Monday, March 19, 2012

Bucket Lists, Policy, and Functions - Part 3 (of 3)

Functions vs Lists

When I first started thinking about goal-setting, intentional living, and creating a life based on values, I made long lists of everything I wanted to do and accomplish. Some of the items on my list were descriptions of big projects with many sets of sub-lists. Others were simple straight-forward tasks. For my first 10-year plan, I worked on a values statement, and then tried to model out what I wanted my life to look like and how I planned to get there. This required a lot of work trying to visualize, as specifically as I could, what I wanted from the outcomes.

To-do lists are fine for daily time management. They can guide us through the steps of a project; they help us to remember what needs to be done; they provide a framework for prioritizing one’s day; they provide positive reinforcement every time we complete a task and cross something off of our list. This is all great. On the other hand, trying to create a to-do list that will get you through the next 25 years, is arguably absurd. Unless, like Mozart with his symphonies, you are able see your life unfold moment by moment, in advance, it’s likely to be a Sisyphean task.

For my 25-year plan, I have decided to take a different approach...

Creating a Function

A function, in algebra or computer programming, is a set of pre-determined modifiers (operators) that convert an input into an output. In other words, a value (in this case, patterned or rigid responses to a situation) enters the function, is modified by the modifiers (in this case, perspectives or decisions or goals) and then comes out as a “new and improved” value (in this case, a more flexible response. One that is in keeping in line with how I am choosing to live my life.)

A function is normally defined as f (name of function) followed by a new line for each modifier/operator, usually enclosed in { }.

It goes like this…

f (my life)  {

        {Do not eat sugar before lunchtime};

        {Approach every person thoughtfully with care and compassion};

        {Minimize negative impacts of the environment};

        {Model the attitudes of Hope, Confidence and Enthusiasm};


This is my attempt to set direction to my life without creating a list for each interaction. To try to naturally direct energy and outflow without having to note each step along the way. To try to get my mind around what I want my life to look like and to create a closer connection between my core intention and my operating reality.

For example, I did not create a list that say’s: eat brocoli, say “good morning”, recycle, smile. Instead, I am telling myself to process information about my life and the world around me each moment in a way unique to that moment, and, as I encounter a situation, any situation, respond to it in accordance with these “core commitments”

Lists are rigid. Functions are flexible. I have no way of knowing what is going to happen later on today, let alone in 25 years. Having a function in place helps me to provide shape to my life without having to try to predict the destination of the universe.

From the Zone...


Friday, March 16, 2012

Bucket Lists, Policy, and Functions Part 2 (of 3)

Policies vs The Unadulterated Expression of the Eternal Self

Policies, while good and necessary, are an intermediate step. We need things like mission statements and policies, not because the statements or policies are, in and of themselves, an end point, but because, in our current condition, without specific guidelines, we cannot always trust ourselves to know how to behave, or know how to treat one another (or the world). I believe that there is an inherent human moral code, a goodness, something that is hardwired into our DNA, and that, as our intelligence grows to fill up and master the universe, we will be more and more able to express this goodness and act from it. Unfortunately, at this stage of the process, because of addictions, confusions, fears, greed, compulsions, misinformation, a lack of information, it is hard for us, in the moment, to make “clean” decisions. As a result, we need policies. These policies work best when they are designed in an environment free from our pulls and distresses. In other words, at a time when we are able to think outside of our struggles. Then, when we find ourselves in a tight situation, we can refer to the policy to determine the best course of action. A diet is a good example. No one ever planned a smart diet while standing in front of the bulk candy bin at Wegmans. But having a policy in place prior to walking into the store might lead you to not go down that aisle in the first place or, if you must, to avoid sampling the chocolate-malt-balls (ahem).

I would like to get to a place where I-- based on that DNA-coded expression of my unique goodness-- would know just what to do in any situation, and always do so with the intention of the greatest good. If I could guarantee that, then I might not need goals at all. Energy, creativity, would just flow out of me, in a way that maximized potential

Is this even possible...?

I have no idea. I think it might be. Certainly on a small scale. In a relationship that is important. Or on a task in which you are accomplished. It might be possible to simply open up the conduit of intelligence, creativity, and love, and pour forth perfection. Think of the master chef who can whip up delicious meal without referring to a recipe. Or a mother soothing her sick child. These people need no plan. No shopping list. No moment to review what is known about the needs of the other. They just know and they do.

Of course, how many architects would build a house without carefully drawing it out on paper? Would a caterer plan a large party without listing out the menu? Does a writer simply scribble out a story, perfectly told, with no need to edit? Generally not.

Ok. Maybe Mozart. Whom, I understand, could hear, in his head, every note of a symphony he was getting ready to compose, before he even jotted down a single measure. But for the rest of us?

It seems to me that creative output (the poem, the drawing, the song) crafts itself in the process. Yes, he initial idea might well be inspired by the divine spark, but everything that follows: the creation of something palatable, enjoyable, interesting, is very much derived during the process.

Susan Sontag once said that she wrote to more fully understand herself. By putting sustained focus on a project, by setting, working toward, and ultimately achieving a goal, our brain actually forms new connections. Comes up with new ideas. Understands things more fully.

From the Zone...


Monday, March 12, 2012

Bucket Lists, Policy, and Functions - Part 1 (of 3)

Creating a 25-year plan is no easy task. For starters, it’s a long period of time. With more variables than I could possibly track or account for. Further, if past experience holds, my priorities and interests will change, not just once or twice, but many times; as I get new information, as the world evolves, as new options become available, as I grow older.

What will likely not change, or, if it does, will shift at only a geologic pace, are my values, my core beliefs, the essence of who I am as a person.

This was not always the case. When I was younger, I went through radical shifts and explored many extremes as I learned about the world and tried to understand who I was in relationship to it. I think this is normal. I was still in the process of creating the image of who I wanted to be. What my values were. What I believed was important. These are very core questions. And, when we are trying to figure out the answers, to test our options, to decide if we want to do it the way our parents did it, we often find ourselves pushed up against the limits of our relationships, trying to test what is possible, what is reasonable, what we can manage. During these early stages, adjustments to our self-image have an amplifying effect and result in large changes to the way this image is expressed.

But those early stages are over. In The CEO Zone we continue to explore and understand what our values are. But the shifts, generally, are less radical. This stage is not so much about creating a self-image as it is about shaping our lives in the image that we have already developed. Of course, this is more art than science and none of it is set in stone. Human beings are fluid creatures and we have the flexibility to change ourselves, even in fundamental or core ways, should we so choose.

The Problem with Buckets

Successfully negotiating life in The CEO Zone is NOT about making a Bucket List – that long list of everything we want to do before we “kick the bucket”.  Its not that a Bucket List is a bad thing, its just too externally focused for my tastes. It is very focused on highly specific outcomes without necessarily much regard or aware connection to underlying values. More to the point, it is a very long to-do list, which, if you’re ambitious about it, becomes the central organizing theme of your life. And, I suppose, if your successful, as you near death, you can prove to yourself and others that, having checked off some number of those items, you have had a good life, a fulfilled existence.

I do not want a to-do list to serve as the central organizing point of my life. I do not mind using a to-do list to organize my day. That’s just basic time management. Especially if the items on my list reflect my values and over-arching goals; the immediate things I want to accomplish which will aggregate, kaizen-like, into larger projects. But I am not sure it scales.

I think one of the most exiting things about The CEO Zone is not that it provides a to-do list but rather that it is an ongoing exploration of my values; a rudder designed to steer my life in the direction of what is truly important to me, helping me to live intentionally by allowing me to understand what these important things are and to prioritize actions that bring me closer to having the life that most reflects who I am/want to become.

From the Zone...