Happy New Year! … WHAT?!

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“Without a vision people perish.” (bible)

In a song, George Harrison said, “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” I like this line for two reasons.

The first relates to the yogic principle of samtosha: contentedness. Drop your need to go “somewhere” and voila! You’re there! (or you’ll get there at least). How often in our lives do we get so locked up in the idea of a destination that we cannot enjoy our journey…? always placing our fulfillment somewhere beyond our current conditions? Forget where you’re going and you’re there already! And if you’re there already, you can be here now!

In the second way of looking at this, we notice the conclusion that we’ll only get to where we’re going if we know where we’re going first. Without an idea of where we’re going, we go anywhere… which takes us nowhere… but that’s just it—the truth is, most of the time we do know where we’re going—we have some idea of it—which is why we can’t just take any road.

Think about it: would you be content with your life under any circumstances?  Would you be content if you ended up washed up on a desert island never to return to land? Would you be content if you ended up in jail for life? Would you be content to be sick with an avoidable disease? Would you be content if you never improved the quality of your life—never got a promotion? Developed your career? Fell in love with your soul mate? If you’re like most people: any road will NOT take you there!! Some roads make sense and some do not.

Of course, there’s Frost’s take on the matter… but that’s another story.

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            I meant to publish this post a few days ago—at the beginning of Rosh Hashanah: the Jewish new year. We are told, that the time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is when our fate is sealed for the entire year.

Without getting too much into the metaphysics, the idea is that instead of merely taking one day to reflect upon our past year and plan for the next… we take a whole week to do it. Now this makes a lot of sense…

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Imagine there was a holiday right after Christmas called “Jahrzeit,” which fell a week before the new year. This holiday was designed to make us really contemplate our lives: our successes, our mistakes, our visions, our desires… Because when it comes to the new year, most people glide right by. Sure, they may come up with a few new year’s resolutions on the fly—when someone asks them at a party—but how many people actually take the time to deeply reflect upon their lives?

Yet this reflection is essential. Without a plan of action, we are moving in the dark. You would not enter a new room that was completely dark—let alone a strange house or a strange town… so why would you want to enter into the new year without turning on the lights first? Without knowing where the walls are—where you can step and where you can’t—and, especially, without knowing what valuable things you could bump into and break and what valuable things you want but would lose.

That is what this time is for—so we don’t just glide on by with our lives and forget our commitments, especially to ourselves.

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Without a pole star, the sailor would be lost at sea. Without a vision, all our actions are misguided. Besides “mission,” what other compass do we possess to align our actions? Without a purpose, our lives are blind. All forces of influence impinge upon us. Darkness has a way of seeping in—through the cracks like water. It is easy to be distracted when you have no direction… well, I suppose there is no distraction without direction (as George Harrison’s song tells us), but whoever lacks direction lacks growth, for growth is always a progression and progression is a vector movement.

One ceases to have an effect on the world without a vision—they essentially become impotent. No longer do they add to the world’s beauty. No longer do they bring anything whatsoever into fruition. Instead, they fester and feed… they languish. And while this language may be harsh, there is no worse feeling than feeling ineffectual. This is the dream where you’re running away without moving anywhere. This is that dream where you’re grabbing at something but you can’t grip it. This is that dream where confronted with your power, you feel it slipping helplessly.

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Entropy is fought by design. If we’re not improving, we’re sliding. We’re either growing… or we’re dying.

The cynic might say: we’re always dying. The only moment we’re not dying in our life is when we’re being born. But what about the seed that sprouts into a flower? And the flower that reaches towards the sun? and the bud that blossoms? And the seeds that grow from the blossom? Growth is the opposite of death. Perpetual growth is the secret to immortality.

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What is your purpose? What are you here for? What is your vision for your life? What is your life for? How do you want to see the world? What is your final commitment? What do you want to be remembered for? Who do you want to be? What do you wish to achieve?

Ask yourself these questions. Answer earnestly. Ask in a quiet place, free of distractions—free even of the distractions of your own mind. Then listen for the answer—without the interrupting mind—listening for the quiet voice within of reason: Socrates’ Daemon. Hear it speak. Do not interrupt. Do not argue. Do not fear its response.

The threat of perfection is defeat. There is no success in perfect failure: perfect failure is when you never try. Remember that quote by Wayne Gretzsky? You miss 100% of the shots you don’t try. The thought that our vision must be perfect immediately is not only wrong—it’s crippling. As Martin Luther King says: we don’t need to see the whole staircase. We only have to take the first steps. They will show us the way.

There is quote by Einstein that goes something like this: the very thinking that has gotten us this far is not the thinking we need to go beyond this place. Replace thinking with work—or whatever. The point is: what we’ve done to get to this stage of progress is not the same process that will take us to the next stage… one is reminded of Kuhn’s picture of Scientific Revolutions—or even Newton’s famous expression: if I have seen far it is only because I stood on the shoulders of giants. Thus, to see farther than Newton, he must have had to stand on his own shoulders.

Luckily, we can do this—we can stand on our own shoulders—at least metaphorically speaking. We only need to develop so far in one direction in order to realize a better one—to make advancement. This means that whatever your vow is: begin today. Make that vow—design your mission—craft your purpose—and begin it. You’ll find soon enough that it will change. Beyond this, you’ll find that it will take you farther than you could have ever dreamed… so why waste time dreaming about it when you could live a reality even greater?

I’m in Mexico right now for this reason… something I’ll explain in another post.

Opportunity dances with us… but only with those already on the dance floor.

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Here’s what I want you to do:

Write out your purpose—make it succinct. 1 or 2 lines… no more really. The purpose statement—your vision for your life—your mission—should be broad. It should cover the general character you want your life to have: e.g. “my purpose is to bring more love and light to the world”… or, “my mission is to make the world more beautiful.”

At this point you can add an action element. This gives you your purpose statement [my purpose is to…] and then it gives you your means [by… doing xyz… etc.]. This isn’t exactly necessary—but if you can think of something add it. Remember it doesn’t—nor should it—need to be perfect.

Now break down this purpose a little: what results lead to this more general outcome. What are the components of this vision? If you’re mission is to bring more beauty in the world, what specific things can you achieve to make the world more beautiful: you could make art, you could become sustainable and environmentally friendly, you could get your mind and your body into shape, you could help other feel and look their best, give more charity, smile more, etc.

Come up with at least 3 things in all aspects of your life: your professional life, your personal life, your romantic life, your social life, etc.

Decide what acts fulfill these outcomes. What can you do specifically to achieve the results you have in mind that compose your purpose? If it’s to make art in order to make the world more beautiful, what sort of art? Break this down as specifically as you can get.

The last steps in this process is to make this a reality.

Develop a time frame. When could you conceivably do these actions to fulfill this outcome to satisfy your purpose?

Schedule it. Figure out when you’re doing what. Again, be specific. Make appointments with yourself to do these things. Be conservative for the time you need. You come first.

After that, commit to whatever these actions are and to this schedule… and, as they say, just do it.

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You’re building for yourself an action compass: something to guide you towards actions that facilitate your higher purpose and away from actions which distract you from your goals.

It’s important at this point that you understand the idea of momentum. The worst thing you can do for yourself is bite off more than you can chew. This is the surest way to never eat again. Instead, underachieve. Underachieving is the best kept secret for overachieving. The marathon runner does not first train by running 400k. They build up to that gradually.

Weight lifting is a wonderful analogue to many gargantuan tasks we undertake in our lives… the only difference is that it can be obvious that the possibility of walking into the gym and bench-pressing 400lbs is absurd, whereas for many of the actions we expect ourselves to be able to take immediately in service of our goals, this absurdity is not quite so apparent. This is not to say that we’ll never get there. Again, like weight-lifting, the point is how we get there. We have to build up… and momentum is the quickest way to build anything.

Overcoming static friction is the greatest challenge—and once you overcome it, why set yourself up to have to overcome it again? Just keep the ball rolling instead.

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We should also take a note from Relapse Prevention. There will often come times when we partake in actions that take us away from our missions—that may even insult our missions. What’s done is done—but we can choose how to deal with it.

If you’ve chosen to give up smoking and have another cigarette, this is a lapse. If you’ve now decided that you’re back off the wagon and keep smoking, this is a relapse. A lapse is not a relapse. Let me repeat: a lapse is not a relapse.

Just because you fall off the wagon doesn’t mean you have to stay off. Just climb right back on… Feeding yourself excuses like “oh, well, I guess my commitment is ruined, might as well forget it…” only serve to hurt us later on. We make our commitments for a reason—and if it’s for a good reason, brush the dirt off your shoulders if you fall—and don’t prolong your time at the ground.

You see, I’m lucky. I have a shallow bottom. Hitting “rock bottom” for me happens long before it happens for most people. But you can develop this… raise your standards for when “enough” is enough.

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Lastly, commit to recommit every day. If you don’t wake up every morning and check your compass… guess what: you don’t know where you’re going. So, any road will take you there. Is this what you want? I don’t think so. That’s why you have the compass. Look at it.

Sure you can try to be macho or brave—to test your wiles by seeing if you can figure it out yourself… but life is hard enough, why make it harder? Anyway, you’ll be on this path a long time either way. It will always be new. The compass just guides you in that direction you want to go. Circling the same path gets boring soon… or, not knowing what your own path is, you may be deviously led down another’s.

If you can, make yourself accountable. Tell your friends your purpose—tell them what results you wish to achieve in order to fulfill this purpose—tell them the specific actions you will take to make this all happen. Put it in writing. Make cards. Send them to people you respect.

Why? You’ll look like a fool if you don’t follow through with your commitment to lose weight—or to quit smoking—if you made that commitment to your boss, or to your coworkers, or your employees, or your partners, you may lose their respect if you break your vow—you may come off as inauthentic, disingenuous, or worse: as a liar! That sometimes is all we need.

 

Quod Vitae Sectabor Iter?” [What course of life shall I follow?]

 

For this new year, know where you’re going. It’s the quickest way to get there.

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