Now posted on Fast Company: An interesting article on “should do” vs. “must do” in our decision making. A good read on making career and life decisions based on our dreams instead of the easy, risk-free route.
“What carried creative people through from the conception to the completion of a project is drive and concentration born from a sense of purpose.
Purpose is what dictates the entire range of the enterprise.
Through intention, goals are shaped and ideas generated to fulfill them.
Through relentlessness come the cultivation of skills and the perfection of technique.
Through motive come the decisions as to which projects to pursue and in what order.
Through resolve, resources are marshaled and the necessary strength mustered to
overcome obstacles rather than to be overcome by them.
Through tenacity, friends and collaborators are selected.
And through will comes the wisdom to know when to part paths with influences one has
Creative work doesn’t evolve simply from wishing or accident or wholly from a mystical flash of inspiration. It also requires a sustained purpose and the discipline of trying over an extended period of time.
(From Shekerjian 1990, page 141-2)
There is no doubt that succeeding requires something that allows us to overcome the many obstacles that we encounter along the way. There is evidence that this something is born out of our habits and discipline: grit.
In a study of cadets at West Point, researchers noticed that the most important factor correlated with their ability to graduate was something called “grit”, which they defined as “the tendency to work strenuously toward challenges, maintaning effort and interst over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress.” What the researchers concluded was that cadets with grit started with habits of mental and physical discipline that allow them find the strength to overcome these obstacles.
(From “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business“, by Charles Duhigg)
Apparently, there’s more to life than being happy. What’s more, there’s more to life than pursuing happiness. Rather, we should endeavor to pursue meaning in our life.
Of course, this assumes that we have taken the time to identify those things that will bring us the most meaning in our life.
“Your purpose gave birth to you. It has molded and shaped who you are and what you do. Your purpose is the reason you live and breathe. Your purpose guides your heart, hands, and head. It is alive in you. It is there, within, that you must seek to know it and live it.” (Iyanla Vanzant)
When the “have to do” stuff starts to encroach on the “want to do” stuff, try to remember the following from Jon Acuff’s book Start:
1. Admit that you can’t possibly get it all done.
2. Give yourself the grace to accept that as reality, not failure.
3. Do things you can do with your full attention.
4. Celebrate what happens during Step 3 instead of obsessing over the things you didn’t get to.
5. Repeat as necessary.
Of course, one should never use this as an reason not to try to get stuff done.
Eric Baker, of the blog Bakadesuyo, published an excellent blog post on getting stuff done, entitled “Productivity Ninja“. In the posting, he lists five steps that I need to emulate:
1. Know when you’re at your best, and plan accordingly.
2. Get enough sleep.
3. Minimize distractions.
4. Work somewhere that you usually get things done.
5. Believe in what you do.
I would add a sixth tip, which I’ve found to be incredibly powerful:
6. Be accountable to somebody for getting things done.
I find that the more I am working with other people and finding myself accountable for completing tasks in order for them to accomplish their tasks, I am more productive. Even if the to-do list I share with my partners does not include things they are depending on, I am more focused on trying to complete them. So share those lists and be accountable.
The following excellent advice on finding a purpose and living a meaningful life comes from a letter penned by journalist and author Hunter S. Thompson. (Hat tip to Brain Pickings.) As for me, I think I’m still searching for my “ninth path”.
And indeed, that IS the question: whether to float with the tide, or to swim for a goal. It is a choice we must all make – consciously or unconsciously – at one time in our lives. So few people understand this! Think of any decision you’ve ever made which had a bearing on your future: I may be wrong, but I don’t see how it could have been anything but a choice – however indirect – between the two things I’ve mentioned: the floating or the swimming.
But why not float if you have no goal? That is another question. It is unquestionably better to enjoy the floating than to swim in uncertainty. So how does a man find a goal? Not a castle in the stars, but a real and tangible thing. How can a man be sure he’s not after the “big rock candy mountain,” the enticing sugar-candy goal that has little taste and no substance?
The answer – and, in sense, the tragedy of life – is that we seek to understand the goal and not the man. We set up a goal which demands of us certain things: and we do these things. We adjust to the demands of a concept which CANNOT be valid. When you were young, let us say that you wanted to be a fireman. I feel reasonably safe in saying that you no longer want to be a fireman. Why? Because your perspective has changed. It’s not the fireman who has changed, but you. Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience. As your experiences differ and multiply, you become a different man, and hence your perspective changes. This goes on and on. Every reaction is a learning process; every significant experience alters your perspective.
So it would seem foolish, would it not, to adjust our lives to the demands of a goal we see from a different angle every day? How could we ever hope to accomplish anything other than galloping neurosis?
The answer, then, must not deal with goals at all, or not with tangible goals, anyway. It would take reams of paper to develop this subject to fulfillment. God only knows how many books have been written on “the meaning of man” and that sort of thing, and god only knows how many people have pondered the subject. (I use the term “god only knows” purely as an expression.) There’s very littlie sense in my trying to give it up to you in the proverbial nutshell, because I’m the first to admit my absolute lack of qualifications for reducing the meaning of life to one or two paragraphs.
I’m going to steer clear of the word “existentialism,” but you might keep it in mind as a key of sorts. You might also try something called Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre, and another thing called Existentialism: From Dostoyevsky to Sartre. These are merely suggestions. If you’re genuinely satisfied with what you are and what you’re doing, then give those books a wide berth. (Let sleeping dogs lie.)
But back to the answer. As I said, to put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor police, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.
But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors – but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal. In every man, heredity and environment have combine to produce a creature of certain abilities and desires – including a deeply ingrained need to function in such a way that his life will be MEANINGFUL. A man has to BE something; he has to matter.
As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which ill let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward gratification of his DESIRES. In doing this, he is fulfilling a need (giving himself identity by functioning in a set pattern toward a set goal) he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path which puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it (rather than bending himself to meet the demands of that which he seeks, he has bent his goal to conform to his own abilities and desires).
In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important. And it seems almost ridiculous to say that a mans MUST function in a pattern of his own choosing; for to let another man define your own goals as to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life – the definitive act of will which makes a man an individual.
Let’s assume that you think you have a choice of eight paths to follow (all pre-defined paths, of course). And let’s assume that you can’t see any real purpose in any of the eight. THEN – and here is the essence of all I’ve said – you MUST FIND A NINTH PATH.
Naturally, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. You’ve lived a relatively narrow life, a vertical rather that horizontal existence. So it isn’t any too difficult to understand why you seem to feel the way you do. But a man who procrastinates in his CHOOSING will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.
So if you number yourself among the disenchanted, then you have no choice but to accept things as they are, or to seriously seek something else. But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life.
But you say, “I don’t know where to look; I don’t know what to look for.” And there’s the crux. Is it worth giving up what I have to look for something better? I don’t know – is it? Who can make that decision but you? But even by DECIDING TO LOOK, you go a long way toward making the choice.
And that’s it for now. Until I hear from you again, I remain,
You always do what you want to do. This is true with every act. You may say that you had to do something, or that you were forced to, but actually, whatever you do, you do by choice. Only you have the power to choose for yourself.
(W. Clement Stone)
From Bruce Kasanoff’s LinkedIn page, comes a list of 8 lessons that he learned while in Wharton’s MBA program. Excellent lessons!
1. There are dozens of reasons why something can’t be done, but perhaps only one why it can. Decide whether you are going to search for a way to do it, or regularly settle for a handy excuse.
2. Nothing stays the same. You have to be in tune with changes. Change is the norm.
3. Learn how when you have the time, so that you can do it when you have the chance.
4. Every business is show business.
5. Get as close as possible to what drives the business.
6. Invariably, there is a difference between those who carry titles on an organizational chart and the people who run the company. As soon as possible, figure out who runs the company.
7. If you can’t relate to the boredom of daily chores, how can you manage people who must do them all the time?
8. A superior leader is a person who can bring ordinary people together to achieve extraordinary results. Remember this if you are lucky enough to manage a team.