In our last post we left Joe (who could easily have been Josephine) depressed and purposeless at forty something.
This time, let’s examine a different hypothetical path, this time taken by our hero Jack (or just as easily Jacqueline).
Jack grows up, and as he grows up his parents encourage him to try different things and gain new experiences. He plays some sports, practices piano, does his schoolwork, and pursues some hobbies.
Most importantly his parents challenge him to think about some big questions. From the time he was born until the time he is about 13 they have carefully taught him their moral and spiritual beliefs and principles, teaching him a worldview, a lens to use to look at the world and have it make sense. At 13 they start to encourage him to really examine what he has been taught and to begin to take ownership of those beliefs. That involves questions, and doubts, and study, and the willingness to engage in some hard thinking.
By the time he reaches sixteen Jack has some awareness of his worldview. He understands what he believes and what the implications of those beliefs mean. He will continue to question, examine, sharpen, and perhaps even change this worldview throughout his life. At 16 he certainly doesn't have the experience or perspective to have a fully developed and sharpened worldview, but the crucial point is that he is aware that he has some kind of worldview, and is willing to engage in thinking about it.
Having some ideas of what he believes is so crucial because it allows Jack to do something at sixteen that will alter the entire course of his life. This single action will result in Jack living the kind of life that has meaning, direction, purpose, and will make a difference in the world. Not long after his sixteenth birthday his parents require Jack to sit down and think through and write down three to five principles that Jack will strive to follow. His parents tell him that these principles will not necessarily be permanent. Jack will likely alter, refine, perhaps abandon, and add to these principles throughout his life. The important point is that he has begun to build a structure of purpose in his life.
Jack decides that his core principles are:
- To seek the Truth in everything.
- To always put others before himself.
- To never stop learning.
These are broad principles, perhaps a little idealistic, but Jack is sixteen, and sixteen year olds are broad and idealistic by nature.
Jack's parents believe that passing on their beliefs and values, and teaching Jack how to derive principles from those values and live them out, is the most important thing they can teach Jack that will help him to find and follow a direction in life. Jack's parents also believe that the most important thing that they can teach Jack about being successful in life is to teach him to set and achieve goals.
From the time Jack turned ten his parents have required that he set goals for himself. It doesn't matter how simple or easy the goal is. Jack's goal could be related to fun things he wants to do, or related to school, or something else. The only requirement is that Jack choose a goal, identify the next action needed to achieve that goal, and to regularly report on his progress. In Jack's family a quick update on his progress towards his goal is a routine question that gets asked at dinner every night. Jack is taught that he can choose to quit pursuing the goal he is working on, but when he quits one goal he must replace it with another.
Experience and Habits
Jack's parents now encourage Jack to maximize the flexibility of his years of youth by gaining as much experience as possible, and to build as much skill as possible. Jack soon finds that his principles serve as a filter and a guide that helps him make sense of the opportunities available to him. At each decision point he asks if this particular opportunity aligns with his principles. When he decides to do something he finds that following his principles maximizes his opportunity.
Attempting to seek Truth in everything helps him keep perspective and see the bigger picture. Jack's effort to always put others before himself helps him earn the gratitude and respect of those around him. His commitment to never stop learning causes him to constantly ask questions and find new solutions, which helps him gain skill faster and results in promotions, leadership roles, and bigger opportunities and responsibilities.
Over the years setting and achieving goals becomes a habit for Jack. By the time he is eighteen thinking about what goal he is working on, and identifying what needs done next to get there, becomes second nature to Jack. When this habit is combined with looking for experiences that allow him to live out his principles then it becomes easier and easier for Jack to discover what he is interested in, and to quickly build skill and experience in those things.
As Jack gains experience he begins to get an idea of what the world needs, and more importantly what is needed in the little corner of the world where he is. As he builds skill and talent he learns more about what his unique gifts are, and gains confidence and satisfaction in using them. Being aware of his worldview, and following his principles derived from that worldview, soon becomes a habit. As a result Jack usually makes good decisions about which opportunities to pursue, and which to ignore. When he makes the wrong decision he is able to quickly adjust and get back on course.
When Jack decides to do something he if often unusually successful at whatever he does. This isn't because he is naturally talented or exceptionally lucky. The reason he is successful is because when he chooses to do something he sets goals on what is going to accomplish from the beginning, and then works purposefully towards accomplishing those goals. Starting with a vision of what he wants to achieve, and then having a strategy for achieving it and the discipline to execute that strategy, results in unusual success.
Jack's life isn't perfect. Unexpected tragedies and hardship occasionally knock him off course. Doubt and complacency occasionally distract him and slow him down. Ultimately, however, his willingness to spend some time thinking about the big questions, and checking that his principles are still aligned with his answers to those questions, gives him the perspective he needs to move forward again.
A Different Kind of Life
By the time Jack reaches his mid-twenties he has enough experience and skill to know where the world's needs and his skills overlap, and he focuses on finding opportunities in those areas. As he reaches his early thirties his skill and experience has developed to the point that he is able to work on the things and in the areas that he is most interested in and passionate about.
When Jack reaches his forties his ability to work on things that he thinks matters, and his solid understanding of what he believes and why and what his purpose is, has put him in a place where his big goals in life are clear, and his days are full of challenge and meaning as he pursues them.
Jack's life is not a life of Red Bull sponsorships. He's not famous, incredibly rich, or unusually powerful. In fact, in many ways he lives a fairly normal life. The difference in his life, and the thing that makes it anything but normal, is that Jack lives a deliberate life. He takes time to think about what he believes in, and considers how those beliefs connect to his everyday life, and uses that thinking to develop a set of principles that he strives to live by. Then he very deliberately looks for opportunities that align with his principles, and sets clear goals for what he wants to achieve with the opportunities he has.
And that makes all the difference between Joe and Jack.