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Trust How the Dots Connect

Do you plan your every step, knowing the results you want and what the destination looks and feels like? Do you work and work at something even if it doesn’t feel quite right, or because you chose that path you feel you must persevere?

Or, instead, do you coast along and hope that something appealing will snag you, or that you’ll an opportunity will drop at your feet?

Personally, neither sounds appealing, at least not all the time.

But there’s another option — a hybrid of the two. It can take some of the heat off if you feel like you fall into either of those categories. Or especially if you bounce back and forth between the two.

In Steve Jobs’ now famous Stanford speech, he talked about connecting the dots.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect the dots looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something, your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all the difference.”

If that sounds a little woo-woo, remember we’re talking about a great designer, marketer and businessperson. If it’s good enough for Apple, it’s good enough for your business or life.

Why is this a hybrid of the two extremes?

Because there’s a dose of intention mixed with believing. Jobs obviously didn’t succeed by this alone. He worked really hard. This hybrid approach frees you from worrying that you’re spinning your wheels or taking the wrong path.

Worrying depletes valuable energy best spent on the dot itself, or the next dot and the one after that.

But it does require that you intentionally engage with people or in activities or business ideas that align with your interests and values. If you do this, you’ll almost never go wrong.

You also have to apply some common sense if something requires a big investment where you could lose your shirt. But don’t use investment (time or money) as an excuse until you know what loosing your shirt actually means to you.

Sometimes this intention/believing mix is only about:

• having that conversation
• fleshing out that new service
• toying with that joint venture
• taking that workshop you keep forgetting to sign up for
• submitting that article
• doing that thing that seems a little hard or awkward at first
• asking for that help
• doing that thing you fear others will think is stupid
• expressing that personality you keep squelching (even your business personality)
• launching that thing that isn’t quite ready for prime time

Waiting for something to just happen or waiting till you’re inspired means missing out on taking a not well-worn path that could lead to something great. There’s an inherent aliveness in believing the dots will connect. It means that every person you speak to, every thing you read, every place you go, can suddenly take on new meaning. It doesn’t mean you have to work any harder. It just means that you’re consciously open to it possibly going somewhere.

And if it doesn’t? You haven’t wasted much time.

Try this.

Pick any one thing you’ve done (big or small) and go over in your mind the seemingly trivial dots that led you there. Don’t forget to notice the indirect paths, the random introductions. Maybe you’ll recall almost not doing something that, had you not, wouldn’t have led to meeting so and so.


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{image credit: Flickr / Diane Cordell}

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