When was the last time you asked yourself what propels you to do the things you do? If you’re like most people, you probably haven’t thought about it much, or perhaps ever. It’s a scary, daunting question that demands deep self-analysis. But guess what? We have something of a ‘hack’ to guide you towards the answer. It starts with a big question, the answer to which you arrive at incrementally. It’s the foundation of one of the more revealing, compelling and challenging self-awareness assignments that any one of us can take on, which is why we ask it of all our coaching clients.

Drumroll please…

“What are the five most important achievements in your personal and professional life; in priority order?”

It seems like a no brainer, not too bad, although the priority order aspect can trip people up. We encourage clients to take a breath and begin by thoughtfully creating a list of 10-20 achievements they are most proud of (contributions, decisions, awards, challenges overcome, significant roles, academics, sports achievements, community honors etc.) considering personal and professional experiences. Finishing quickly doesn’t earn extra points. Rather, we suggest clients keep the list close at hand for a few days to add, delete and assess their achievements and give time for less obvious achievements to bubble up.

Now, for each one of those 10-20 achievements ask yourself why that particular experience or accomplishment was of personal significance to you. Why was it one of the most significant moments of your life? What did it mean to you? Did you overcome a great challenge, illness, win against all odds, stretch yourself, demonstrate exceptional perseverance, inner strength, faith, commitment or skill? Did it entail solving a difficult problem or situation? Did you succeed beyond all expectations? How did it make you feel, inspire you?

Using the “why was it of special significance” answers, we begin to whittle your list down to the final, top five, all-time personal or professional accomplishments, in priority order.

Now we’re close to answering the question in the headline…

Having selected your top five, along with the “why” factor for each achievement, you must then identify between five and 10 common threads, energizers, motivators or themes that seem to run through each of these achievements. These motivational threads tell us what inspires and drives us and can shed light on what didn’t go right and what’s missing in our current work and direction. Sometimes clients are gob-smacked by what has been revealed and unexpected emotions can be triggered.

In the end, these motivational threads tell us what to look for in our next position, professional endeavor and career direction. Use them as a yardstick to assess how your next move(s) align with these motivational threads.

You cannot overstate how critical self-awareness is to personal and professional success, personal marketing, an effective job search and career planning. This one exercise will take your self-knowledge to the next level, help develop a laser focus, build career confidence and create “light bulb” moments for inspired work.

We’d love to hear feedback from those of you who tackle this one. Go for it!