“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” — Aristotle
Anyone that knows me or has shared a whiskey ginger can attest to my aimless ambitions. (Jim Beam & Canada Dry with lime if you’re buying.) I always ramble about the ideas I’d like to bring to life.
Those that are closest to me can speak to how they wish I would just act on them. On May 21, 2014, a good friend once shared some candid wisdom in a crowded, noisy Lakeview pub in Chicago that resonated with me.
To paraphrase, his words went something like, “don’t tell me about what you’re gonna do, show me how it’s done”. Over the next few months I took that advice to heart. I left the bar in search of the next steps for myself.
Anyone that sets out to achieve anything must have it.
I searched for inspiration and understanding in every book, every movie, every article, every anecdote and every moment. The clarity I was looking for is as Greg McKeown puts it, the ‘Essential Intent’.
In McKeown’s, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, he says that our Essential Intent is “…both inspirational and concrete, both meaningful and measurable. Done right, an essential intent is one decision that settles one thousand later decisions. It’s like deciding you’re going to be a doctor instead of a lawyer. One strategic choice eliminates a universe of other options and maps a course for the next five, ten, or even twenty years of your life. Once the big decision is made, all subsequent decisions come into better focus”.
For quite some time, all the reading and reflection lead to an overflow of information without any real relief or sense of direction. Just more angst and urgency to go along with my frustration. I liken the feeling to a horse in the gate before the Belmont Stakes; a kid on Christmas morning waiting for his parents to wake; a college student that crammed just hours before an exam waiting to get the go-ahead to begin. Quick, before the knowledge gets out!
So on December 18, 2014 I went into my home office (it’s been a godsend) and tried to put pen to paper on that intent.
I asked myself the question, “If I could be truly great at one thing, what would it be?”
The answer: Inspiring others to surpass that which they think they’re capable of.
Wow. The synthesis of 211 days of self-exploration summed up in 68 characters. A tweetable mission statement!
The day after Christmas, after some phenomenal sushi, wine and reminiscing with good friends — a ‘soap-box speech’ cocktail in my world — I found myself with another close friend with whom I’ve shared many-a-vision with.
As we said our goodbyes, I nudged him and said, “I think I finally know what I’m going to do”.
He replied with a raised eyebrow and a subtly snide, “what is it this time”?
I was caught off guard. “Have I really said that before?”.
“Yup”, he bluntly replied.
But it’s different this time, thought to myself.
In a rush of sobering reality, everything came back into focus again from May 21. Smarter and with a refined sense of purpose, but I haven’t taken the next step.
He once said that “Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do”.
It’s much simpler now that I understand I can bring to life my mission in whatever way I choose — exploring, analyzing, reading, writing and creating things that interests me — and sharing them with you.
It’s really more about freedom, fulfillment, growth and happiness than anything else. But more on that later.
I’m a writer because we are what repeatedly do.
You’re a parent because you take the time to nurture and care for your children. You’re an artist because you sing, dance or design. You’re an engineer because you build and create. Et cetera.
Identity doesn’t have to be singular, but it does have to be sought and discovered, understood and embraced.
So I’ll leave you with a quote from the late, great Robin Williams in one of his best roles as John Keating in Dead Poets Society.
“Boys (and girls), you must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all. Thoreau said, ‘Most men lead lives of quiet desperation’. Don’t be resigned to that. Break out!”
Thanks for reading! If you got any value from this, it would mean a lot to me if you shared it with someone else. Pay it forward. That’s how we all got here after all!
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