"Choosing to act on "what matters" is the choice to live a passionate existence, which is anything but controlled and predictable. Acting on what matters is, ultimately, a political stance, one whereby we declare we are accountable for the world around us and are willing to pursue what we define as important, independent of whether it is in demand, or has market value."
-Peter Block, The Answer to How is Yes
Life is full of pressing responsibilities. Often our focus in living becomes how to satisfy, satisfy, satisfy the many commitments that we have made (to ourselves and others) in the name of achievement.
We get caught up in tasks and drift from the clarity of living passionately centered in what truly matters. Would we be so prone to over-committing ourselves if we were firmly rooted in the core of a purpose-driven life?
When I get caught up in the completion of my self-important checklist of commitments, demanding that I have what I want when I want it, I often forget to care how it fits with my higher purpose, with others' commitments, and with the conditions of my life.
Consider this short list of checkpoints to see if you are getting sucked into whirlpools of overwhelm:
Merriam-Webster: Ambition is 1 a : an ardent desire for rank, fame, or power, b : a desire to achieve a particular end.
Ambition is not evil or bad. But in and of itself, ambition can drive us to act in ways that feel necessary, regardless of the price. Ambition relies upon getting recognition from others -- our organizations, our peers, our families. Ambition seeks value or worth through external validation.
Look at the way we run organizations. Often, the higher we go, the more anxious we feel. We move fast. We fill our schedules to the brim. We believe there is some urgent necessity and we must be decisive. We expect rich rewards. And we seek validation for how "together" we've become or how much we've accomplished.
In reality, there is no true destination, no place to reach in our lifetime, yet we have this illusion that there is this place to get to and we must busy ourselves with getting there.
Peter Block talks about how, in the name of preparing children for the "real world," we have begun schooling children at progressively younger ages. We start focusing on SAT scores and the best colleges when children are in elementary school. We plan weekends and vacations around learning activities. We teach our children that what they do and how well they do it is what life is all about.
Yet, many adults express that, in spite of all their accomplishments, they feel life is passing them by. They've been so busy achieving their goals, they missed doing things that really mattered.
Often, for the sake of ambition, we go blind to things that really matter, like: 1) how we choose to be as leaders, and 2) what we choose to offer with our lives. To live instead in what really matters requires accessing one's own authentic internal compass.
Living from a higher purpose requires the determination to do good work with or without the approval of others, and, I would add, while also being in partnership with others.
When you center yourself in what really matters, it doesn't mean you have to give up your job or go somewhere else. But you will need to look more closely at your culture of ambition. You will need to recognize how you perform for recognition in the name of social approval or parental pride or organizational security.
Take your own pulse. How clear are you about what truly matters to you? How masterful are you at designing a life that supports you in living according to what truly matters?
"Part of the price of becoming a transaction is that we allow our value to be defined by others: an organization, a boss, a recruiter, a partner, a lover. I become a commodity whose worth rises and falls according to the marketplace. I place my self-esteem in the hands of forces that I cannot control. I am happy when the price rises and feel depressed in periods of recession." Peter Block, The Answer to How is Yes
When we make commitments as a barter -- where we give something to get something -- it is like turning oneself and the other party into objects to be exchanged for some worth. I've noticed that when I objectify another, I am right back in the rat race of checking things off a list or seeking external validation.
Consider this alternative. Can you generate real commitment as a choice you make - because it matters to you - regardless of what is offered in return? That doesn't mean we don't rely on others. It doesn't mean we stop making agreements with others. But can you do what you do simply because you have decided it matters?
When we give to get , we exclude the possibility of authentic personal commitment. When we give to give , we live from a self-generated purposefulness.
"The perfect no-stress environment is the grave. When we change our perception, we gain control. The stress becomes a challenge not a threat. When we commit to action, to actually doing something rather than feeling trapped by events, the stress in our life becomes manageable." Greg Anderson, American Wellness Project
Living in action is essential. Nothing would happen without action. But living in "where I am isn't 'it'" or "over there is better" sets up a hamster-on-a-wheel chase for "it." We believe that when we achieve this goal and then the next goal and then the next one, we will one day be completely satisfied.
Yet many people who are successful experience boredom. How can that be?
Two things are happening:
1) When we live predominantly in the future, we miss the experience of the present.
2) When we are not in touch with our soulful connection to what matters, our accomplishments burn out quickly, like half wet wood.
So, how do we learn to be in action with what really matters?
How do we connect to a deeper intimacy with ourselves in order to find our gift and our contribution, and to design our life centered in that clarity?
When we give priority to what matters, it becomes a path of risk and adventure. It's a journey of connecting with others from our authentic purpose rather than believing our value is in a relationship borne of ambition, barter or longing for something else.
In the Leadership Intensive course, one of my huge commitments is to unearth the patterns that, if left unexamined and unseen, will drive our lives unconsciously toward stress, overwhelm, and copy-and-paste repeats of our childhood. This course offers an environment in which to pause and take stock of the ways you are living and leading, and to ground yourself in what really matters.
I invite you to take time in 2006 to design a passionate, purpose-driven life.
All my best,