Small Business Impact: Understanding Your Life Theme Can Help You Keep Resolutions

Darcella Craven

Journal Activity #1

It is the beginning of the year and many of us have embarked on the tradition of reviewing our lives over the last 12 months and making a decision to do something, say something or be something better or different. 

We are excited about the opportunity to start again in this New Year and by March (or maybe some are more disciplined by August) we throw those resolutions out and decide to try again next January.

Creating resolutions is a strong and solid activity and it has a place.  The act of thinking through what we want to accomplish is an excellent tool for helping us to accomplish things in our lives. Unfortunately, many of us set ourselves up for failure by not making sure that our resolutions match what we value.

We propose, instead of making promises to yourself and others about what you want to do for next year, get a better understanding of what you value so you can create and keep meaningful resolutions through the year that will impact you and your small business.

We can almost see your mouth turned up and eyes rolling. Military types are not trained to be concerned with the softer skills that are necessary to make it in small business.  Most of our training is about learning tangible skills, strategy and goal setting.

Not many times in our careers have we been asked to describe the theme of the goal. Mostly the question is “what outcome do you want?” and that is generally a reference to the produced product, service or activity.

So what is a life theme? Simply put, life themes reflect what you value.  It is the words and ideas that drive you forward, give meaning to your life and inspire you to do something.

Small business owners sometimes forget that the best way to ensure success in a business is to ensure they know who they are and what they value.  You forget that you are a part of the wheel that is the company and if you are not doing well, the entire company can fail.  It is extremely important that you know who you are, what you want and what is important to you in order for you to understand how you contribute to the business and pivot when necessary.

You can lose sight of why you went into business in the first place if you do not check in with yourself once a year.  Completing this “life theme” activity will help you maintain focus, ensure you are producing what is needed for the company and staying true to you.

Your plan does not need to be long – 3 to 4 pages tops. Here is an activity that you can complete to discover what your life theme is.

Exercise 1:  Reflect on what you want people to say about you when you retire.

Imagine you are at your retirement party.  Who is in the room, where is it located and who is giving your going away speech?  Perhaps you want to be seen as someone who is community minded and civically engaged.  Or you prefer to be thought of as business savvy and quick witted.  Make this picture clear in your mind.  This is will help you later in this exercise.

Exercise 2: Review and label the items you possess.

Take time and go through your home, car, and office.  Gather up your DVDs, pictures, books and trinkets from each room and put them in one spot.  Ask yourself: “What is the first word that comes to your mind when you see an item or group of items?” For example, the many law books in your library can be labeled “justice”. The pots, pans, cooking items can be labeled “comfort”, “celebration” or “health”. The collection of smiley faces can be labeled “joy”. Do this for each group you gathered. No more than 2 hours.

Exercise 3:  Look at the other places in your life for the identified themes from exercise one?

Do you see these same patterns in other areas of your life such as the slogan on t-shirts, Pinterest pictures, blog post you view or a wall calendar you really like? Look at the activities you do.  Do you always make it to the Veteran’s day parade? Do you watch a particular show or DVR it to ensure you can watch it later? Are there causes or conversations you have where you are clearly passionate about the subject?

Do not shy away from conversations where you were angry or sad.  Your life theme may be hidden away in a difficult interaction. Put these items under the labels you have created above or create new ones. Example:  You watch every Law and Order episode made. That might fall under “justice.”

Once you have completed this exercise, compare what you wanted your reflection (Exercise 1) to be to the value labels you created. Do they match or are the things that you are collecting, reading and engaging in conflicting with this desired reflection? The themes you are displaying in your life now, will get you to a reflection that you may not want. This is the perfect time to begin to pivot in order to ensure that what you want people to remember about you is reflected in the values that you are following.

Exercise 4: Write your life theme and your reflection:

Example:  If you notice you have an abundance of items in law and joy. You might write a theme such as:

My life theme is to keep justice and humor in the world. When people think of me I want them to smile and think about how honest I was with them.

This process can take several days (no more than two weeks) and might be challenging. That is good. It should be a significant task as it will help you to stick to your resolutions that you created because they are in alignment with what you value. This will help you make decisions in your small business as well. In another article we will discuss how to begin to integrate these themes into your small business decisions.

LOOK OUT FOR JOURNAL EXERCISE #2 IN THE NEXT ISSUE

Darcella K Craven has over 20 years of experience in corporate, government, non-profit and military organizations. She is currently the Executive Director of the Veterans Business Resource Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting Honorably Discharged Veterans, National Guard and Reservist and Active Duty personnel and their families with transitioning back into civilian life with starting and expanding businesses. An Army Veteran, she holds a Masters of Arts in Management from Webster University and is currently pursuing her Doctors of Management focusing on impact of military experience on small business decision making. Darcella has been featured in numerous articles for her transition from the military and the welfare system to an accomplished business woman and is actively involved in many civic organizations.

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