The Journey Is Not Planned

Society covets plans because they aim to create and maintain the social order. Author Chris Guillebeau has a label for the individuals who support the ideology: “the unremarkably average.” You might be unfamiliar with the term, but not with the principles:

  1. Accept what people tell you at face value
  2. Don’t question authority
  3. Go to college because you’re supposed to, not because you want to learn something
  4. Go overseas once or twice in your life, to somewhere safe like England
  5. Don’t try to learn another language; every- one else will eventually learn English
  6. Think about starting your own business, but never do it
  7. Think about writing a book, but never do it
  8. Get the largest mortgage you qualify for and spend 30 years paying for it
  9. Sit at a desk 40 hours a week for an average of 10 hours of productive work
  10. Don’t stand out or draw attention to yourself
  11. Jump through hoops and check off boxes

I am sure the list frighteningly familiar, but those ambitions are no longer in alignment with your goals. You feel the urge to break free from the social order and make an impact. Author Seth Godin defines this person as the “the linchpin:”

A linchpin is the essential element, the person who holds part of the operation together. Without the linchpin, the thing falls apart.

How do you become a linchpin? I can’t answer the question because the journey is yours. I can impart advice:

  • Read, and read-widely
  • Ask yourself, “What will people say about me at my funeral?”
  • Get around people that inspire you
  • Question everything you don’t understand

The plan is not the point, it’s something more powerful: your growth.

The Race To The Top

It’s rare when you see a company doing difficult and important work.

Most companies are racing to the bottom, a term the Financial Times defines: The situation in which companies and countries try to compete with each other by cutting wages and living standards for workers, and the production of goods is moved to the place where the wages are lowest, and the workers have the fewest rights.

Why would a company “race to the bottom?” To be the obvious choice over the competition.

The problem with the strategy is that you are: suffocating innovation, sacrificing employee safety and forfeiting quality for market share.

What if you “raced to the top?” Author Seth Godin pens:

The race to the top makes more sense to me. The race to the top is focused on design and respect and dignity and guts and innovation and sustainability and yes, generosity when it might be easier to be selfish. It's also risky, filled with difficult technical and emotional hurdles, and requires patience and effort and insight. The race to the top is the long-term path with the desirable outcome.

Godin notes:

Changing things for the better is rarely applauded by Wall Street, but Wall Street might not be the point of your work. It might simply be to do work you’re proud of, to contribute, and to leave things a little better than you found them. Profitable, difficult, or important—each is an option. A choice we get to make every day. ‘None of the above’ is also available, but I’m confident we can seek to do better than that.

Forget the “race to the bottom,” it is a never-ending street fight. Instead, focus on the hard work of changing things for the better.

What Are You Grateful For?

I am grateful for: my failures, my pain, my fears, my delays, my miscalculations, my transgressions, my emotional valleys, my poor decisions, my lack of action, my lack of courage but more importantly I am grateful for being wrong.

Denis E. Waitley, motivational speaker, pens:

Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.

The romantic narrative of success is a fairy tale. Embracing failure is a necessity because it’s your guide on the puzzling journey to success.

Improving Through Analysis

Those who started working with you have been promoted over you. You’re smart, driven and talented so what do they have over you? Perhaps it’s not a question of attributes? Maybe, it’s a question about feedback?

Let these questions simmer:

  • What if you knew your weaknesses?
  • What if you knew your strengths?
  • What if you analyzed your decisions?

Peter Drucker, the author of Managing Oneself writes:

The only way to discover your strengths is through feedback analysis. Whenever you make a key decision or take a key action, write down what you expect will happen. Nine or 12 months later, compare the actual results with your expectations.

Drucker notes:

Successful careers are not planned. They develop when people are prepared for opportunities because they know their strengths, their method of work, and their values. Knowing where one belongs can transform an ordinary person — hardworking and competent but otherwise mediocre — into an outstanding performer.

The “feedback analysis” is a tool that will develop you into the person who is prepared for opportunities. Here are a few questions that can help:

  1. What are your strengths? Once you have identified your strengths, place yourself in situations where your strengths will produce results.
  2. How will you improve your strengths? The feedback analysis will help you identify where you need to develop skills or acquire new ones.
  3. Where are you intellectually arrogant? Build a latticework of mental models so you can understand how the world works.

What has worked for me is setting a timer on my iPhone: Time For Feedback. When the timer goes off I:

  • Review my decisions up to that point.
  • I ask, “What value I added?”
  • I ask, “Did I operate from my strengths?”
  • I ask, “Where did I struggle?

Document your answers and during your weekly review—review your responses. The analysis allows you to understand what you’ve done and how you’ve performed. More importantly, the review helps you understand your strengths and weaknesses. Go through the exercise for the next 30 days. The results will impress you.

To Taste Life Twice

You have always doubted your writing. You never felt you were good enough. Perhaps it was your mother? Or a teacher? Or something sinful like the Resistance. Whatever the cause of your doubt, it was washed away after reading a quote from French-American essayist Anaïs Nin:

We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection.

Those words became your why. American novelist Flannery O'Connor adds:

I write to discover what I know.

Yes, but you also write to discover what you don’t know. You are fascinated by the how. It drives you to ask, “more beautiful questions.” It imbues you to write. To experience. To Share—so you can live life twice.

Red Team Or Blue Team

Problem-solving and critical-thinking are two essential skills to develop. Regrettably, solving a problem or thinking through an issue is not an indication of its correctness. In many instances, your answer won’t be the best solution. Jamie Dimon CEO of JPMorgan Chase writes:

Most decisions are not binary, and there are usually better answers waiting to be found if you do the analysis and involve the right people.

French philosopher Voltaire, adds:

Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.

Uncovering the best answer is a strenuous exercise. But, you can stack the deck in your favor: ask better questions, listen carefully, read-widely, make connections and red team-blue team solutions.

These strategies won’t make finding the best answer easy, but they will help in better defining the problem.

Moments Away From A Life-Changing Decision

You want to be in the shape of your life: look amazing shirtless, boundless energy, visible six-pack, increased self-confidence, heavy plant-based diet, participate in multiple obstacle races and to be an inspiration to your family.

Regrettably, over the last 20 years you have allowed yourself to devolve: the standard American diet, financial stress, disengaged at work, poor sleep, not drinking enough water, sedentary lifestyle and allowing past failures to dictate your future.

You were watching an interview with James Lawrence (The Iron Cowboy), he noted:

Every moment of every single day has a massive impact on where you ultimately end up.

Lawrence adds:

We are moments away from a decision that can change your life.

Those words stuck in your echo chamber, and the words evolved into inspiration. You began to search for strategies: lifetime goals from Jack Canfield, Neuro-linguistic programming from Tony Robbins, finding your why from Simon Sinek and understanding that your failures do not reflect your future from The Iron Cowboy.

You don’t want to sit in your rocking chair at the end of your life and regret that you did not live your life. You want to live now. Why, because you are one moment away from a decision that can change your life.

When you die, you want to die on empty—inspiring others on their journey.

Humanity’s Success, Through Beastly Struggles

Humanity has brought famine, plague, and war under control. Author Yuval Noah Harari writes:

Success breeds ambition, and our recent achievements are now pushing humankind to set itself even more daring goals.

Harari adds:

And having raised humanity above the beastly level of survival struggles, we will now aim to upgrade humans into gods, and turn Homo sapiens into Homo deus.

But, can our new ambitions give birth to new beastly struggles? Could genetic engineering give birth to a violent species of humans? Could regenerative medicine create an antibiotic-resistant pathogen? Could nanotechnology be hacked to become the modern-day Black Death?

Author Andrew McAfee does not share my perspective, McAfee notes:

We need to let the technologies of the second machine age do their work and find ways to deal with the challenges they will bring with them.

McAfee co-author of, “The Second Machine Age” understands that humanity’s success will breed ambition. He also understands that you poorly predict the future. Why, because predictions are based on your current assumptions.

Instead of making bad assumptions, McAfee explains you need to find solutions for these challenges:

  • Improving education to reduce the number of unskilled workers
  • Focusing on entrepreneurship because it’s an innovation engine
  • Supporting scientists, by reforming the U.S. intellectually property laws
  • Upgrading our infrastructure — bridges, airports, streets and highways

When you focus on finding solutions, and not making predictions you can better manage humanity’s ambitions.

The Cult-Like Following

Speaker Simon Sinek writes:

People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it.

Leaders and companies inspire others by first explaining, Why they do what they do.

Sinek adds:

By WHY I mean what is your purpose, cause or belief? WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning? And WHY should anyone care?

Your Why serves to inspire your team and customers, it instills purpose and loyalty. This is why companies such as Apple have a cult-like following. This is why Martin Luther King influenced a movement. This is why John F. Kennedy moved a nation to put a man on the moon.

What is your Why?

Your Competition Is Using It

Author Simon Sinek writes:

Have you ever had a sales rep try to sell you some “office solution” by telling you that 70 percent of your competitors are using their service, so why aren’t you?

No one wants to be the guy that is not using the thing that everyone else is using. But, there are questions you should ask before agreeing to buy the thing:

  • What if 70% of my competitors are idiots?
  • What if 70% of my competitors are buying because everyone else did?
  • If 70% of my competition is using that product? How does that give me the advantage?”

Sinek adds:

These are all forms of peer pressure. When marketers report that a majority of a population or a group of experts prefers their product over another, they are attempting to sway the buyer to believing that whatever they are selling is better.

Don’t be swayed by peer pressure. Don’t fixate on the cheaper short-term solution, over the better long-term solution. The short-term solution is a temporary fix, that can lead to long-term costs.

The Zip Line of Your Life

You are about to slide down the zip line when your lizard brain screams, “No! This is dangerous!” You begin to panic and tell the guy who is strapping you into the harness, “I can’t do this, please unstrap me!” The guy does not question your decision and unstraps you.

While choosing not to participate is not an issue, the successive decisions not to participate are an issue. Why, because the quality of your life is based on your choices. Author James Lawrence (the Iron Cowboy) explains:

The only limits are the ones you set for yourself.

Lawrence continues:

Don’t find your limits. Exceed your limits.

I find that if you hold yourself to a ridiculous standard, you consistently exceed your limits:

  • Push yourself to be more
  • Push yourself to be better
  • Push yourself to be smarter
  • Ask yourself, “What is next?”

You must cultivate an obsession with your definition of success. When you choose to participate, the quality of your life evolves.

The Definition of Failure

You walk into the office, and you're told the project you’ve been managing for over two years is now being led by another team. Your first reaction is confusion which is followed by anger and finally the feeling of failure.

When you ask why has the project been taken away, you are told the new vice-president decided that his team will manage all software-based projects. There is no meeting to discuss a transition period. There is no conversation about the status of outstanding issues. There is no communications about scheduled work. You just get an email, “Hi, I am taking the lead on this project.”

You understand that change happens but what you don’t understand is the insensitivity. The move leaves you feeling uninspired, unsafe and unfulfilled.

Leadership authority Simon Sinek makes it clear:

Returning from work feeling inspired, safe, fulfilled and grateful is a natural human right to which we are all entitled and not a modern luxury that only a few lucky ones are able to find.

Sinek continues:

We are drawn to leaders and organizations that are good at communicating what they believe. Their ability to make us feel like we belong, to make us feel special, safe and not alone is part of what gives them the ability to inspire us.

Yes, you need time to acknowledge what has happened but you can not allow failure to define you.

Triathlete James Lawrence explains:

Don’t let failure beat you down. Look at it as a blessing and a turning point that leads you to a different future.

How will you define that different future? Do you need to set a goal? Do you need to focus on the next step? Do you need to focus on the details? The answer is Yes, but don't forget to take massive action.

What Are Your Standards of Behavior

The definition of value is “A person's principles or standards of behavior; one's judgment of what is important in life.” Your standards of behavior are crucial in deciding how to live your life, who you will be, what type of work will inspire you and what relationships you will seek.

You have an idea of what is essential in your life, but you spend most of your day on automatic. When you unconsciously move from task to task, you are operating based on someone else’s judgments. Indian activist Mahatma Gandhi explains:

Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.

What if you had a list of values? What if you chose five? What if you live those values every day for 30 days? The list is borrowed from author James Clear:

  • Authenticity
  • Achievement
  • Adventure
  • Authority
  • Autonomy
  • Balance
  • Beauty
  • Boldness
  • Compassion
  • Challenge
  • Citizenship
  • Community
  • Competency
  • Contribution
  • Creativity
  • Curiosity
  • Determination
  • Fairness
  • Faith
  • Fame
  • Friendships
  • Fun
  • Growth
  • Happiness
  • Honesty
  • Humor
  • Influence
  • Inner Harmony
  • Justice
  • Kindness
  • Knowledge
  • Leadership
  • Learning
  • Love
  • Loyalty
  • Meaningful Work
  • Openness
  • Optimism
  • Peace
  • Pleasure
  • Poise
  • Popularity
  • Recognition
  • Religion
  • Reputation
  • Respect
  • Responsibility
  • Security
  • Self-Respect
  • Service
  • Spirituality
  • Stability
  • Success
  • Status
  • Trustworthiness
  • Wealth
  • Wisdom

Once you decided on what values resonate ask yourself, “How do I practice these values today?” Let that question simmer and inspire you to take massive action.

Improving Through Analysis

The people that started working with you have surpassed you. You’re smart and talented, but you're missing an essential ingredient for success. Let these questions simmer:

  • What if you knew your weaknesses?
  • What if you knew your strengths?
  • What if you analyzed your decisions?

Peter Drucker, the author of Managing Oneself explains:

The only way to discover your strengths is through feedback analysis. Whenever you make a key decision or take a key action, write down what you expect will happen. Nine or 12 months later, compare the actual results with your expectations.

Drucker notes:

Successful careers are not planned. They develop when people are prepared for opportunities because they know their strengths, their method of work, and their values. Knowing where one belongs can transform an ordinary person— hardworking and competent but otherwise mediocre— into an outstanding performer.

The feedback analysis is a tool that will you develop into the person who is prepared for opportunities. Look at these questions:

  1. What are your strengths? Once you have identified your strengths, place yourself in situations where your strengths will produce results.
  2. How will you improve your strengths? The feedback analysis will help you identify where you need to develop skills or acquire new ones.
  3. Where are you intellectually arrogant? Build a latticework of mental models so you can understand how the world works.

What has worked for me is setting a timer on my iPhone: Time For Feedback. When the timer goes off I:

  • Review my decisions.
  • Ask, “What value I added?”
  • Ask, “Did I operate from my strengths?”
  • Ask, “Where did I struggle?

Document your answers and on the weekend review your week. The review allows you to understand what you’ve done and how you’ve performed. More importantly, the review helps you understand your strengths and weaknesses. Go through the exercise for the next 30 days. The results my impress you.

I Want To Be A Leader, I’ll Do It Later

You’ve always wanted to be in leadership, but it's never been a priority. There is always something more important, or you convince yourself, “I will pursue it later.”

Roman Stoic philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca notes:

You are living as if destined to live forever; your own frailty never occurs to you; you don’t notice how much time has already passed, but squander it as though you had a full and overflowing supply.

If you want to be in leadership, then decided to be a leader. Shift your mindset and obsess:

  • Read 500 pages every day on leadership every day.
  • Model a leader that you find inspiring.
  • Everyday do the little things that will make you a better leader.

Seneca continues:

Believe me, it is the sign of a great man, and one who is above human error, not to allow his time to be frittered away: he has the longest possible life simply because whatever time was available he devoted entirely to himself.

Your time is limited use it wisely.

Communicating Your Purpose

The company has gone through four CEOs in five years. You have noticed a disturbing pattern, the Why changes based on the CEO. The changes have led to a degradation in the company’s How and What.

It’s no wonder why the organization has been losing talented leaders. To make matters worse, the employees are concerned about the company’s shifting purpose and loss of institutional knowledge. Speaker Simon Sinek notes:

We are drawn to leaders and organizations that are good at communicating what they believe. Their ability to make us feel like we belong, to make us feel special, safe and not alone is part of what gives them the ability to inspire us.

You desperately want to be inspired to believe in a purpose so you can help the organization achieve its vision. Alan Mulally, former CEO of the Ford Motor Company, explains:

It’s important to have a compelling vision and a comprehensive plan. Positive leadership — conveying the idea that there is always a way forward — is so important because that is what you are here for — to figure out how to move the organization forward.

What is a possible solution?

Human beings are social creatures. You thrive in an organization that creates a culture of transparent communications. Why because it helps in:

  • Making you feel like you belong.
  • Making you feel safe.
  • Making you feel special.
  • Giving you a voice to express concerns and wins.
  • Developing trust in leadership and with your co-workers.

Communications is critical without a clear plan the Why is lost.

Fear of Failing

What if you started your day with Why:

  • Why did I choose my profession?
  • What are my top three favorite books and why?
  • If life is so short, why do I do so many things I don’t like and like so many things I don’t do?
  • If I had to move to a state or country besides the one I currently live in, where would I move and why?
  • Why am I, me?
  • If I learn from my mistakes, why am I always so afraid to make a mistake?

Now that your mind is simmering for solutions, What If:

  • What if you inspired others to do their job better?
  • What if you spent the day listening first and speaking last?
  • What if you asked someone how are you doing and then listened?
  • What if others followed you and not because they have to, but because you inspire them to?

What if every day you directed your focus? How much value would you add to your personal relationships, to the people in your charge, to your health and fitness, to your finances, to your emotional and spiritual life? Speaker Tony Robbins has an answer:

“One reason so few of us achieve what we truly want is that we never direct our focus; we never concentrate our power. Most people dabble their way through life, never deciding to master anything in particular.”

Why do you dabble your way through life? It’s fear: fear of failing, fear of succeeding, fear of not being good enough, and fear of the unknown.

Instead of allowing fear to manage your life what if you decided to no longer live that narrative? What if you decided on a goal and took action to achieve that goal? What if you decided that you no longer wanted to live an ordinary life but an extraordinary life?

How would your life evolve? Who would you help? Robbins notes:

It is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped.

Worth Paying For

Your car has almost 100,000 thousand miles and taking it to the dealer is expensive. Fortunately, a family friend recommended two mechanics:

First Mechanic:

  • Good mechanic.
  • Inexpensive.
  • Explains what he does.
  • You have never met face to face.
  • When you dropped off your car it’s up to you to figure out how to get home.

Second Mechanic

  • Good mechanic.
  • Inexpensive.
  • Explains what he does and why.
  • You've met face to face allot.
  • Follows up with you after the work is done.
  • Consults with you before any work is started.
  • Texted you “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Fathers Day.”
  • He drops you off and picks you up, so you don’t have to take mass transit.

It’s understandable why you only take your car to the second mechanic, author Tony Robbins notes:

“If you add the value, you will become the brand. Find a way to add more value than anyone else does.”

Adding value is a standard that most customers expect but adding more value than anyone else does is rare. How would you add more value:

  1. Be faster.
  2. Offer Better Quality.
  3. Increase Convenience.
  4. Follow up.

It’s not rocket science, but it does take a degree of implementation. If you don't add more value to your customer, then you will lose the customers to the person that does offer more value.

The Disappointed Executive

“You people are terrible managers!” the senior executive insults the team. You’re in shock. You’re upset. You’re disappointed. Author Simon Sinek explains:

It is better to disappoint people with the truth than to appease them with a lie.

The senior executive has disappointed you with the truth of how he feels about the team. Instead of being defeated you mentor yourself: I must become the leader I do not have, and help others feel valued.

Sinek clarifies:

When we help ourselves, we find moments of happiness. When we help others, we find lasting fulfillment.

To be a great leader you don’t need to do great things. To be a great leader you must do the small things. It can be something little like asking, “I’ve noticed you’ve had a rough couple of weeks. Is everything OK?”