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Jun 21

The Myth of Purpose

By admin | Uncategorized

Earlier today, I posted this article on LinkedIn. A quick letter from a reader described dissatisfaction with how MBA programs are ranked.

The argument, to summarize, is that post-MBA salary and prestige are not capturing the essence of what an MBA should be for creating the flexibility to pursue the career or passion that you want to.

To my pleasant surprise, a stream of comments came through, which I enjoyed. One friend made the very fair point that a ranking system without analytical rigor is silly, and I agree because that’s what a listicle is. Another suggested that the ease with which we can compare each other is the culprit. Undoubtedly true, based on my experience at Booth.

But one comment has me stuck. A person in my second-degree network declared: “The reality is that most young people don’t know what they want…” I’ve heard the argument. I’m sure that you have, too. We, if I may include myself, seem to have a tendency to struggle with finding our place in the world. OK. I get it.

But why?

Why do we have so much trouble identifying what we want in the world?
I’m not the only one to ask this question. There are thousands and thousands of career quizzes, assessments, guides, hacks, and cheat sheets to finding your true self. Or something. I’ve taken no fewer than ten organized, robust, data-backed personality assessments to understand who I am and how I tick. Much to my amusement, they all agree on somethings and widely differ on others.

But we still don’t know.

I dug some more. Many people blame education and the disconnect between both academic subject matter and how we analyze it with real job skills that we need to employ. Others suggest that we have way too much information, and it paralyzes us from making good decisions. I have a different theory.

We do a terrible job of owning who we want to be and how we want to live.

It’s not because we don’t care, or don’t try. Humans tend to rely on heuristics, life’s shortcut to knowledge. We look to those that we know and understand to define how we should approach problems and situations. Unfortunately, we build realities that do not suit us.

In his book The End of Average, Todd Rose explains that averages, by in large, are a compatible fit for a tiny number of people. Like, less than 1% of all individuals match an average. In the world of clothing or shoe size, we can work with these imperfections around an average. In designing your life, or as Todd Rose explained, in the context of designing cockpits for fighter pilots, an average that doesn’t fit is not an option.

So, what’s the solution?

Like so many things, the solution is at once obvious — but not so easy.

  1. We need to embrace the notion that our life will not and should not look like someone else’s. It is illogical to expect that you can look at someone else’s path and replicate it for yourself. This is a scary idea — I get it. But the moment you accept that the only person who can build the life you want is you, it makes it much easier to take responsibility for the things that you need to change.
  2. Distinguish between not knowing what you want to do and how to do what you want to do. You don’t know how to create the grand teeter totter that allows you to balance your challenges and obligations with your freedom and your fun. “I would snowboard all day if I could,” you might say, “but I would be poor forever.” OR “I want to be a painter, but I don’t know how I would sell any work.” These are real problems, and ones that you would need to consider judiciously. But to be clear, the problem is not a lack of clarity on what you love. The problem is a lack of clarity on how to do what you love to support the life that you want. There may be a slim number of ways that you can pursue your dream and have it support your lifestyle. But your life isn’t supposed to look like anyone else’s, is it?
  3. Talk to people. If your dreams only live inside your head, then you are left to your own devices to figure out how to make them a reality. One of the biggest things that holds us back is the lack of a credible example of what we seek. We crave validation like crazy. Today, I spent an hour trying to figure out what a coach for the hospitality industry looks and feels like. So I googled: there’s a guy:

The Hospitality Coach – Learn from my mistakes
“I really love Pete’s warmth and honesty and the way his opinion has obviously come from putting in the hard yards…

His name is Pete. He already exists. I’m chatting with him next week.

I’m writing this article because I want to challenge the idea that we can’t what we want. More specifically, the problem is not that we don’t know what we want. Nobody is immune from daydreaming of the wonderful life they want to lead or the wonderful things that they want to have.

So, take your turn. Change your thinking. Go for it. I can’t wait to see what you do.

Mar 30

I wrote a book…

By admin | Uncategorized

I wrote a book…

…and every time I write that sentence, it’s melodically synced to the song “I’m on a Boat” because I’m a grown up. I digress.

Last November, I was part of the #NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) army. I set out to write 50,000 words in 30 days, which would approximately quintuple the number of words I had formally written since graduating from college a decade earlier.

Two months before I started this adventure, I left my job and got married. Both endeavors had occupied my thoughts and ambitions for months. Suddenly, I found myself with a gaping space to explore. It was exciting and uncomfortable. It was a new sensation to wake up in the morning and genuinely ask, “What do I want to do today?”

My type-A personality kicked in, hard, and I immediately started searching for a new project, a new endeavor. I learned of NaNoWriMo from a dear friend, Dani Hayden, who completed it the year before. We talked about the power of building a daily writing practice, and the deep satisfaction of having a tangible thing to show for your work. Both aspects were incredibly appealing to me. So, I created an account and decided to go for it.

I didn’t write a novel, per se, so I suppose I cheated. I knew that the easiest way to complete the project, for me, would be to write about myself. My 30th birthday was approaching (sneak preview: it’s today!) and I became driven to capture the major stories that shaped my life. I would write an everyman’s autobiography, I thought. Rather than trying to paint my stories as harrowing or dramatic, I would tell them as I remembered them and allow my human experience to speak for itself.

The project was easy in the early staged. I would pick an episode from my life and start writing. I included dialogue and visual descriptions of my surroundings. I wrote about memorable meals and hard conversations. I wrote about glorious victories and bitter disappointments. If I ran out of steam on one story, I left it behind and started a new one. My friend, Alex, suggested ending each day in the middle of a sentence. When I went back to resume writing, I had a story with some momentum behind it rather than starting from a dead stop each time. This was sage advice.

The only day that was genuinely hard was Thanksgiving. I was hosting my family for the first time, as well as four other friends, all in our new home, and I cooked everything from scratch. I do not say this to brag, or to make you feel sorry for me; I’m write this to remind myself that my habit of stubbornly insisting that I do everything myself often creates more difficulty than it destroys. Regardless, at 7 PM that night, after cooking, eating, cleaning, and drinking a few glasses of whiskey, I put on a movie for my family and opened up my laptop. I don’t remember which story I wrote about that day, but I pushed through and made it to 1667 words before collapsing.

I ended up writing 60,000 words over the course of the month. On the last day, I received a congratulatory email from #NaNoWriMo and posted about it on Facebook. Almost immediately, I committed to taking my pile of raw writing and turn it into something finished, something polished.

At the time, I assumed that editing and completing the book would provide me with the same lift and goal-completion energy that writing the book had. I was wrong, but in a really, spectacular way.

The process of editing the book, without my intention, became a massive exercise in self-awareness. In reading the stories from start to finish, I dug deeper to find patterns of behavior, personality traits, and repeated mistakes throughout my stories. There were definitely moments where I was embarrassed for my former self, but mostly I had an incredibly opportunity to reflect on how much I changed over the last 30 years.

More specifically, and poignantly, I noticed something: leading into the end of high school, my capacity for gratitude seemed to take a hit. I went from the always happy, excited-to-be-here kid to the brooding, angsty, and driven person that I more-closely resemble today. I watched the sense of wonder and warmth from my childhood fade over time. As someone who comports himself to be generally happy and gregarious, it was jarring to find evidence to the contrary. In my own words, no less.

As the book continued to take shape, I seized on the opportunity to do something about this realization. I started a daily gratitude journal. I started meditating. I worked with a life coach. I used the insights I derived from this project and turned them into actions that made my life substantively better.

The last three months have been some of the best and most fulfilling of my life. Not just because of the novel, but because I’ve been able to bring my focus back to the present and, ironically, think less about myself. Yes, you read that right. The practice of writing a whole book on myself actually prompted me to focus much more on the other people in my life.

My goal, now, is to share this book with the world in hopes that it spurs other people to practice the same self-reflection that I did. I’m so grateful that I stumbled into it, and I think that the practice can help so many people.

So, if support that mission, get my book. Read the dedication. Skip around. Use it however you want. It’s even free for the first week, and thereafter I make $.35 per copy because Amazon requires a minimum price. If you read the book and something strikes you, reach out! My e-mail address is at the back of the book and I would love to hear from you.

In the meantime, regardless of whether or not you read my book, I hope that this article has encouraged you to take a few minutes today and reflect on who you are now, and how that has changed over time. You won’t regret it.