On My Own: Part 5 – From Shock to Clarity
How I found the purpose of my life’s work
(If you haven’t read the beginning of this story, The Build-Up, start here.)
I was going to call this part of the story WTF, but that only describes the smallest piece of what happened here. What really happened is that I found clarity. Direction.
I figured out the purpose of my life’s work.
This wasn’t luck. This wasn’t a DMT trip. This came from doing what I knew that I should. From being intentional.
My Daughter Made Me Weird(er)
Since my daughter was born late 2015, my whole perspective on life changed. As it does for many people, especially those who spend terrifying time in the NICU with their newborn, becoming a parent changed me. In lots of ways.
But one of the most impactful ways that I changed was that living with intention became extremely important to me. No longer was I up for whatever came my way. No longer did I want to follow inertia. No longer did I want to go along with what seemed ‘normal.’ I saw how fragile life could be, how easily it could end. I didn’t want to waste another damn second.
I found the term ‘intentionality’ shortly after my daughter was born, in Chris Bailey’s first book, The Productivity Project. I highly recommend it. Seriously, if you want it, email me and I’ll buy it for you. It’s that good, if you follow it.
Chris redefines productivity to be about accomplishing what we intend to, not just accomplishing more. This hit hard for me. Obviously, if you don’t know what you intend to accomplish, you’re just going to be swept away by whatever else might be influencing you. Inertia, bias, emotion, other people, social media, your deep-seated childhood problems, whatever. But you’ll almost never do what you actually want to do.
That’s how so many people look up after a 40-50 year career and wonder how the hell their life ended up like this.
So I decided to change. To live intentionally. In every aspect. I was never overly influenced by what others were doing or what they thought of me. (You could tell by the cars I’ve driven.) But it went to a new level after this.
There were the fun experiments like cutting out alcohol for 3 months, no caffeine for way too long, cold showers, going full vegan for over a year. But the more meaningful part was my personal planning process. It started simple, with The Big Three. At the beginning of every day, I would write down the three most important tasks for the day, then do them as soon as I could. Not necessarily all work things.
Here’s a good example, before Lead Your Way got it’s name…
I wouldn’t necessarily hit them every day. Things would come up and change priority. Some would stay on the list for several days in a row, but if nothing else, I started each day knowing precisely what I should be doing that day. It works amazingly well for the day-to-day. What about taking it further?
Professional Strategic Planning
Over the course of 2016-2017, I started expanding this. I’d have a Big Three for each week, month, and year. Again, things would change along the way but starting from a place of focus, starting with a thoughtful plan, helped me drive with much more conviction.
At the beginning of 2018, I started taking it further. Developing a 3 year vision linked to a 1 year plan to support that vision. It makes me cringe to read and share this, but here’s the plan I made for my career at that that time.
Then, for both roles I had at the time, I created a lengthier document with the goals and projects it would take to actually get there. (Too many people & company names in those to share…)
I was pretty happy with that process. Refined it over the years to include a brain dump at the beginning, overarching principles, and some other pieces. I used it after I quit my job in 2019, both to get the most out of my sabbatical and to start Pod2. It worked well to keep me focused on my goals, but it was still pretty tactical. Lacking depth.
I would come back to this process either when I was feeling disorganized and unfocused, or when I had a big decision to make. When COVID rattled everything in March of 2020, both of these were true.
I knew I needed something stronger. Something deeper. I didn’t just want another 0-3 year plan that would change when something else happened. I wanted to get clear on what I’m doing here in the first place. I wanted to find my purpose. Not just of my work. But of my life.
How the hell am I supposed to decide what’s most important this year if I’m not even clear on what I want out of my life?
Figuring out my purpose came down to answering two questions:
What would you do if you had all the time and money in the world?What would you do if you had 6 months to live?
Here’s what I scribbled down:
The answer to the first question indicates your aspirations, your dreams. The things that you would do if there were no constraints.
The answer to the second question shows you what you would regret not doing. On your death bed, if you didn’t do these things you would be disappointed in yourself.
Combining the two answers showed me the three things I should do.
First is family. Spend time with my family, experiencing new things with them, learning with them, growing with them.
Second is legacy. Take what I know, who I am, and turn that into something that might live on. After reflecting on this, it comes from two places.
One is for the people I know and love. If I were to die tomorrow, I would regret them not having more to remember me by. They wouldn’t have my stories, my experiences, my ideas, my lessons, me.
The other is for progress. If others can learn from my mistakes, take the things that I’ve figured out, learn them, then build further, faster – that is beneficial. I’m no Edison, but if what I’ve figured out over the years dies without anyone else taking advantage of my mistakes, my breakthroughs, my lessons, that’s simply wasteful.
Third is to help people enjoy their work. When asking myself the question of what I would do if I had all the time and money in the world, I wrote down that I would buy companies and make them not suck. That comes from my hatred for wasted potential. From fighting with a lazy teammate to being extremely hard on myself, I’ve always been allergic to wasted potential. Especially when it causes unnecessary suffering.
When I say ‘make companies not suck,’ that aims to kill everything from inefficiency to discrimination, anything that causes poor quality of life or poor balance sheets. I see so much potential for companies to do better, to be better, both for themselves and their people. Obviously I don’t have all the time and money in the world, but I could certainly chip away at this problem in other ways.
So there it was. I had my purpose. Clear as day in the 3 big areas of my life: family, self, and work.
Family: Learn and grow together through experiences and present time with each other.
Self: Leave a bit of me behind for my loved ones, my ideas and lessons for the world.
Work: Help people enjoy their work.
I can’t tell you how liberating it was to get this level of clarity. It’ll evolve over time, but so many decisions are already made for me now. If it contributes to my purpose, it’s a yes. If not, no. Simple.
At this point I figured out the real purpose of Pod2. While the “how” absolutely includes the consulting work that I initially focused on, the “why” goes much deeper. Much further. Much more meaningful.
Problem is…that’s not actionable. I would have to figure what that actually meant, what it would actually look like, what I needed to do that day to contribute to the purpose.
I’ll talk about that, learning how to use the internet, and my business model, in the final part of this series, The Deep End.