How often are we working hard, trying to be more productive—without ever picking our heads up to see if we’re headed in the right direction?
Think of flying a plane. You have to steer every moment of the journey, because at that speed, if you get off by a fraction of a degree, you’ll end up nowhere near where you intended.
Like air travel, our lives are going fast, and the pace is only accelerating. If we don’t define success and aim for it consistently, then we might realize at the end of our lives that we’ve landed in a place we never intended—and that’s a tragedy.
Let’s go for extraordinary where it matters most. To do that, we need to clearly define what extraordinary means to us, then live in a way that aligns with that vision.
FranklinCovey has been anchored in this idea for decades, most famously with Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind from Dr. Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Let’s get really tangible on how to do that.
1. Choose your most important roles.
Everyone plays dozens of roles in their lives: teacher, leader, entrepreneur, parent, sweetheart, sibling. And some of those roles are a little less important than others: neighbor, cousin-in-law, committee member.
List all the roles you play in your life. Then pick the very few where it doesn’t feel right to settle for ordinary. Especially in our relationship roles, we ought to feel some obligation to the other person to bring our best self. If you want to be a ho-hum spouse or parent, you might be missing the point of those relationships.
Which roles matter most to you? Circle the most important ones on your list, and try to limit yourself to five or fewer—you’ll see why in the next step.
2. Define success in each role.
Take the roles you’ve circled and do some free-form thinking. What words do youassociate with extraordinary in that role? The clearer you can paint that vision, the more likely you will accomplish it.
While we are all given job descriptions for our professional roles, most people have never stopped to ask what kind of parent or friend or spouse they want to be. In my consulting work, I’ve seen clients go through this process, and for some it’s sobering. They realize, Not only have I never defined extraordinary, but once I did, I realized I’m doing a pretty awful job in my most important roles.For some people, this simple exercise is transformative. Just knowing who they want to be allows them to redirect what they’re doing in these critical roles.
Remember that this isn’t extraordinary compared to other people; it’s compared to what you would default to, your ordinary mode—what I call “cruise control.” This is an extraordinary wholly defined by you.
It’s fascinating to think about how many ways we could define “extraordinary parent.” Your definition will depend on your personality, your children, your values, your dynamic—it’s totally individual. For some that means being supportive, loving, and transparent. For another person, it might mean playfuland active.
Extraordinary parenting doesn’t necessarily mean that you throw a color-coordinated, Pinterest-worthy birthday party for your child. For some parents, it might—if so, go for it! Personally, I’d rather invest those hours chatting with my daughters than putting together paper cranes, but then again, I’ve never been very good at origami.
There really is no generic definition of extraordinary in your roles. You choose.
3. Schedule one action a week that gets you closer to who you want to be.
If you tuck your vision on a shelf or in a journal, then you haven’t gotten any closer to extraordinary—you just know what it is.
So the next step is creating a cadence that makes your vision a reality. Before your week begins, sit down with your list of roles and pick one thing you could do that week to get closer to extraordinary. And here’s the key: put it on your calendar.
These actions don’t have to be complicated:
- “I’m going to compliment my spouse every day.”
- “I’m going to read with my child after dinner.”
- “I’m going to take my team members out for lunch.”
You can see why you have to limit the number of important roles—five new actions in a week is a lot on top of what you already have going on. If your list feels overwhelming or you have an especially busy week coming up, you can scale back in a couple ways:
- Simplify each action: text a friend or buy concert tickets for next month—five-minute commitments that still make an impact.
- Focus on fewer roles that week: perhaps you choose an activity just for leader and spouse. Musician and volunteer can wait until next week, when things settle down.
Don’t underestimate the power of these small, deliberate actions. Even if you only do something every otherweek, you’re closer to extraordinary than you would be in default mode.
Don’t get discouraged. Life is a journey—of course we’re going to stumble, and get off track. That’s okay! Pick yourself up and get back on your path towards extraordinary.
You can live your life on cruise control, responding and reacting to whatever comes your way. Or you can reach for extraordinary where it counts most.