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Reflecting Why 4-Year Olds Are Better at Looking Ahead than We Are

I asked two recently turned 4-year-olds what they wanted to be when they grow up.  One told me she wanted to be 4.  The other told me he wanted to be 5, and ride a skateboard when he grows up. The first child then upgraded her answer to include the fact that she wanted to wear jewels when she grew up.

Both responses had me giggling and diving deeper into a delightful conversation, but also left me reflecting at how we ask these same questions of ourselves and of the organizations we work with when looking ahead.

There are many different approaches to building a good strategy both for recruitment and for job seekers and, all strategies have important questions (and answers) that should be reflected on.  But as we ask these questions, there is some beauty in focusing on simplicity, much like these children’s answers.

For instance:  the 4-year-old child’s response who said she wanted to be 4 when she grows up, may have sounded a bit silly, but if you take a different approach to her answer, we are as grown up as we’ll ever be with each moment.  Sometimes we need to embrace that and embrace the here and now.

What makes us who we are right now and what is great about us in this moment in time?  Sometimes it’s okay to accept and want to be what we are right now.  That doesn’t mean that we don’t want to achieve more and reach higher, it means we are making the most of the present and not just wishing for the future.

How often do we make plans in our recruitment strategy and say that once we implement this step or this tool, everything will be better, and we forget to make the effort today to improve what we’ve got while waiting on the future?

The same can be said for job seekers who think ‘I’ll get more offers when I finish this certification course or once I have built a larger network’.  Yes, these things may be true, but we’re missing out on making the most of right now when we’re just waiting on a future outcome that may or may not happen.

Skip ahead to the second 4 year-old’s response that he wishes to be 5 and ride a skateboard; it was refreshing to see he was thinking in small steps.  He didn’t jump to what he wanted to be as an adult, he focused on the next logical outcome: I just turned 4, now I want to be 5 (and ride a skateboard.)  We often look so far ahead that we make our goals impossible to achieve without breaking them down to the next logical steps.

Jobseekers often get frustrated and defeated in the job search because they focus on landing their next role, but the concentration on the final outcome is so focused that each level it takes to get there is often neglected to a degree because the same intensity is not given.

Resumes are thrown together, introductions and referrals are met with haste, and minimal effort is put into cover letters and applications with the main focus being on the interview itself.  But without proper focus on each small step, the interview may never be reached.

Companies are guilty of the same thing.  Recruitment strategies often focus on the bigger picture and forget to take into account the candidate experience, technology implementation and learning curves, or the time and effort it will take to shift their plan.

If we instead focused on the next logical small step, instead of jumping ahead of ourselves to the final goal, we may reap greater results because we’re improving each layer of the process as we build toward a better outcome.

And sometimes, yes, it takes talking to children to remember to take a step back and focus on what’s important, and yes we must also remember to dream of riding skateboards.  Because if we don’t take time to remember what makes us smile or feel good about the work we do, we won’t enjoy putting in the effort to improve it.  (So, what’s your skateboard?  What feel good wave do you ride on in your work?)

My final thought for the day goes back to my myriad of questions for the children.  As I probed further asking more directly what they wanted to be when they were an adult, one said they wanted to be me.  I should be flattered, but if she were me, then who would I be?  I posed this question to her and asked as well, if she were me, who would be her?

As companies or people, we work so hard to compete, to be like everyone else out there, but as the famous saying reflects, the only competition we should strive to be better than, is ourselves.  If we’re constantly trying to be like everyone else, there is nothing that defines us in the workplace or as a leading organization—nothing that stands out.

So, let’s focus on what matters, let’s take a step back, look inward, and focus on the small steps to reach our larger goals, and maybe in the process discover something new about who we are, what we want, what makes us unique and memorable, and what we’re really looking to achieve as individuals and as organizations when it comes to our careers and to talent.  Oh, and if we can, let’s ride skateboards while we’re at it.

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