In search of the elusive ideal

Is it possible to achieve an ideal? 

I started this blog as a way to explore my own purpose. I believe doing so will lead to fulfillment in my life. 

So, I chase this ideal.

But what is fulfillment? What does it actually look like? Can it actually be attained?

I’d argue an ideal is as elusive as a snow leopard as long as you see it as an ideal. 

Ideals can be instrumental in helping us navigate towards a specific direction. They are a theoretical apex or peak we strive to achieve.

Ideals provide us with an example of what perfect looks like. 

But perfection is an impossible achievement.

For high-achievers, like myself, perfection has been the siren song that’s lured me to the treacherous waters of self-doubt and fear.

Ideals on their own can lead to stark-raving madness.

But, framed properly, ideals can be the canvas of a purpose-driven life. Ideals need boundaries, constraints, clearly defined expectations and outcomes.

In other words, you need to make the ideal achievable.

Until you see it as a thing that can be attained, you’ll never attain it.

DOES IT STILL SERVE ITS PURPOSE

Fulfillment is an interesting ideal to chase as a high-achiever. It’s the complete antithesis of my raison d’etre.

You cannot achieve ad infinitum and be fulfilled.

To be fulfilled, would indicate I have reached a state of equilibrium, I am in balance. By its definition, there is no desire or need for more.

Achievement has been a definitive super-power during my career, as I imagine it is for other high-achievers. 

I’d not be where I am today without it. 

But recently, I’ve realized that if I intend to achieve fulfillment, it may require me to shed my old ways of thinking.

I’ve had to examine my bias towards achievement. To ask if it still serves me the way it once did. Does it still deserve a seat at my table?

This line of questioning helped me redefine my desire for high-achievement to be one of purpose-driven achievement.

This reframe makes it possible to achieve the ideal because the boundaries, constraints and expectations that inform my purpose also now inform the ideal. 

The act of living in accordance to my purpose allows me to live a fulfilled life.

The unattainable now presents itself as attainable.

What ideal are you chasing?

How could defining it and reframing it into something attainable make it work for you?

What’s your big question?

We all have a big question we’re trying to answer with our life.

It may evolve over time, but it’s always there, hanging over us, waiting for you to notice.

It comes in waves.

Some days it’s in your head firing louder than a cannon. It’s a neon light shining on the darkest night. You can’t escape it. It’s all you think about, all you can focus on. 

You believe it’s not a matter of if, but when you’ll have the answer – a level of arrogance not felt since your teenage years.

Other times, it fades into the background. Life happens and the focus dissipates.

You grow older. Responsibility piles up and buries the question. You convince yourself it’s no longer there.

Could it be the hunger is gone…

But it’s always there, always looming. 

It sits quietly, waiting for the right time to remind you of its existence.

And then it comes calling again.

Some days you can’t wait to answer the challenge. You’re energized and ready to tackle it. It fuels your day. Gives your life meaning. You get lost in its pursuit.

Other days you want to silence it. 

You want escape from its pursuit because you’ll never live up to it. It becomes a constant reminder of how you’ve failed – an incessant punch to the ego. The doubt convinces you you’ll never figure it out, so why try. 

You go to your low place. 

You convince yourself that it means nothing to you. 

Your ego needs that time to recover. You lose the energy and passion to chase after it. It’s exhausting – you no longer have the stamina to see it through.

But, then the urge comes back.

Because the answer to this question is your purpose. Without it you’d be floating through life aimlessly. You’d be squandering your unique talents and gifts.

So, you lace up your shoes, steel your resolve, and continue down the path. 

Because, what else is there? 

What other option do you have?

The Bridge

I was out for a walk recently with my daughters. 

We went to one of my favorite trail systems in Des Moines. This trail follows a winding stream and is nestled in the woods. It’s a tranquil place surrounded by nature.

Isla, my oldest, has recently developed a fear of crossing bridges, especially pedestrian ones that go over bodies of water. 

She literally gets hysterical when she comes upon a bridge and becomes an immovable object (quite impressive for her tiny stature). So, I have to carry her over them.

That day on the walk was no different. 

We came upon our first treacherous bridge. 

I had Isla hop on my back as I picked up her scooter in one hand. I pushed the stroller with Maya, my youngest, in the other hand. And I hung tight to the dog leash, hoping our dog would cooperate.

We traverse the bridge as if it’s a rickety rope bridge suspended hundreds of feet in the air over a jungle gorge with raging rapids and a cadre of alligator’s patiently waiting for a misstep. 

I like to imagine I looked like an absolute strong bad-ass doing this, but in reality probably looked more like drunk performing circus bear on a unicycle.

We make it to the end of the first bridge, without much fanfare, and carry on. 

Isla is back zipping on her scooter down the trail.

We make it to a second bridge and I am preparing to resume the position. 

But, Isla stops. 

She looks at me and says “I think I want to cross this myself, Papi.

And she does.

And she does it with all the other bridges that came after it that morning.

Just like that, her fear was gone.

And it hit me. 

Sometimes, the bridge you don’t cross (because of fear or doubt), becomes the LAST bridge you don’t cross. 

The quickest way to overcome the fear is to face it.

We all have bridges we’re too afraid to cross.

For me it was writing and sharing it with the world. This blog is my way of overcoming that.

It’s still scary, but the fear hasn’t materialized the way I imagined it would. It’s never as bad as our mind thinks it will be.

WHAT’S YOUR BRIDGE?

What are the bridges in your life? What would it mean if you could cross that bridge today? Right now? 

Why don’t you? What’s holding you back?

Enrollment and purpose

Leadership. 

It’s an idea that’s recently sunk it’s velicoraptor dewclaw into my brain and I haven’t been able to shake it. 

I see this current pandemic as the background for when leadership is needed most. A crisis provides us with an opportunity to see how prepared we are to lead others. 

And as I put my own ideas to the test, I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes a leader.  

I believe it comes to two things – purpose and enrollment. 

Is it possible to be a leader without purpose? Can you lead others if you cannot get them to enroll in your idea?

(EN)ROLL WITH IT

Enrollment is the ability to get people to willingly buy into an idea, into a future version of the world.

You describe the bus – with blazing neon blue flame decals along the side and monster truck wheels – and people are compelled and willing to get on the bus. 

I used to think the best leaders could lead anyone. I don’t think that’s the case anymore. And it’s because of enrollment. 

Leadership is about creating change. Change is scary and most people fight against it. 

I could have the most compelling and sexy vision for the future, but if there are some who aren’t willing to get on the bus, I shouldn’t second-guess my ability to lead. Those people just aren’t willing to go where I want to lead them. And as long as I have people enrolling in my idea, those people should be the focus.

I believe enrollment requires two key things:

  • The belief, confidence and vulnerability of a leader to share their vision. To put it out into the world and see if it catches. If it spreads. This piece starts with me. If I cannot be clear on where I want to go, I can’t put it into the world. The first step is to get clear on purpose.
  • Finding the people yearning for the future you envision. People craving something bigger than themselves – to be part of a community of people working together to make that reality. They are willing to contribute sweat equity for themselves, the people, the community, the leader, and the vision.

PURPOSE COMES FIRST

But can you get others to enroll if you don’t have purpose – if you don’t know your why?

You may get some folks who enroll for the short-term. 

But, for an idea to spread and to have staying power, I believe it needs to be fueled by a clear purpose.

Purpose strengthens belief in an idea, in how confidently and openly you share it with others.

Can you lead others without a clear vision of where you want to go and why that future change needs to be realized?

If you don’t know what you are willing to do for that idea?

If you are not clear on who it is for and more importantly, who it is not for? 

I’d argue that being rooted in purpose is the rocket fuel of enrollment. People crave leadership, especially when it’s inspiring and grounded in something bigger than themselves. 

Most want to know that their life means something. 

This is the power of leadership. The best leaders are able to help unlock purpose in others, help them to step outside of thinking small and take a leap – for themselves, their community, and a vision of the future.

And it all starts with purpose. 

The Road Forward (Day One)

I’m old enough to have experienced life changing moments – moments that play a central part in my personal and professional narrative. I’ve experienced these moments enough times to know one when I see one.

Today’s a special day because it’s one of those moments.

It’s day one after having completed Seth Godin’s altMBA.

I walk a new road from this day forward. It’s one with endless possibilities. 

The road requires I show up. 

Ask tough questions. 

Ask better questions:

  • Who’s it for? (Be specific)
  • What’s it for? (What change are we seeking?) 
  • What are the constraints? (What can’t be changed?)

Dance with tension and lean into fear – embrace it like a dear friend (fear’s usually a sign I’m on the right path). 

This road requires I dig deep and do the emotional labor that is a essential for the things that matter. 

This road demands I give freely and from a posture of gratitude and generosity.

It asks that I see others first, so that I too may be seen.

This road is full of connection – to people, to ideas, to a purpose greater than myself.

Creativity requires taking risks, being vulnerable and showing up. These are the stakes. Creativity rewards those who put in the time and takes the risk. Cultivate this practice and the road will bear fruits of creativity, will allow it to flourish.

The price of admission is sweat equity and a willingness to leap. To take a chance on myself and swing big.

The road does not reward those who play small. 

This is the road I walk now. 

There are many paths forwards. There always are.

But this is the road I choose. 

Starting today. 

Because I know better now. And it’s a responsibility I don’t take lightly.

Thank you to all who helped me grow and supported me during this journey. 

This is just the beginning. This is Day One.

Endure. Or Don’t.

Everything that happens is either endurable or not. If it’s endurable, then endure it. Stop complaining. If it’s unendurable…then stop complaining. Your destruction will mean its end as well. Just remember: you can endure anything your mind can make endurable, by treating it as in your interest to do so. In your interest, or in your nature.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 10.3

Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment

Victor Frankl

We all face challenges, setbacks and failures. At this moment in time, everyone in the world is facing the same challenge – a global shared (albeit scary) experience not since experienced since World War II. 

There’s no softening it. Many are scared, worried about the short-term and wondering what long-term impact this event will have on the world, the country and our individual lives. It will most likely get worse before it gets better. 

That is our reality and it’s a serious one.

How we deal with it and what it means is entirely up to you. We all face similar choices each and every day:

  • You can choose to endure it, and find ways to thrive in it or don’t. 
  • You can choose to embrace and support your respective community or not. 
  • You can choose to lead and be a source of resilience for others or not
  • You can choose to be an example of self-care or not
  • You can choose to serve others with empathy or not
  • You can choose to look for bright spots in this chaos or focus on the chaos
  • You can choose to be part of the solution or not

Yes, this situation is unprecedented and we need leadership from everyone to overcome it. But these choices have always existed. They’re just more obvious now due to our stark reality. 

It’s up to you to decide who you want to be in this moment. 

And in every moment thereafter.

This is all you have

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive 

Howard Thurman

This life is all you have. We all have one chance to make it mean something, to make our dent in the world while we’re on it. Do you know how you intend to make yours?

It’s never too late to find and define your purpose. It’s a big question, I’d argue the biggest one to ask yourself. It doesn’t have to be grandiose, but it can be. That choice is up to you. What’s important is that you know your purpose and fight each day to live it authentically.

Purpose provides clarity. It’s the one decision that eliminates 1,000 others. It draws a line in the sand and forces you to assess where you are spending your time and align it to your purpose. For many of us, work can be a vehicle that amplifies our purpose. Does the work you do align to yours?

If you can’t define what drives you to show up and give it your all, figure it out. Find others who have this clarity and ask how they got there.

If you can’t find purpose in what you do, then why continue to show up?

Find that which makes you come alive and go do that. It may not be easy, but what lies on the other end of it is what you were meant to do. Each of us has unique gifts and talents. Don’t squander yours. Life is too short to live without purpose.

One thing is for certain, death awaits us all, as it did millions of others who came before us. You only get one shot at it. How will you make the best of it?

Top Performer Mindset

You don’t become a top-performer on accident. It’s an intentional choice and belief in the work you do. It’s deciding that you want to do your best work and be your best self.

It requires having conviction in the work you do and recognizing it as best in class. If you fail to value the work you do, how can you expect others to value it any more than you?

Great artists know they are great artists. They’ve earned the right to do so by meticulously studying their craft, living it, breathing it and thinking about it every waking hour for years on end. They understand the intricacies of what they do and the nuances that separate good from great.

The value they bring comes precisely from having gotten intimate with their craft. When you know something deeper than the majority of those around you, you’re afforded the ability to recognize your commitment to greatness.

Don’t shy away from owning your mastery. Be humble but confident in what you’ve built. It didn’t happen by accident. You made a commitment to be the best – honor it. There is nothing to gain by playing small and underselling yourself. Have the confidence it takes to own that right.

Arrogance is the enemy to watch for with a fine line between it and confidence. Confidence has an openness to it. It’s certainty in all you’ve done to get to where you are tempered with the knowledge that there is still so much more to learn. Arrogance is closed. It’s a belief you are the best at what you do and that no one else compares. What could anyone else have to teach you?

Top performers guard themselves against this destructive thinking. They surround themselves with other top performers because they recognize the value in learning from others at the top of their game. As the adage goes, you are the average of the top five people you spend time with.

The first step in becoming a top performer is deciding to become one. It’s not an easy one – it requires confidence, humility and commitment. It necessitates faith in yourself and discipline to hold yourself accountable to the standard you’ve set for yourself.

The first step is always with you. What will you choose?

Doing and Thinking

What fuels growth?

Is it the tangible things we do; the multiple items on our to-do list that drive us towards a particular outcome? When we reach the end of our day and see all the things we’ve done that day, does that count towards personal growth?

Or is it the moments we spend in silence thinking on all we did and pondering the why behind it? What’s the intrinsic thing that drives us to achieve? What is the kernel of truth we can glean from reflecting on why we did what we did?

Doing without thinking leads to an unfulfilled life – a long list of things accomplished but no closer to knowing the truth of who you are.

Thinking without doing is no better. It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and observe. It takes courage and grit to test the weight of your ideas in the world.

A life of growth and fulfillment comes from balancing doing and thinking. We must think deeply about the person we wish to become. What values we want to live and what legacy we hope to leave behind. And then, we must go forth and execute on that plan. And, when the plan falters (and it will), we stop and do more thinking. Reassess and adjust the plan as needed.

And then we go back out there and do.

And repeat ad nauseam