Career satisfaction,  Happiness,  productivity,  Success Strategy

Don’t Focus on the Problem – Focus on your Ultimate Vision

Last year, an engineer, let me call him Tom, came to me. He looked very tired and unhappy. “Sharmin, I am working long days, late nights, still my manager wants me to do more, have more impact, show more leadership…where is the time…why can’t he see my contribution already! With changes going around all the time it is so hard to get anything done on time. I even wanted to change this job, but in this economy, it is so hard to get an interview even!” – Tom gave me quite a vivid picture of his life. I felt compassion for him. Not too long ago I experienced this first hand.

Problem Focus

I could tell Tom was seeing problems everywhere, the insensitive boss, the randomized team, the bad economy you name it. I am sure if I asked he would have more to add from other areas of his life. When you hear Tom’s story or maybe think about a problem from your own life, what do you feel inside? Is it towards peace and serenity or more towards stress and anxiety? You got it right- when we see all these problems we feel anxiety. It is very hard to live with it- so we feel the urge to do something about it (notice, the urge to act is driven by the anxiety). As we act the intensity of the problem reduces or it may disappear altogether. Phew! Now the anxiety also diminishes and we go back to our regular self until the next problem comes on our way.

Since we just reacted to the anxiety it is only a matter of time the same problem comes back and maybe in a larger magnitude even. Those dealing with weight loss or a bad performance review can tell how frustrating it is!

Vision (Outcome) Focus

Problem focus approach gets you from one day to the next. It hardly works when you want an extraordinary outcome. So what would be a better approach? It is when you are ready to look at the bigger picture – your vision.

  1. Take a step back
  2. Take a deep breath
  3. Imagine the problem was not there
  4. Now ask yourself: What do I care in the end?

#4 is the tricky part. If you are envisioning an outcome where life would be free of that problem, you actually are still thinking about the problem at hand, instead of your vision.

If your problem is that promotion you deserve but not getting, imagine the boss is fine and you got the promotion. Is that enough? Is that enough for you to be excited to come to work every day? Let’s ask: Who do you want to be? What kind of impact you want to make with your talents and hard work – for your team, for your employer and most important for yourself to be genuinely proud of?

I asked the same question to Tom. He stayed quiet for a moment and then started slowly from a deeper place – “I want to innovate, I want to be working with a team and solve deep technical challenges. I want to help others so they get better at it…”. I sensed Tom’s energy elevated. By looking into his longer-term vision, he was getting passionate.

When you focus on your vision (the outcome you truly care) you are in touch with your passion. You feel more positive instead of suffocating anxiety. Instead of the primitive fight/flight/freeze mode, it opens up the creative part of your brain. The problem seems less daunting. You address it more graciously as you get motivated to take the steps to get closer to your bigger vision.

You must be thinking, it sounds all good, but where is the time? Look back past five years, what would you have done differently if you knew what you know now? Take a baby step today. How hard it is for you to allocate 2 hours each week for something very important to you? Baby steps work for the grown-ups too – In a month that gives you one entire workday worth of time. Tom did it and so can you!


Need an idea on how to find out your Vision? Read: How are you setting your goal, Inside-out or Outside-in?

Reference: The Power of TED by David Emerald