• Dione Chen

Three Steps to Figuring Out What Matters Most (Part 2 on this question)

How can you figure out WMM? I’d like to share 3 steps that you can take to figure out the answer. Doing so often requires research, reflection and revising assumptions and goals – don't worry! Finding your answer can be a freeing and exciting discovery.

1. Who are you? Does this question have you at a loss for words or do you have so much to say that it’s impossible to capture the essence of who you in a personal brand?

· Identify your values. What do you care about? I provide a list of 50 values and ask clients to quickly choose their top 10 from a list of many more. Next, narrow these down to no more than 3, then one. Don’t overthink this.

· Identify the personal qualities that differentiate you. What are the key strengths and weaknesses that make you YOU? Some people find it easy to describe themselves. Others aren’t sure. I recommend taking the free, quick and easy Myers-Briggs personality type test offered by (There are many other personality tests available online, but this one is so short and simple.) I don’t worry if this is the “best” test or if the results will be 100% accurate. Rather, I explain to my clients that what I’m most interested in is learning is what they think of the assessment. Does the report they receive on their strengths, weaknesses, and ways of behaving and thinking seem spot on or off base? Anything surprising? I find that being confronted with the test results forces people to "commit" to defining who they are and I don't mean their "personal brand." I really don't like the term because I think it makes it too easy to reduce people to stereotypes and cliches. I use this exercise to give clients access to an expanded “vocabulary” in describing themselves.

· Learn how others see you: Choose 5 people who know you well. Ask them two questions: What am I good at? What sets me apart? Their answers may confirm how you see yourself or surprise you.

2. How do you spend your time? Maybe you’re the type who precisely schedules your time commitments or maybe you find yourself so absorbed in what you’re doing that you “lose all sense of time.” Paying attention to how you actually spend your time can yield important clues to what matters most. Here are 3 exercises to help you evaluate how and why you spend your time the way that you do.

· The first exercise in the bestseller, Designing Your Life – How Build a Well-lived, Joyful Life, by co-founders of the Stanford Design Program’s best seller, asks you to take stock of your life by envisioning a personal dashboard that displays 4 gauges (work, play, love, health). Are you feeling (contentedly) “full” or (disappointingly) “empty? The authors note, “Even though perfect balance is not our goal, a look at this diagram can sometimes warn us that something is not right.”

· For your third exercise, let’s figure out what motivates you. Choose your top 2 drivers from this list. I’ve grouped these into 5 categories.

  1. Affiliation/relationships

  2. Influence/power/respect

  3. Money/financial success/wealth

  4. Intellectual Vitality/Learning/Curiosity

  5. Impact/Helping Others (individuals, organizations, causes)

· Take notes! Maintain a journal/diary to record meaningful events and encounters, highlights and lowlights, challenges and accomplishments can prod you to think about exactly “where did the day go?”

3. Why do you do the things you do? How are your personality and values reflected in how you act? Actions speak louder than words – so, what do your actions say about you?

· For this first exercise, start with a blank page (digital or paper). Across the top of the page, write down 3 words that reveal the personal qualities and/or values that define you – the exercises in Step 1 are helpful in providing options. For example, are you funny, optimistic, resourceful, kind? Are your core values compassion, family, love, intellectual vitality, independence? There are no wrong or right answers here. Now, draw columns for each word. Write down 3-5 examples of how you’ve demonstrated that personality trait or value. What was the situation and how did you act?

· For the second exercise, you can start another page or add to your existing one. Think of 5-10 events/experiences that have been very meaningful to you –- these could be significant challenges you’ve overcome or accomplishments you’re proud of or turning points in your life. Now, it’s time to reflect on these experiences -- what was the personality trait, strength or core value that was essential to your choices and actions. What “themes” (core values/personal qualities) and “stories (examples) resonate most with you?

· Now, let’s investigate a bit deeper. Think about how you actually spend your time in a week and/or one month chunk vs. what’s important to you. Common categories include work, play, fitness/health, learning, community involvement, hobbies, friends, faith, family. Choose up to 10 categories. Now, on a scale of 1 thru 10, rate how satisfied (or not) you feel about the time spent. This exercise asks you to take an honest, objective look at how you spend your time, and to ask yourself whether how you invest your energy and time aligns with what you find meaningful, satisfying and enjoyable.

In my consulting practice, my goal is to help others discover, communicate and pursue educational, professional and personal goals that align with their values. I urge them to feel powerful, and to think of themselves as the driver, not the driven.

My college and graduate school admissions consulting clients sometimes come to me with apprehension, confusion and hope. They’re on the verge of taking an important next step in their lives, and they hope to make the most of higher education. I understand that – attending college and graduate school are significant investments of time, energy and expense (the cost of attending private colleges can be $80K/year and the cost of attending professional graduate programs such as medical, law and business school can be $120K/year).

I provide a mix of life coaching, writing coaching, career coaching and academic counseling. Many times, I don’t meet educational consulting clients until about 4-6 months before they’re application deadline. In the best cases, I get to know individuals before they’re facing an external deadline -- providing a sounding board and pragmatic, supportive, knowledgeable counseling. This means that sometimes I’m required to provide “tough love,” at other times I cheer them on, a trusted, enthusiastic and empathetic champion. My “toolbox” necessarily includes exercises, conversation and “homework” that are customized to each person.

Everyone is different. Through examining one’s values, choices and actions, I believe that everyone can benefit from affirming what matters most to them and why. As a result, you can be intentional, wise and kind to yourself while navigating life.

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