Purpose and Finding True North

Setting direction for your personal development plan

In our last blog on the subject we discussed getting to your goals by starting with the skills that you wanted to improve.  We then asked you to narrow this down and loosely try to tie these to the four buckets of health, work, love and play.  All of these are necessary in one form or another to build a life worth living.

Drivers and motivation

Before we dive too deeply into goals, we need to discuss drivers.  What are the things that get us out of bed in the morning?  Our drivers will play a critical role in helping us find that ever elusive purpose.  Management consultant Daniel Pink did a great Ted talk on what motivates us.  He found that motivations, especially for white collar workers, were not necessarily what you would think.  I highly recommend you check out his talk, it’s excellent.  After poring through tons of research, the discovery was that as long as you are making a living wage, money is not a great motivator.  Incenting folks with things like cash bonuses inspires them to perform more poorly than no incentive at all.  This is true for those tasks that require thought, money can still incent performance of pure manual labor.

Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose


So, what does inspire us to better performance, to better engagement?  The three keys, according to Pink, are: autonomy, mastery and purpose.  You’re certainly in the right place for autonomy.  You will be building and maintaining your personal development plan by yourself.  We will give you gentle reminders on a regular basis, but you are the mastermind.  As for mastery, that is what the whole skill section is about.  Skills are the vehicle to mastery.  That brings us to purpose.  Purpose is the compass.  It’s the guiding light that takes us from now to then.  If we’re aligned with our purpose, the world feels right.  Everything is lighter and more fun.  If we’re not aligned with our purpose, something feels off.  Contentment and joy are always right around the corner.

So how do we figure out what our purpose is?  That’s the million dollar question.  This won’t happen in a day.  This will be an iterative process that we will discover along the way.  Like damn near anything else in life, trial and error provide us with our best roadmap.  You just need to pay attention.  We’re going to give you the tools to make that easier.

That brings us back to drivers.  Trying to pull purpose from the ether is as likely as finding gold at the end of a rainbow.  Burnett and Evans counsel the creation of a life view and a work view in their book, Designing your Life.  These force you to ask yourself some really tough questions to build a coherent picture of what it means to be you.  I found this exercise enlightening but slippery.  While building these views I constantly felt torn between who I thought I was, who others thought I was, and things I thought it would be cool to be.  This made the end result as clear as an M. Night Shyamalan movie.

It did get clearer the minute I started putting these views to the test.  Once I added goals and started chasing them, it became more obvious what inherently worked for me and what didn’t.  Be careful because there’s a trap here that we have to be extremely cautious about.  Goals that are easier to accomplish aren’t necessarily the goals that will help you define your purpose.  Easier goals are a byproduct of a skillset that is closer to mastery and/or the result of setting lower targets.  The goals that help you define your purpose are the ones that make you feel ‘right’ when you complete them.  They make you feel like a better version of yourself.  You’ll know that feeling when you hit it, it’s not just a sense of accomplishment, it’s also a deep feeling of contentment.  It’s like that feeling you get when you lower your sore body into a nice hot bath, except for your brain.  When your brain goes, ‘ahhhhhhh’, then you know you’re on the right track.

Picking a direction

Future-Sign-PostIt is important to pick a direction before you set off.  You may find that you’re going the wrong way quickly and then we can pivot.  You’re not going anywhere though if you try to set off heading East, West, North and South at the same time.  We can only pivot after we’ve decided on a direction in the first place.

This is where character strengths and personality types can help us build a roadmap.  Your top 5 character strengths do a pretty good job of defining your character.  If your purpose is not aligned with your character and values, things aren’t going to go very well.  Let’s look at a couple of examples.

If ‘Love of Learning’ is one of your top 5, chances are you’re going to want to chase a purpose that allows you the chance to do a lot of research.  In some roles, this is obvious.  If you’re a software engineer, for example, you may gravitate towards becoming an architect.  This is someone that is constantly researching, innovating, prototyping and general tinkering.  Love of learning – covered.  This would also work incredibly well in any of the sciences or in academia.  What if you’re a sales guy though?  Are you just screwed?  I’ve worked with a consultant over the years who I respected the hell out of.  He was an incredibly effective sales guy and what got him out of bed in the morning was improving the process.  He researched everything about the process, he gathered tons of data, he analyzed why some sales guys were more effective than others and all of this research led him to become the sales leader for a huge company year after year.  The last time he actually worked for a company, he has his own now, his title was Chief Sales Scientist.  So, it is possible to fit any character strength to any role with a little creativity.

If creativity is one of your top 5, you’re probably going to want to integrate some way to express yourself in your purpose.  If you’re in the arts, this is a no brainer.  If you have a creative side that is just itching to explode from your day job as an accountant though, then what?  This could fall into your ‘play’ goals or you could again incorporate this into your work.  That’s essentially what the big banks did when they created things like CDOs out of thin air.  Not a very ethical use of creativity, but creative nonetheless.  Another example, was the creation of microeconomics and micro-lending.  Companies like Kiva and Kickstarter turned lending into a wellspring of creativity that really has improved the world.

Core Values and Purpose

core_value_imageOur software will provide you with ideas for each of the character strengths.  You can take these ideas, decide to use some of them or none of them, but you will have to build yourself an initial direction.  It doesn’t need to be fully fleshed out but you do need to start somewhere.  Initial direction will be more of a core values approach than a true purpose statement, but core values are a critical first step towards building out your purpose.

As a final example of these ideas let’s look at my core values and purpose.  My top 5 are: Honesty, love of learning, perseverance, leadership and judgement.  Since purpose isn’t too far from core values, that’s a good place to start.  Here’s the core values I’ve lived by over the years :  My word binds me.  My work needs to progress society.  I’m nobody’s victim, I am responsible for my situation.  Study and improve the world.  Embrace change.  Experiences and people over things.  Sound body, sound mind.  Enjoy today.

Here’s the longer version that is my current iteration of purpose:  All actions are done with integrity and purpose.  Be able to look back at past accomplishments with pride knowing we did everything we could, left no stone unturned.  Work extends beyond accomplishment into contribution.  The work we do moves the progress bar for the species.  Set an example my kids would be proud to follow.  Folks will feel better about themselves after meeting with me, not from meaningless flattery but from honest interaction.  Be honest with ourselves as a people. Live in a society where real human dialog and coherent thought trumps curated sound bites.  Envision a world where we can disagree with each other without loathing each other.  Disagreement spawns innovation, but only if we listen.  Study the human condition to bring about real change.  Prove to the world that vulnerability coupled with hard work is far more effective than positioning yourself as a victim.  Enjoy life, love, family and tribe.

This didn’t come about quickly.  It’s also not finished.  I don’t think it will ever be finished.  The world is changing and we have to live in it, so to think that we will have one purpose that drives us for the rest of our lives is naïve at best.  To get here, I’ve done the work view, I’ve done the life view.  I’ve put both of these to the test.  Many of the things I originally wrote, that weren’t authentic, fell off during the trial and error period.  You won’t come out of the gate with a fully articulated purpose but your initial direction is the first step to get you there.

Thanks for reading!  More about next steps in building your personal development plan in our next post.


Know Thyself III

Character Strengths and the 5 Love Languages

If you haven’t read the previous posts: in the first version of Know Thyself I spent a lot of time talking about the tools that Bill Burnett and Dave Evans gave us in Designing Your Life.  I used one of those tools to place my You Are Here pin and truly answer the question of: How You Doing?  In the second installment I went deep on Myers-Briggs.  I talked about the Myers-Briggs Personality Test and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).  I used my own personality profile as an example.  I also briefly looked at the Satisfaction with Life Scale to get a sense of baseline happiness.

In this post I’m going to dig in to the softer side.  I’m going to start by looking at character strengths and finish with an analysis of the 5 love languages.  There are a ton of character strength options out there.  I’ve heard nothing but good things about StrengthsFinder but I’m sticking with options that you can start looking at for free.  That led me to Character Strengths and Virtues, also known as CSV.  CSV was a book written by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman in which they provide a framework that allows for practical applications for positive psychology.

Character Strengths and Virtues

Positive psychology was introduced as an academic middle finger in reaction to the old standbys of psycho-analysis and behaviorism.  Those disciplines focus heavily on mental illness and negative thinking.  Seligman had enough of this limited approach.  What do you want, he was a New Yorker.  Earlier in his career, after many years of study on depression he theorized that, with the right stimuli, humans and animals can be conditioned into a state of learned helplessness.  He backed this up with a fair amount of experimentation.  In this definition, learned helplessness meant that a human or animal could be conditioned to behave helplessly in a particular situation – after experiencing some inability to avoid an adverse situation – even when it actually had the power to change its unpleasant or harmful situation.  One can only assume that this research weighed heavily in his desire to create a positive counterpart to all of the negatives associated with psycho-analysis.  Instead of focusing on what can go wrong, CSV focuses on what can go right.

Interesting sidebar on learned helplessness.  Some assholes in the government jumped on the theory and used it as one of the pillars of our ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’.  This became one of the fun ways that we tortured folks down in Guantanamo.  Seligman was horrified that his theory was used in such a reprehensible way.

The Cliff Notes on CSV start with the identification of six core virtues.  The core virtues are made up of twenty-four measurable character strengths.  Here’s the list:

  • Wisdom and knowledge: creativity, curiosity, innovation, love of learning, open-mindedness, perspective
  • Courage: bravery, integrity, persistence, vitality, zest
  • Humanity: kindness, love, social intelligence
  • Justice: citizenship, fairness, leadership
  • Temperance: forgiveness and mercy, humility, prudence, self-control
  • Transcendence: appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, spirituality

I used the test from The VIA Institute on Character which turned the CSV framework into a forced choice questionnaire devised to illuminate what your core strengths are.  While core strengths do not directly equal core values, they are tightly coupled.  This becomes an important step in discovering what those core values are.  Here are my results:


After paying for the more detailed report here is a slightly more in-depth breakdown:


You can see that the VIA Institute slightly tweaked some of the terms.  For example, integrity became honesty.  For the most part they stayed pretty close to the academic representation of CSV.

5 Love Languages

5-Love-LanguagesThe Five Love Languages comes from a book of the same name by Gary Chapman.  Chapman doesn’t have a psychology background.  He comes from a religion / philosophy and anthropology foundation of learning.  Maybe that means he believes in dinosaurs wearing saddles?  I’d like to believe not.

He preaches more of a pop psychology on the radio.  That doesn’t make his theories any less interesting.  He has clearly worked with a ton of people to develop the theories and that alone hints at some level of scientific method.  I doubt there were a whole lot of double blind studies in his work but it still seems to resonate with a large percent of the population.

His theory is that we discover our love languages by observing how we express love to others.  We can analyze the things that we complain about most often in our partners as a good indicator of what we are looking for in love.  In his theory, people tend to naturally give love in the same way that they prefer to receive it.  When we understand how we wish to receive love and how our partners wish to receive love, communication goes waaay up.  Better communication gives us a much better chance at a strong relationship.  Makes sense to me. turned this into another forced choice questionnaire.  Here are my results:


My wife is taking the same test.  I’m not going to share her results here but when we look at the two together it becomes clear where a lot of conflicts can arise.  Defining our core values from our core strengths will provide us with the lines we will not cross when building our plan.  Our conflicts in the 5 love languages becomes another vector for our personal development plan.

There may be one final Know Thyself post that covers all of the methodologies that we decided not to use in our Know Thyself analysis and why.