFA Charterholders in the whole world. Compare this with the huge number of accountants – who also have to pass demanding professional exams.
Once you have passed all three levels and can justify of four years’ professional investment experience, you have earned the globally recognized designation.
The curriculum is extensive and varied, with accounting, complex maths, economics, corporate finance, derivatives, equities, bonds and alternative investment modules. There is also a strong focus on ethics throughout.
These are sophisticated topics that require some dedicated study, but the hardest part, I would say, is the sheer amount of material you have to cover, especially if you are juggling this with a full-time job, as I did when I took level 1 and 2, or with running a business, as I did later on.
The professional development dilemma
Studying for this particular exam requires a huge amount of discipline – for several months, it’s just you and the books, no lectures, no lecturers or fellow students expecting to see you at a predetermined date and time. You will have to rely on your own willpower to make sure you show up every day, or as often as you possibly can, for your self-led study sessions. It’s important to take care of your mental health particularly at this time too as I found it to be a lonely journey in the absence of “classmates” but I had to be very proactive to ensure I had some sort of balance to run this marathon.
As it’s self-study, with no other commitments than those you make for yourself, it’s exactly the kind of project that you can tackle on top of your existing commitments. But as it’s very demanding and requires months of discplined effort, this is exactly the kind of project that seems impossible to tackle on top of your existing commitments!
Lay the foundations of success
by removing psychological blocks
In my book, I talk about how I weighed the pros and cons of going for it. If I was to wait until life wasn’t so busy, I would probably be holding out until my retirement, so I simply needed to think about how I could engineer the time into my diary.
It’s not about finding the time – it’s about making the time. It’s a finite study period, so there are some temporary structures that need to be put in place, but I found that being more efficient with my time benefited both my study plan for the exam and my life in general, and this skill has stood me in good stead long after the exam.
The fear of failure was another big one – what if I invest all of this time (and opportunity cost) into this project, for “nothing”? This did actually happen when I took CFA Level 3 the first time, but, looking back, I find that I learned a lot from failure too. I had to muster all of my self-discipline and motivation to go back again, but within days after getting the result, I was back in the library and thankfully I passed the exam the next June.
If it’s not the right time yet, you can still
start to create the right conditions
This is the very first step: don’t just give up on a dream or an important objective just because it’s doesn’t appear to be doable at the moment.
Identify the emotional blocks and find your way through these by speaking to other people who have done it before you. They will model for you what it’s like to go for the thing you want and to succeed – how does it feel to already be, do or have the thing you want? They will show you what strategies got them there.
Make sure you take any real objections into consideration: what material constraints do you need to take into account before you go for it? Once you have identified them, brainstorm ways to surmount them. Perhaps you will come to the conclusion that, as things are right now, it wouldn’t be realistic to go after your goal.
Then, instead of giving up, it’s a matter of creating the conditions for your big project to become realistically doable. You are simply adding a preliminary step to achieving your objective, by making room for it in your life.
Are you on the list?