Grab a piece of paper. Right now, stop reading for a moment and find paper and a pen. Let’s practice an old actor’s trick. For a moment, lose your identity. In your mind, pretend you’re a director shining the camera squarely at the real “you”. If it helps, think of this as reality television, although I prefer an epic drama. Answer this question about this main character, “you”, from the outside: what has she done well until this part of the story? What does she need to improve?
Write it down.
The best stories in television, film and stage have conflict. The main character is in a less-than-ideal place and has considerable reasons to change for the better. By focusing on character motivation, the actor seeks to find the soul of the experience and portray it for the audience in a way that’s authentic.
This technique shouldn’t just be for actors. It works well in financial planning.
Too often we think of financial transactions as unrelated to our life goals. When we hunt for a new car or balance the checkbook we’re looking for short-term results. We’re not embracing how these life events change the story. I’d suggest, though, that each of these tasks is tied to success in your end-game. If you look at yourself as the central character in your story and make decisions accordingly, suddenly, the process becomes much, much easier.
Review what you wrote. What are some of the key abilities the character has developed so far that will help her win in the end? What does she still need to learn? It’s more than an interesting exercise. By removing your emotions from the story of your life, suddenly you’re in a position to dig harder for change. And although most people dislike change, that’s the only consistent in a good story. A great leading character will experience an epiphany and persevere to win in the end.
Did you write down your character’s history? Excellent.
Now let’s begin step two: write out what the character needs to achieve from this point forward. Don’t think about it; write it down. The act of putting your story in writing is powerful. I know tons of would-be writers who have scripts in their head. It’s the ones on paper that get published. In financial planning, written goals are achieved. Goals kept only in your mind are quickly lowered, changed or revamped. Write it out.
I love the act of writing out goals. Suddenly, you’re paving the way for the hero. Like Dorothy followed the Yellow Brick Road, you now have a path to follow to your own Emerald City. We all need this ego boost and clear path when we’re looking at our goals.
Because you have the leading role in your life drama.
Why this exercise? Too often I meet people who’ve written goals that are too small. In some ways, thinking small can be a very powerful tool (as I wrote about here). But in goal-setting, big equals good. It was Michaelangelo who told us that the danger in goal setting isn’t in setting the bar too high and failing to reach it; it’s in underestimating our ability and setting it too low. If we don’t think about our goals in epic, storybook terms, we’re destined to achieve small-minded little steps.
Now you have an epic tale, and you’re the star.
By stepping outside the confines of today’s tasks, you open yourself up to the realm of possibilities. Instead of getting the mail tomorrow to pay bills, you’ll be searching the mailbox for opportunities and discarding everything that doesn’t fit your story. Instead of saving a few dollars for a rainy day fund, you’re taking the first steps to your castle in never-never land.
As hurdles come up—and oh, you’d better believe that they will—you’ll find yourself focused on the long-range goal rather than the quick fix. The struggle becomes part of the story instead of a hassle. Now, instead of working two jobs to make ends meet for next week’s groceries and rent, you’re working three jobs because the hero will overcome. That’s the only type of story you’d really want to be the lead role in, right?
Here’s to seeking and finding your happily-ever-after!