Getting Your Priorities Right

In my workshops, we often talk about the importance of cultivating an effective professional image and, when it comes to thinking about selecting the right clothing for business, people will occasionally say something to the effect that they would dress like the manager if they were to get the manager’s job. This is a good example of putting the cart before the horse. The fact is that if you don’t dress like the manager first i.e. before you get the job, then you will never attract the job offer in the first place.

Zig Ziglar used to tell a story about eating in a self-service restaurant where you get to choose from a wonderful array of good things to eat and you even get to eat them too, all before you are asked to pay. The reason Zig told the story was to explain that life does not work like this. Instead we have to, in effect, pay first and then we get to eat. For example, in your day job: you have to put the effort in first and then you get paid. This is very easy to understand, but it is true on so many different levels.

Zig would say, “you have to be before you can do, and do before you can have”. When I first heard Zig say that stuff, I was not really sure what he meant. But it really amounts to learning how to put the horse before the cart. You see, most of us want to have things and, in essence, there is nothing wrong with that. Most of us understand enough about how life works to realise that in order to have the things we want, we must do something first – that makes sound enough sense. But what many people don’t realise is that in order to get to do what we want to do with our lives, we must first work on ourselves.

We must first become the right person and, of course, working on your image is just a small, though significant, part of making that greater transformation. Here is a short list of things for you to consider thinking about in making your own personal transformation. Personal development is all about becoming that person so that you can first ‘be’ the right person in order to ‘do’ what you want and then ‘have’ what you want in your life too:

  • Work on Your Skills
  • Work on Your Beliefs
  • Work on Your Professional Image
  • Work on Your Vocabulary
  • Work on Your Attitude
  • Work on Your Knowledge

It is not an exhaustive list, but it is a good start. You can think about each of those items, in turn, and decide what you need to do in each category in order for you to improve. Remember that, unlike in the restaurant story, you have to pay first before you get to eat. Working on becoming the right person is the payment you need to make to lead the life you want to live. Remember too that most people get this the wrong way around. They are often mentally prepared to pay, but only after they get what they want. You must become an exception if you are to achieve those really big goals.

Right now, I have embarked upon a thirty-day challenge which involves writing a one-thousand word article per day for my blog and, at times, it has been very difficult to keep up this level of effort whilst simultaneously committing to delivering, at the quality standard I have set for myself. But, for me, it is exactly the same thing we have been discussing; it is an example of what it means to put the horse before the cart. Life is all about cause and effect. When you have established the actions that deliver the results you desire, then you have to commit to taking those actions. Sure it may be difficult, but that’s how life works – pay first, eat later.

Just as with the people who attend my workshops who finally realise that they must first dress for the part in order to maximise the chances of attracting it to them, so too do I need to put the effort in first. It is easy to put the effort in afterward; after you are a success. That’s because, after you are a success, you have vindicated your methods. It is much harder to put the work in before you are a success when you have no hard evidence and can only trust that the methods you are utilising will deliver the results you want.

Don’t shirk on this process – the process of becoming. Commit to working on yourself long-term, to taking care of your own personal development, to becoming the person you need to be first. Much of the earliest personal development literature, according to Stephen Covey, focussed on this basic idea – as he puts it, attending to your character – latterly, he says, there has been a shift to more of a personality bias in the success literature. But in his best-selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he strongly advocates the character based approach. You need to work on yourself; you need to pay first, then you get to eat and when you do that, your life will begin to change slowly, but surely.

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