Undertaking Your Pursuit

I spend a lot of time thinking about what is important in my life, what I want to work toward, and why I want to work toward those things. Its not always an easy and enjoyable task, and I find that if I get away from it for a little while, unimportant things slip back in. In order to stay on top of things and focus on the important, I find that it is helpful to think about the deep why behind my actions, habits, and daily routines. The most important questions I ask myself focus on whether I am doing something because I am trying to make the world a better place, or whether I am doing something out of my own self-interest. I know I will never detach self-interest from what I do, but at least I can try to align my self-interest with things that help improve the world as opposed to things that simply show off how awesome I think I am.

 

“Pursuing what’s meaningful is important, but just as important is understanding why we’re pursuing what we’re pursuing and how we’re undertaking that pursuit. Pay attention to the why behind your actions, and the how and what become a lot easier to define and control.” Colin Wright ends one of the chapters in his book Becoming Who We Need To Be with that quote. It is advice we hear a lot but that I don’t think we always actually follow. Part of the reason we don’t always follow that advice is because it is usually packaged as “follow your passion” or “if you do what you love you will never really work a day in your life.” This line of advice giving isn’t too helpful and puts pressure on us to have the perfect job we love or else we feel that we are doing it all wrong. Better advice for us is to look inside and try to understand our motivations, ask ourselves what it is that drives us toward our goals, ask if that is reasonable and in the best interest of society, and adjust so that we are operating in a way that is designed to make the world a better place instead of only operating in a way to maximize the pleasure we find in the world.

 

I truly believe that better understanding our motivations and being honest with ourselves about the forces that drive us will help us realign our lives in a more positive direction. When we truly examine ourselves we will not want to find that we are working hard, hitting the gym at 5 a.m., and doing everything we do just to show off to others or just to buy new things that will impress others. We will find that we are more fulfilled when we align our days around pursuits and goals focused on building communities, helping other people, creating meaningful relationships, and trying to solve problems for other people. This may not immediately change every aspect of our life, but it will allow us to slowly build habits and ways of thinking that help us make better choices that minimize our selfishness and propel us toward meaningful goals.

Priorities

What is our time worth and what are our priorities with our time? Author Colin Wright encourages us to think about how we are using time and where we are focusing our time in his book, Come Back Frayed. The book is about Wright’s time living in the Philippines, and is very much an exploration of how he strives to live his life, the differences he has experienced across cultures through his travels, and the differences he has experienced in his reactions within various cultures. Wright strives for flexibility and greater freedom in his life, and his awareness helps him to be particularly perceptive of times when we are not in alignment with what we claim is important. In his book he discusses how our actions are what bring our priorities into the real world and he writes, “We show with our actions what our priorities are. Time unclaimed, time traded for something else, is one’s priorities in practice.”

 

I read Wright’s book a while back, and I had forgotten about this quote. When I look back on it now, I feel that I am forced to look into my own life and actions to determine if I am putting the right things in the right place. Am I choosing to take part in activities that I claim are important to me? Am I spending my time in a way that aligns with what I tell people is the most important? Are there activities that are sapping time from my day without me realizing that they are not aligned with the growth and future I desire?

 

The self reflection encouraged by Wright reminds me of a podcast I recently listened to. Design Matters host Debbie Millman interviewed Tim Ferris for her podcast, and Ferris said, “Any time I take off in a plane, I ask myself, ‘Would I be happy with what I’ve been doing for the last 24 hours?’” By reflecting on his last 24 hours and building in a set time for reflection Ferris is evaluating his life to see if his actions have aligned with what he finds important. Thinking about our last 24 hours and whether or not we are proud of that time is a great way to consider whether or not our priorities are focused where they need to be.

 

Wright’s quote also reminds me of a metaphor I have been using and recently re-evaluating regarding time. On 5/27/15 I first wrote about time and priorities in the sense of packing a suitcase. Julie Sheranosher on an episode of the Beyond the To-Do List podcast shared the idea that we have limited time in our lives, as we have limited space when packing a suitcase, and need to select the most crucial things to pack first. Making sure our priorities are set properly requires reflection on what is important in our lives, and consideration of how we can fit those things in our suitcase of life. We must decide what we bring with us and what we leave out when the suitcase is full. Recently, I have been hoping to update this model by thinking of our time and actions as a certain area illuminated by light. What we can focus on and put into action is in the illuminated area, and what is beyond our focus and attention is left in the shadows. Our focus and our actions reveal what our priorities are, while our self talk and stories to others outline what we think our priorities are. Only through awareness and reflection of our actions and decisions can we evaluate whether our talk and actions are aligned.

The Process

In The Obstacle is the Way, author Ryan Holiday looks at the unprecedented success of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban to share a lesson about reaching our goals. He includes the following quote from Saban,
“Don’t think about winning the SEC championship. Don’t think about the national championship. Think about what you need to do in this drill, on this play, in  this moment. That’s the process: Let’s think about what we can do today, the task at hand.”
This brilliant quote about focus shifts our perspective from the long run success we aim toward to our current actions, but in a way that ensures that our actions always align with our ultimate goal. Holiday pieces apart Saban’s quote by writing,
“Okay, you’ve got to do something very difficult. Don’t focus on that. Instead break it down into pieces. Simply do what you need to do right now. And do it well. And then move on to the next thing. Follow the process and not the prize.”
What is so powerful about the process is that each step and each action builds toward the final goal. We do not arbitrarily shoot toward where we think we want to go, but we build each moment into a blueprint that guides us to our ultimate destination. By constantly reflecting on our actions and striving performing at our best with each task in front of us, we make sure that we continually grow. We push ourselves to bring excellence into each moment so that whether or not we reach out goal, we end up in a place where habit of excellence allows us to be successful.
Holiday’s quote shows us that success stems from growth through the process and in being mindful of how we perform each action. We may not end up being the champion, receiving the promotion, or winning the contest, but we will have built skills that will serve us in the future. The process may not always give us the reward we hope for, but it prepares us for any obstacle that we may face, and will build toward exceptional outcomes.
I think this quote on its own seems to contradict the message I presented from Holiday in my last three passages. However, when you look deeper you see the way the process aligns with the idea of playing for the long run and going beyond the whistle. The process allows us to take our long term goal and break it into bite size mini goals that constantly build in an intentional direction. The process provides us with clarity to overcome obstacles and challenges by focusing on the here and now, rather than the cumulative roadblocks we know we will face. It is also aligned so that each individual action builds toward our final goal and allows us to persist toward our destination.

Overcoming Fear and Finding Growth

Today’s quote from Colin Wright comes at a truly perfect time for me.  I have a terrific job which offers me a lot of flexibility, opportunities to grow, and time away from work to be involved in things that interest me.  However, I am still interested in moving forward and growing in new directions.  I enjoy the work I do, and feel well supported at work, but I can see areas that interest me more and may offer me a greater sense of fulfillment. What holds me back from pursuing the visions I have had is fear, and the desire to maintain my comfortable success as opposed to taking the more risky yet more rewarding path forward.

Wright, in his book Considerations, writes, “We could spend our entire lives trying to figure out the optimal use for the time we have, but I think the best approach is to always be pivoting and changing course: to be introspective enough to recognize when your needs change, and to be prepared to recalibrate your internal compass any time you detect that you might be happier and more fulfilled taking another course.”  His quote shows the importance of not trying to have every aspect of our lives planned out ahead of us.  As we grow we will begin to see that our interests and passions change over time, and if we couple this change with self awareness and reflection we can better understand what aligns with the person we truly are, and what is out of order with our inner self.  Wright, who has a personal philosophy of always providing himself with the greatest number of opportunities, is arguing that we should never lock ourselves into a particular course without allowing ourselves to pursue other opportunities.

Wright continues, “The fear of accidentally working hard to get someplace we don’t want to be can be paralyzing, but it’s an irrational fear.” When combined with the quote above this quote helps me understand life’s journey in a more benevolent and comprehensive manner.  We are never completely locked in to the life we live, and we are always able to recalibrate our lives to move in new directions if we allow ourselves the chance to change.  Understanding that our consequences won’t define us and won’t last forever, can help us overcome the fear that prevents us from moving in the directions we dream of.  By creating big goals, understanding that we will have to work hard, and envisioning the challenges which await us, we can prepare ourselves to move in a direction that will provide greater growth and ultimately greater fulfillment.

Resistance to Changing Views

“To cling to a view because it’s comfortable is lazy and all too common.  This resistance to change is so widespread because there’s a part of our brain that tells us ‘familiar is better,’ and therefore existing views take precedence over new views we might adopt — new perspectives from which we might see the world”

 

Colin Wright uses this quote as the second paragraph of the chapter titled “Views” in his book Considerations.  The quote ties in with his principals of learning, flexibility, and the ability to understand and see the world from as many distinct viewpoints as possible.  Throughout his book Wright urges his readers to think in a more profound way about the people, events, and ideas that surround and influence them. By being a more considerate person, meaning that we take the time to consider more aspects of life than just the headlines, we can find better alignment within our life and and live more purposefully.

 

Allowing our views to change helps us find a true alignment with who we are. If we can not shift our views then we will be limiting our growth, and acting out of ignorance by adopting the simple views of the national media and those around us.

 

In the United States we have this idea that changing our views is a negative thing. It seems to imply an admission of having been wrong, a lack of integrity, and a lack of knowledge.  What Wright argues is that changing our views represents the opposite of all of those things. Simply because we have changed our view on something does not mean that we were wrong to begin with. It simply means that we were looking at something with a particular perspective, and now that we have gained more information, have made new considerations, or opened up to see something the way another person would, we are viewing the world with a new perspective.  Growing and developing new perspectives helps us act with more people in mind and gives us the ability to better think about what we pursue. Making decisions with better information and from perspectives that are more inclusive of others leads to greater integrity as we better understand the forces that influence us.

Successful Growth

While reading Colin Wright’s Considerations, I came across a short  sentence that read, “there’s no commonly accepted ranking system, and all a person has is their own interpretation of movement, their own ideas about how much they’ve grown.” Originally I had just highlighted the middle section of the sentence about our own interpretations of growth, and I had left myself a note reading, “growth is naturally movement.” In isolation this sentence speaks to me about our constant evolution through life, and the lenses through which we judge our changes.  We see our own growth in a way that is different from the way others see our growth, and in the end, all that matters for us is our interpretation of our personal changes and growth.

 

Placed back in the context of Wright’s book, the quote speaks to the difficulty of comparing people and success.  We all seem to want to grow toward a future that is more successful monetarily, but Wright argues that judging ourselves and others based on our income is a flawed way of gaging success.  He writes that we often use awards, recognition, and accolades to judge our value and growth, but the sentence above shows that there is no way to truly equalize and compare our growth and success.

 

When I look at myself and where I am from a standpoint of growth and movement, from the changes and evolutions I have experienced to what has remained constant or become stronger in my life, I do feel very successful. I can examine the movement in my life and be proud of the changes I have gone through even though I do not have the most impressive salary, have not won many awards, and am not a well known public figure.  Wright would argue that I am heading down a useful path where I understand my own interpretation of movement in my life, which will allow me to feel positive about myself as I direct my growth in a direction that aligns with who I truly am and want to be. Chasing growth in certain areas because it is impressive to others would likely not move me in a direction that aligned so well with my internal interpretations of the world.

The End Goals of our Goals

Colin Wright focuses on self awareness throughout his book Considerations and he turns that inward focus toward our goals and desires for life.  Specifically he writes about bucket list items and goals we aspire to reach.  What Wright explains is that we often set up goals with the hopes of impressing other people. Our goals are chosen not because we actually want to achieve them or because we desire the things that come with reaching that goal, but instead we choose our goals based on how impressive they sound or how they will make us look relative to our peers. When comparing actual goals to bucket list items Wright states, “…rather than cataloging goals we actually have aspirations to achieve, we list things that are very impressive and intense-sounding for the sake of being associated with those types of activities.” What Wright is establishing is the idea that we are not focusing on ourselves in goal setting, but what others want or expect from us.

 

Wright continues to explain the difference between choosing goals that are for yourself rather than for others and ends this chapter in his book with the following, “in short, make sure your goals are for you, not for others’ perception of your. This applies to all goals, not just those on some sort of bucket list.”

 

I want to share this quote, or perhaps the entire section of Wright’s book, with every high school and college student in the country. So often it is easy to have expectations in your mind about what success is, but that vision of success does not always align with who you truly are, and what you truly desire.  Pushing towards success by achieving what others have decided is a worthy definition of success, as opposed to understanding and creating your own definition of success, can lead you down paths that are not enjoyable and do not lead to happiness.

 

For me, a major challenge throughout college was developing the self awareness to understand what visions of success I had and where those visions came from.  Growing up watching Top Gear had build success in my mind as a fancy sports car, and growing up in a nice house gave me certain expectations for how success translated into a home.  Evaluating myself and what my definition of success was allowed me to understand what was important in life and what was not. Once I decided that I did not need to achieve a certain monetary level of success, drive sports cars, or live in a giant house, much of the stress I felt melted away.  It is difficult to look inward and understand what sets the foundation for the goals we have, and it is even more difficult to begin to develop those goals on our own without feeling the pressure of what society and family expect from us.

Crossing Finish Lines

A difficult challenge on my journey has been shifting ideas, focuses, and goals.  I begin working towards something or I get an idea in my head, but I seem to often times end up moving in a different direction several months later. While maintaining a vision and having the grit to see it through is important, Colin Wright in his book Considerations addresses my concern in a direct way.

 

“Live your life and allow your goals and priorities to grow as you grow.  Otherwise you may find yourself spending all your time running toward a finish line you have no interest in crossing, for no better reason than you told yourself you would cross it.”

 

When I look at the ideas and goals I am working towards and ask myself why I am pursuing these goals, I can better understand the motivation and reason for my efforts. If there does not seem to be a meaningful benefit in achieving that goal, then I can move on and allow that goal to shift with me or fall by the wayside.  Wright’s quote from above shows that reevaluating our goals is a natural progress of life, and he explains that cultivating self-awareness  will help you see which goals can be shifted and which ones should be maintained.

 

I have often been afraid of reaching a point where I was not happy with what I achieved, what my daily regimen was like, or finding out that the goal I worked for was not as sweet as I had imagined. What Wright’s quote says to me is that pursuing growth is the most important thing we can do in our life. Fearing that we will end up in a place we dislike should not stop us from looking for the right path. We can begin down a path and decide that it is not right for us, but if we change direction we must look for a path that offers growth that is more aligned with who we are.

Reevaluating the Track

In his book Act Accordingly Colin Wright dives into the ideas of self awareness and alignment and how we need to have both to ensure that we are moving in the right direction.  Wright explains that it is necessary to be aware of what we are working towards and allow our path to change as we grow, learn more about ourselves, and discover new perspectives. In regards to reaching the place we want to go, he explains that our path should not be a straight shot but that it should have bends and turns as we begin to understand ourselves and the world in new ways. The author writes, “It may be that the shortest distance between you and your ideal lifestyle is halfway down one path, a third of the way down another, a tenth of the way down another, and so forth.”

 

For Wright, all of these changes in paths mean working towards more flexibility and greater alignment with your true motivations and goals.  If you are not self aware and lose focus of your interactions and life surrounding your big goals, then the paths that you chose will not be in alignment with what is best for you, and you may not be happy with the paths you start down.  Wright advocates that we avoid paths that “fall into habit prisons”. This means we should look to maximize agency and flexibility in our lives, which includes our mental perspectives as well as our available time.

 

What I really like about Wright’s quote is that it shows how non-linear our trajectories can be when we set out to reach a point in life that we desire.  We do not have to know immediately upon exiting college or school what we wish to do, but if we focus and apply ourselves in a direction that is aligned with our true self, then we will have new opportunities to take paths that better align with who we are.  I am often stressed that the path I am on won’t deliver the end goals for my life that I would like to see, but after reading Wright’s quote I know that is ok. My path may just be leading me towards a new intersection where I can find another path that will be more direct and aligned with the vision of success that I have for myself.  However, as I move down new paths it is important that I understand what I am aiming at. I have spent a lot of time thinking about and redefining success in my mind.  The vision that I have of success is now much more in line with who I am than my previous ideas of large houses and fancy sports cars.  Understanding my end goal helps me evaluate paths along my constantly evolving journey.

Second Best

Diana Wakowski is a poet who authored a letter for James Harmon to include in his book, Take My Advice, a combination of letters from creative people.  In Wakowski’s letter the poet writes, “Try to balance the material world and  the idealistic one, so that your standards always remain high but you learn to gracefully accept and be second best.” This quote is difficult to understand when you look at it from a surface level, and it seems to run against the ideas and visions of success that are programmed into us from the time we enter elementary school.  I think that unpacking this quote, examining our motivation, and defining success are at the heart of Wakowski’s vision.

 

Throughout school we are constantly competing against our peers and being rewarded by congratulatory stickers and medals.  Whether it is academics or athletics the competition aspect of life is built in from a young age.  Success in both areas for many people is driven by the material rewards and social benefits that accompany outstanding accomplishments.  In sports, the desire for shiny medals or trophies may be the motivation for some to spend hours practicing, while in academics, certificates and self satisfaction from achieving the highest possible grade can be the drive.

 

What Wakowski is saying in her quote is that the outward benefits of success that many so strongly desire need to be combined with an understanding of the world we live in.  Striving to achieve a level of success in order to call oneself the best can be detrimental to not just ourselves but those around us.  When we begin to see this, it is important that we consider our motivations.  Working hard is not a bad thing, but pushing ourselves to the point where our health is in question and the relationships around us become strained is dangerous.  If our motivations are based purely on outside recognition and material gains, then the sacrifices we make to our health and relationships will leave us in a place we never wanted to reach.  In addition, striving towards material goals and desires often leaves us working towards goals and lifestyles set by other people or companies. These types of goals are not aligned with our true desires or our inner personalities.

 

In her quote, I do not believe that Wakowski is suggesting that we leave all material desires and outside motivations behind us, but rather she is asking that we become aware of those desires so that we can align them with our true selves.   We cannot do this if we have not spent time trying to understand what our motivation is, and where our desires come from.  Having high standards and expectations is a good thing in our lives, but constantly driving to be the very best may take away from parts of our lives that could be more meaningful than the boost to our wallet or social image.  Settling for second best in this view is not settling for good enough, but rather striving to be excellent at what you do, but not to a point where you are unable to enjoy the success that accompanies the hard work.  If you reframe your goals and desires then your success become more aligned with who you truly are and what you truly enjoy so that you can have better motivation to pursue excellence.