I needed more guidance for 2010 than just ‘swim’. So I began seeking out something more concrete.
In the process I found what had invisibly guided the past year, and may be the key to every decision I make going forward. Perhaps I found the meaning of it all.
Goals and Paths, Destinations and Enablers
Last year I was onto something when I suggested impact as my theme. What’s special about impact is that it’s both the goal and the path—I enjoy both the process of making an impact and its result. However, this year’s theme—to execute and stay solvent—was merely a necessity along the path to to doing other things like, say, making an impact.
Resolutions that involve ‘knowledge’, ‘money’, ‘power’, or even ‘focus’ are all just enablers. They’re worthy things to strive for (and I could probably benefit more of all of those), but in and of themselves they don’t get you anywhere. They’re inevitably explained by, “I want X so that I can…”
Working Backwards from the Goals
What I need to accomplish in 2010 is remarkably binary, which means there’s no middle ground—if I succeed in these goals I’ll have a pretty amazing year and if I fail then I probably won’t be too happy and may be in debt. I’ll either sink or swim, hence the latter serving as the theme I wrote about.
So anyhow, I decided to list out my goals (sorry I can’t list them here, in a future blog post you may understand why) and see if there was something that could guide me toward them. Yes, I needed to “swim”—to focus on my critical path and execute—but was there more? Then in addition to these goals, I listed out some of the things that I hoped or dreamed to do in the next several years.
Then I categorized why I chose those as my goals. It turned out that the goals fit neatly into three buckets, or themes—experience, impact, and relationships:
- I care deeply about experience—I love how aesthetics and careful application of experience design can be incredibly potent.
- Both in depth and in breadth, I want to make an impact, and this is the largest guide for my work decisions.
- Nothing means more to me than the relationships in my life, both within and outside of work.
The Three Questions and the Calculus of Meaning
I believe that these three themes can guide me, both through simple actions and big decisions. When deciding what actions to take, I can ask these questions of myself :
- How can I create the most immersive experience (for myself or others)?
- How can I most strengthen connections and relationships (mutually)?
- How will this make the widest or deepest impact (usually on others, but also on myself)?
And when evaluating options, I can weigh the extent to which each of these categories would be fulfilled. The action that would have the greatest amount of impact, effect on relationships, and immersive or valuable experience would represent the option I’d select.
I don’t have to take things as far as Jeremy Bentham in his Calculus of Felicity or Benjamin Franklin with his 13 virtues, but it helps to have a heuristic (similarly to how Chris Brogan uses his 3 words as guideposts).
Is This Just Me?
Perhaps experience, relationships, and impact are fairly obvious, but they weren’t so clear to me before. I guess I’ve always been diligent about holding onto my relationships, but I can pinpoint exactly when in recent years ‘experience’ and ‘impact’ took on such essential roles. I would venture to guess that these will always be my big three, but I can’t know for sure.
I did find it interesting that Micah Baldwin recently posted how conversations with Gary V really drove home the value of people, which became his theme for 2010. And if you look closely at Chris Brogan’s words for the past five years [linked here], you’ll note that all of them (at least in my primitive analysis) fit into these three categories.
How Do These Themes Apply To You?
I’m curious if these are some of the core guiding themes for you, at least in a more general sense? Or if you’d add to or remove from this list?
When I look back on 2009, I’m most proud of the impact I’ve made, the relationships I’ve built, and the depth of the experiences large and small. This helps to make it clear to me what I want out of life.