iStock_000020422405XSmallDo you go with the flow or do you map out a path and follow it, intentionally?

For many of us, we go with the flow. We let others create the environment we live or work in. If the flow aligns with our needs and hopes, that’s not a problem.

When the flow doesn’t align with our needs and hopes, we get frustrated. Too often in that scenario, we see ourselves as “pawns in the game of life,” with little ability to influence our less-than-perfect environment.

Yet some players consistently thrive in this life and at work. They effectively work through the hurdles that life (and others) throw at them. What do they do differently? What enables them to plot their course and stay on it, no matter the variables they face?

My research and experience tells me that these players have clarified their personal purpose and values. Then they are intentional about aligning their plans, decisions, and actions to their purpose and values each day.

A story might be insightful here. In a previous life, I spent years as a lifeguard. Ocean shores are a complicated environment for keeping swimmers safe. One of the biggest complications were rip currents or riptides.

Riptides are powerful tidal flows that draw water – and any swimmers in that flow – away from the shore, out to the sea. Swimmers caught in a riptide often fight it, trying to swim directly to shore to escape the current. They panic when they realize they are not strong enough to counter the flow.

And, “going with the flow” in this scenario is really dangerous. A rip current can take swimmers a half a mile offshore in minutes! If swimmers fight the current, they will quickly become exhausted.

Swimmers educated about rip tides don’t fight the current, they move with it. They keep their eyes on the shore (their goal) and swim steadily parallel to the shore, not towards it. Graceful, steady effort enables these swimmers to break free of the rip current, which is moving away from the beach. Once free of that powerful force, the swimmer is able to swim to shore.

They will likely find themselves far along the beach from where they started, but they’re safe!

Start the coming year by being intentional about who you are, what you value, and where you want to go. To go about defining your personal purpose and values, I suggest three steps:

Clarify – Start by formalizing your personal purpose and by defining your values in observable, tangible, measurable terms. It may help to review questions I pose here and here.
Align – Once your personal purpose, values, and behaviors are defined, scrutinize your daily plans, decisions, and actions to ensure they’re aligned with your personal “constitution.” Where you find mis-alignment, point yourself towards alignment. Clear that path and stay on it.
Refine – Over time, as you learn more about yourself living an aligned life, you may find that your purpose, values, or behaviors need tweaking. Wordsmith where needed, at least once a year. Then, align daily.

Make 2014 your year of aligned, intentional living and working.

What do you think? What is your “current draft” of your personal purpose, values, and behaviors today? What techniques do you use to ensure you live in alignment with your personal constitution? Share your thoughts about this post/podcast in the comments section below.

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S. Chris Edmonds

S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of The Culture Engine and six other books.
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