To fully benefit from questions of purpose and commitment, we need to be grounded in certain qualities that help us hold to our personal intentions when we engage with the pressures of the marketplace. These qualities are our capacity for reawakening our idealism, our ability to become more intimate in the way we contact the environment, and our willingness to choose depth in the face of the ever-quickening pace of modern life. The culture has forsaken idealism for cynicism, it has foregone intimacy for consumption and virtual experience. As a result, we find ourselves alienated and isolated, regardless of the crowd that we move in. Finally, in an effort to go fast, we sacrifice depth. When we lose idealism, intimacy, and depth, we function at a cosmetic level, pushed along by fashion, out of touch with our center, and we react as if we are the effect of the culture, rather than its cause. — Peter Block, The Answer to How is Yes
Have you yielded to cynicism? Do you feel isolated? Are you living at a purely surface level, simply responding to external presssures? The likely answer to at least one of these questions is “Yes.” So, what are you going to do about it? Be the cause for idealism, intimacy, and depth in your life and in the world around you. It really is your choice.
Functionally, a man is somewhat like a bicycle. A bicycle maintains its poise and equilibrium only so long as it is going forward towards something. You have a good bicycle. Your trouble is that you are trying to maintain your balance sitting still, with no place to go. No wonder it feels shaky
We are engineered as goal-seeking mechanisms. We are built that way. When we have no personal goal which we are interested in and which “means something” to us, we are apt to “go around in circles,” feel “lost” and find life itself “aimless,” and “purposeless.” We are built to conquer environment, solve problems, achieve goals, and find no real satisfaction or happiness in life without obstacles to conquer and goals to achieve. People who say that life is not worthwhile are really saying that they themselves have no personal goals which are worthwhile.
Prescription: Get yourself a goal worth working for. Better still, get yourself a project. Decide what you want out of a situation. Always have something ahead of you to “look forward to” — to work for and hope for. Look forward, not backward. Develop what one of the automobile manufacturers calls “the forward look.” Develop a “nostalgia for the future” instead of for the past. The “forward look” and “nostalgia for the future” can keep you youthful. Even your body doesn’t function well when you stop being a goal-striver and “have nothing to look forward to.” This is the reason that very often when a man retires, he dies shortly thereafter. When you’re not goal-striving, not looking forward, you’re not really “living.” In addition to your purely personal goals, have at least one impersonal goal — or “cause” which you can identify yourself with. Get interested in some project to help your fellow man — not out of a sense of duty, but because you want to. — Maxwell Maltz, M.D., F.I.C.S.
Answer these four questions for yourself right now. The answers will give you poise, equilibrium, and a sense of meaning and purpose. After all, isn’t that what we really want?
- What is your personal goal?
- What project are you actively pursuing?
- What are you looking forward to?
- What goal are your pursuing that will contribute to the greater good…for the benefit of others?
“Daydreaming does not enjoy tremendous prestige in our culture, which tends to regard it as unproductive thought. Writers perhaps appreciate its importance better than most, since a fair amount of what they call work consists of little more than daydreaming edited. Yet anyone who reads for pleasure should prize it too, for what is reading a good book but a daydream at second hand? Unlike any other form of thought, daydreaming is its own reward. For regardless of the result (if any), the very process of daydreaming is pleasurable. And, I would guess, is probably a psychological necessity. For isn’t it in our daydreams that we acquire some sense of what we are about? Where we try on futures and practice our voices before committing ourselves to words or deeds? Daydreaming is where we go to cultivate the self, or, more likely, selves, out of the view and earshot of other people. Without its daydreams, the self is apt to shrink down to the size and shape of the estimation of others.” — Micheal Pollan
“Men are disturbed not by things that happen, but by their opinion of the things that happen.” — Epictetus
“When I announced that I wanted to be a doctor, I was told this could not be, because my folks had no money. It was a fact that my mother had no money. It was only an opinion that I could never be a doctor. Later, I was told that I could never take post-graduate courses in Germany, and that it was impossible for a young plastic surgeon to hang out his own shingle and go into business for himself in New York. I did all these things — and one of the things that helped me was that I kept reminding myself that all these ‘impossibles’ were opinions, not facts. I not only managed to reach my goals — but I was happy in the process — even when I had to pawn my overcoat to buy medical books, and do without lunch in order to purchase cadavers. I was in love with a beautiful girl. She married someone else. These were facts. But I kept reminding myself that it was merely my opinion that this was a ‘catastrophe’ and that life was not worth living. I not only got over it, but it turned out that it was one of the luckiest things that ever happened to me.” — Maxwell Maltz, M.D., F.I.C.S.
“The question of commitment declares that the essential investment needed is personal commitment, not money, not the agreement of others, not the alignment of converging forces supportive of a favorable outcome. For anything that matters, the timing is never quite right, the resources are always a little short, and the people who affect the outcome are always ambivalent. These conditions offer proof that if we say yes, it is our own doing and it is important to us. What a gift.” — Peter Block
What do you need to say yes to? What’s holding you back? Why?
“Great enterprises, broadly defined, are based on a clear vision. In fact, it’s hard to think of an example of a successful business that doesn’t have one. This vision is likely to have evolved over time, but it is there, guiding the firm into the future.
“There is a diner on the corner of my street in New York City — a modest establishment that has been my favorite place to eat for the past fifteen years. The owner founded the restaurant more than thirty years ago. His vision was to build a friendly neighborhood restaurant that provided basic food at a fair price, with prompt service and very modest decor in a convenient location. Every key decision the owner and his colleagues make today is still consistent with this vision: minimal staff, no credit cards (to save on fees), a large counter for walk-ins, and so on.
“The diner’s success emanates from the vision that lies behind it and their operation certainly embodies the concept of vision.”
— Robert Steven Kaplan, What to Ask the Person in the Mirror
First question, do you have a vision for your non-profit, your business or the functional area you are responsible for? If so, does the vision you have for your business, non-profit, or functional area drive your decisions and actions on a daily basis? If not, it’s time to revisit your vision and determine why not and take the appropriate steps to make your vision come alive. It will be time well spent.
The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pounds of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality,” however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of the highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work — learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.
If you think good work is somehow synonymous with perfect work you are headed for big trouble. Art is human; error is human; ergo, art is error. Inevitably, your work will be flawed. Why? Because you’re a human being, and only human beings, warts and all, make art. Without warts it is not clear what you would be, but clearly you wouldn’t be one of us.
– – David Bayles & Ted Orland in Art & Fear
There is a lesson here for all of us regardless of the type of “work” we do. Just do the work…and keep doing it. This is how we will grow and learn and be productive in whatever work we choose to do.