Answers that Define You

E. Ann Hollier, Ph.D.Self Care, Vision

Who are you and what do you want?

Most of us put the single most important questions in life on our voicemail greeting and never give them another thought.

You can’t be effective in your work without those answers, because otherwise the course you’re setting isn’t your own. Planning a career path isn’t enough. You can’t plan your way into a personal vision. Your calling arises organically from that still, small voice we carry around in our heads. It gets drowned out by the to-do list and the inner chatter that fills our thoughts most of the time.

You may feel you have no idea how to answer either question, but in my experience that’s never true. Either you aren’t listening to the part of you that knows or you’re afraid of what it tells you.

There are many ways to bring this information to the surface, but all require willingness to set aside the distractions of daily life, shut up the monkey-mind chatter, and wait. It’s a meditative process.

When have you left your computer, cell phone, and family at home and gone away for a personal retreat? Most new clients never have. Time for personal reflection – and a personal vision and strategic plan arising from it – is so extraordinarily valuable that I recommend you plan a three day weekend just for yourself once a year. Most of us need that long to truly put the office and daily routines aside, slow down, and listen deeply.

If meditating on who you are and what you want seems like such a gigantic knotty problem that you can’t possibly find the end of the string to begin unraveling it, first ponder something related:

What are your core values? What principles do you want to live your life by? What are the touchstones that can keep you on track when life circumstances and other people’s priorities tug you in other directions? Your work can and should be an expression of these principles but it’s just one embodiment. And once you have that list, how do you prioritize them? When they point to differing courses of action which one takes precedence?

When I first undertook this exercise, many years ago, I went away to a house on Nantucket. I walked the winter beach and stared at an empty sheet of paper for three solid days, and couldn’t for the life of me imagine what to write down. My third and final night, I dreamed a guide took me deep into an enormous cavern where he performed ceremonies. Through his rituals, the answers formed:

1. Personal and spiritual growth
2. Satisfying relationships with others
3. Interesting work
4. Creative outlets
5. To be surrounded by beauty

Over the years, I’ve boiled them down to three:

1. Spiritual awareness
2. Authenticity
3. Presence

Once you have your list, say something about what each one means to you and how it shows up in your life. For example, for me spiritual awareness has nothing to do with a church, or any formal religion. I wrote:

“I seek to live my life from the knowledge that I am a part of the All That Is, my spirit intimately connected with the spirit of all things. I know this infinite pool of creativity and possibility is available to me whenever I wish to experience it. I strive to make choices supporting my realization as an enlightened being, choosing illuminated awareness over illusion, compassion over selfish desires, wisdom over mere knowledge, union over separation.”

Then put your writing where you see it daily, on your desk, bathroom mirror, or nightstand.

Is my profession an expression of my values? You bet. But so could be any line of work. They embody how I want to show up in the world, whether I’m building skyscrapers or mopping the floors in them. What I know for a fact is that we live our highest purpose when our guiding values are a touchstone. Without them we’re rudderless.

So go ahead. Make an appointment with yourself. Who are you and what do you want? That should keep you off the streets and out of trouble for a little while, and I’ll be interested in your answers.

Or, contact me to discuss how I can help you build more meaning and purpose into your livelihood. That is the touchstone of all true high performance, in work and in life.

E. Ann Hollier, Ph.D.

E. Ann Hollier, Ph.D.
Managing Partner
The Cogent Executive LLC

Ann Hollier provides strategic consulting and performance coaching to high achieving senior executives and management teams. She specializes in change management, strategic planning and implementation, leadership development, and building world-class collaborative teams. Learn more at


E. Ann Hollier, Ph.D.Answers that Define You