This is a time of deep, collective introspection. The pandemic is forcing many of us to pause, reflect, take stock like never before — are we on the right path? How can we make our lives better, happier from here? What do we do next? How do we rediscover the joy in what we do?
It has certainly been that way for me, in recent times. If you too are on a quest for new clarity, purpose and direction, then this 19th century Persian parable is for you.
“There was once a wealthy man named Ali Hafed who lived not far from the River Indus. He was contented because he was wealthy, and wealthy because he was contented.
One day a priest visited Ali Hafed and told him about diamonds. Ali Hafed heard all about diamonds, how much they were worth, and went to his bed that night a poor man. He had not lost anything, but he was poor because he was discontented, and discontented because he feared he was poor.
Ali Hafed sold his farm, left his family, and traveled to Palestine and then to Europe searching for diamonds. He did not find them. His health and his wealth failed him. Dejected, he cast himself into the sea.
One day, the man who had purchased Ali Hafed’s farm found a curious sparkling stone in a stream that cut through his land. It was a diamond. Digging produced more diamonds — acres of them, in fact. This, according to the parable, was the discovery of the famed diamonds of Golconda.”
The ‘Acres of Diamonds’ that Ali Hafed sought so badly had been right there, under his feet all along.
There are many other versions of the story — a search for diamonds in South Africa, gold in California, oil in Canada. The message is that whilst we often dream of riches elsewhere, each of us, at this very moment, could be standing right in the middle of our own field of diamonds. If we just had the wisdom and patience to explore ourselves and the work we’re now engaged in, we’d find the very fortunes we seek (whether these are financial, or otherwise).
When everything is so uncertain, and we’re desperately seeking something better, it’s tempting to throw it all up in the air and out. Things need to change, for sure, but the Acres of Diamonds tale is a great reminder to appreciate what’s good in our lives and to open ourselves up to the opportunities all around us.
Unearthing the treasure beneath my feet
I was introduced to this parable recently by a friend, coach Chris Grimes. It really resonates with me.
A couple of years ago, I walked away from my business, Valuable Content, for good reason. If I’m honest, after 20 years of it, I’d lost my mojo. I’ve been on the hunt for fresh direction in my work ever since.
I’ve tried new roles: a year as a senior manager in corporate was an adventure, but ultimately not for me. I’ve explored new avenues: perhaps my future focus would be on listening? Whilst this is certainly a big part of the picture, having sat with it for a while, I realised that it wasn’t the whole story.
Recently, after much experimenting, writing, listening and reflection, I feel I have finally arrived at welcome clarity at last.
It transpires that what I want to do from here is really not that far away from what I’ve always done: helping people and businesses with something to say to bring their ideas to life and get their message out in a way that connects. How about that!
The valuable content approach I’ve worked on for so long is the diamond at the heart of it all — the big idea that flatly refuses to die. Even in my corporate role I couldn’t help but encourage people to sharpen and share their ideas and create valuable content. It’s my happy place and what I do best.
“The valuable content approach I’ve worked on for so many years is the diamond at the heart of it all for me — the big idea that flatly refuses to die.”
The thing that needed to change for me was not what I do, but rather the way I work. I enjoy my independence immensely (in business as in life) but I love to collaborate too. So alongside my solo consulting and coaching work, it’s a total joy to be collaborating again with Sharon — my fabulous friend and old business partner — on our group coaching courses and events.
And this month, I’ve finally got a new Sonja Nisson website up and live. I’m sure my work will keep evolving but it feels great — I’m reset, grounded and excited again, ready to push on forward.
Having wandered off into the wilderness for a while, it feels like I’ve come home.
Find your field of diamonds
That’s my story. I’ve discovered acres of diamonds I didn’t realise existed, right under my feet. I had to go on a quest to find them.
How about you? Where does your treasure lie?
Here are a few thoughts on what’s helped bring me to clarity.
- Life is short, take action — Recognise when things need to change, and do something about it, even if that scares you.
- Imagine the future you want — Write yourself there with this exercise.
- What works now? — What’s good about what you do now? What do you want to hang on to through the change?
- Experiment — Try new things and explore how they feel. What grates? What gives you joy? What can you not help but do?
- Get to know yourself better — What makes you tick? The VIA Institute strength assessment tool is the best I found to understand your personal, unique set of attributes. How can you use your strengths to the full in what you do next?
- Seek feedback — Hold a mirror up. Ask your clients, contacts, your team and your friends for their reflection on what you do best. This is where the gold you seek often lies. Listen hard and look for the thread in their feedback. Where do they see your value? Why does the world need you? Their insight and encouragement will bolster you immensely.
- Write your way to clarity — Get those thoughts out of your head, and on to paper. It’s so much clearer there. I promise you, if you do this then some of the worry will subside. Writing in my little black journal most days has been invaluable. And letting the smoke screen down and publishing my struggle to find a new direction here on Medium has been a great way to test my ideas, and uncover what I want to say.
- Hire a guide — It’s immeasurably hard (impossible?) to do this by yourself. You’ll most likely tie yourself in knots! Seek help. A skilled coach or guide will have the outside-in objectivity you need to untangle the mess in your head and get you to the answer.
- Create a new website — This might sound trite after some of the points above but this really is the most confident action you can take to cement what you do from here. The process of creating it forces you to make the hard, final decisions on your repositioning, polishing how you communicate your work and ideas. In my experience, although difficult, this really is the most positive step.
The process of rethinking what you do is as anxiety-inducing as it is exciting. It’s tempting to want to find the answer NOW, but I’ve learned it doesn’t work that way. Be patient. Give it time. Hold it as lightly as you can. Sit with the uncertainty for a while, however uncomfortable that feels. If you’re really looking for it, then the answer will come.
And remember to look out for the diamonds all around you.
I hope that this story and these ideas help a little. Wishing you the best of luck on your quest. Enjoy the adventure and do let me know how you fare.
I’ll shift most of my writing over to my new website and blog now — www.sonjanisson.co.uk. I’d love to see you there.
Sonja Nisson (previously Jefferson) is a coach and content strategist for people with ideas to share. She founded Valuable Content and is co-author of Valuable Content Marketing — how to make quality content your key to success. Find out more about Sonja and her work at www.sonjanisson.co.uk.