2 million points and counting

I recently met someone who collects points as a hobby. He mentioned he currently has more than 2 million points – enough for fully funded airfare and hotel stays for more vacations than he has time for.

But, that doesn’t stop him from collecting points. He does it because it feels like play. The process is far more interesting than the outcome.

This exchange reminded me of the power of combining passion and purpose. Passion asks “what has the world got to offer that fits my interests?” while purpose asks “what have I got to offer the world that has value?”

We’ve seen a lot of good rebuttals to the “follow your passion” advice over the past few years. The central theme is that we don’t often know what our passion is. Instead, we’re better off focusing on purposefully getting good at something that has value as passion often follows expertise.

While it is the pragmatic approach and one that at least ensures we’re not waiting around for the universe to reveal our passion, it has its downsides too. For example, if collecting points was a lucrative profession, I could become an expert at it. But, the process will never feel like play.

Ergo the power of combining passion and purpose.

It is magical when we’re able to get good at something we care deeply about. For most of us, that may mean a long and windy road to understand what this is and a lot of trouble to eventually get there – but, the juice tends to be worth the squeeze.

Writing for self vs. writing for others

I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to folks interested in writing publicly (on a blog of their own, Medium, Linkedin, etc.) over the years. As you might imagine, I’m a huge proponent of writing regularly in public as the act of doing so can have a transformative effect on our life by pushing us to be more accountable to ourselves, to think more clearly, to reflect more often, and to synthesize what we learn.

While most of the questions at the beginning of these conversations tend to be tactical, the place where I think the rubber hits the road is the conversation around purpose – is the writing intended for oneself or for others?

This is a fundamental choice because the process and rewards vary significantly.

When you write for yourself, the process takes a lot less time. Since you are writing primarily to clarify your thinking, you don’t need to worry about polishing or distributing your content – you just start a blog in a small corner of the web and get on with writing. As part of the thinking process, you focus entirely on optimizing your learning versus trying to figure out what your audience would be interested in.

So, you focus on iterative shipping by writing to think and improving how you think over time. As a result, you get to treat everything you write as a hypothesis and don’t worry about the consequences of being wrong. Finally, sharing what you write on your favorite social network is strictly a choice if you feel the social pressure + time to benefit trade-off is worthwhile. Even if you do decide to share, you don’t need to obsess about notifications and feedback. If it isn’t a “hell yeah,” you can choose to not share it.

Like all decisions, this choice has accompanying consequences. The consequence of writing for yourself is that the rewards are almost entirely intrinsic. You might earn yourself a few subscribers over time – but, your subscriber count, follower count, website visit count, monetization (if any), fame, etc., will likely never be anywhere as good as someone who focuses on writing for others.

Conversely, if you started out writing for others, expect less intrinsic benefit. The correlation between popular content and valuable/learning filled content isn’t high. :)

Like many things in life, I find that this misalignment between expectations of process and outcome drives most folks to quit after writing publicly for a couple of months. While they might have set out to write for themselves, there often are unsaid expectations about building a massive subscriber base – or vice versa. The end result is disappointment.

So, if writing publicly is on your list of new year themes/resolutions, I hope you’ll take time to clarify the purpose and your expectations on process and outcomes. While I can’t speak for writing for others, if these are aligned for the purpose of writing for yourself, I can say with reasonable confidence that the long term benefits of doing so are extraordinary.

Spending time with the why and the how

As you can tell, we’re in the midst of a series of end of year tradition posts. Today’s tradition is one that accompanies the annual review – spending time with my why and how.

This exercise involves revisiting how I define my why/purpose/mission, how that translates into my values, my culture, my approach/strategy, and the 3 most important principles I live my life by.

I have two reflections from this iteration. First, while most of it is consistent to the first version from 5 years ago, every tweak reminds me of the fact that this is a “living document” that I need to re-commit to.

The second reflection is a reminder of the power of deliberate iteration. Each iteration pushes me to articulate this better by making it flow more logically and simply. And, the more logical and simple it is, the more easier it is to live by.

v2018 is now below and on the “About” page.


My personal mission/“why”/“purpose”/what I care about: Build active relationships with framily (close friends and family), learn, and contribute positively to the world.

Thus, my simplified 3 word version articulation of what I value is – people, learning, contribution

My culture or the norms with which I make decisions flows from what I value. I aspire to show up every day by being thoughtful about how my actions impact the people around me, learning focused, and hungry to contribute. Again, in 3 words that would be – thoughtful, learning focused, hungry.

I approach my days by aiming to do my best in my 4 roles – I think of this as my strategy or my “how.” :-) These roles are sorted in priority order:
1. Leader of self
2. A caring member of my framily
3. A learning focused teammate
4. A responsible contributor to my community, i.e., the world

3 principles that I attempt to live my life by are:
1. Integrity: Integrity is making and keep commitments. This means walking what I talk and talking what I walk.

2. Love/Growth: Love is the will to extend oneself for one’s own or another’s spiritual/mental growth. This means committing to to doing small things with extraordinary love and investing in continuous growth.

3. Half-scientist, half student: I aspire to live my life as a mix of scientist and student. This means engaging with life to consciously take the time to define problems, build hypotheses, experiment, and then learn. Life, after all, is simply a series of experiments and learning opportunities. 

Looking outward

There’s a lot written these days about millennial employees looking to find purpose at work. These discussions are interesting and speak to the challenges executives and HR professionals face as they seek to combine monetization with collaborative and inspiring workplace.

That said, I do find myself wondering how much of this is actually about the desire to find purpose at work versus seeking those powerful and elusive intangibles like happiness, equanimity, and peace of mind.

If it is the latter – and, in many cases, there’s reason to believe it is – seeking fulfillment at the office is just a distraction. Regardless of how wonderful the values might be, workplace cultures are built around incentives like pay, promotions, and performance reviews that encourage us to look outward. The powerful intangibles that we tend to seek, on the other hand, only exist when we look inward.

No amount of effort will help us find them if we spend it looking in the wrong places.

Find them within ourselves, we must.

Tool problems and clarity of purpose problems

When we’re trying to drive change, we typically run into two types of problems – i) Tool problems or ii) Clarity of purpose problems.

For example, I’ve come to believe I am one true reset away from being a much better version of myself. This is coming from months of observing my desire to ‘seek to understand and then to be understood’ wilt as I move through the day. I kept telling myself the importance of finding a way to reset over the course of the day – but, change never came as I was clear about why it mattered.

I finally got a timer app to remind me to do so every 30 minutes and resetting has worked better since.

Similarly, an organization may want its employees to start entering granular expense reports for compliance reasons. If this isn’t communicated, employees may not get on with the program. Then again, even if they do understand, if their expense recording software is draconian, employees may still be dissuaded from entering expenses.

When we’re looking to drive change, it helps to be clear if we’re trying to solve a problem with the tool or with a clarity of purpose. And, zooming back further, the best solutions are designed for problems that are well understood.

Vacuuming and how work becomes meaningful

Vacuuming the home has been an ever present on my list of chores over the past few years. I cared about doing a decent job as I understand why it matters. But, it was never fun.

Until I started strapping our 6 month old baby and vacuuming the home with her.

At first, she mostly watched in silence. Then, she grew to enjoy it. And, twelve months later, it wouldn’t be the same without her. The issue is that she’s reached that point when the carrier isn’t comfortable anymore. I know it isn’t going to last for much longer – but, boy, was it a blast while it lasted.

This experience with vacuuming speaks to how work becomes meaningful. The first step is for folks to understand the “why.” Why does what they do matter? Once they understand that, merging the “why” with “who” they care about makes important work feel both meaningful and playful at once. It is these sorts of environments that make for incredible laboratories to grow, learn, and experiment.

And, in environments where people combine learning, meaning and fun, they do the work (the “how”) with great care.

This is the reason powerful visions need to co-exist with a great culture. It is the culture that ensures that people feel the kind of belonging to continue to find meaning in what they do. A vision is useless without strategy. And, culture is strategy in the long run.

PS: Getting back to vacuuming for a moment – it is another one of those reminders that the days are long but the years are short.

What to do versus who to be

A close friend emailed Hunter Thompson’s letter “On Finding Your Purpose.” I’d read this a while back but I’d forgotten about it. And, it resonated very deeply this time around. The part that resonated was his distinction between what we want to do and who we want to be. I picked out my favorite notes below.

As I said, to put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.

But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors — but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal.

Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life. But you say, “I don’t know where to look; I don’t know what to look for.”

And there’s the crux. Is it worth giving up what I have to look for something better? I don’t know — is it? Who can make that decision but you? But even by DECIDING TO LOOK, you go a long way toward making the choice.

I feel I’ve been stumbling at the fringes of this idea in my years writing here without ever explaining it with such clarity. Its beauty lies in its simplicity. The conventional approach to life is to focus on what we want to do. We, then, shape who we want to be in accordance. If we end up in a job that requires us to work 90 hours a week, so be it. We’ll give up those dreams of valuing health or family. It assumes no thought or intention.

Instead, decide who we want to be and seek to find a career that conforms. This is hard. Who knows what we want to be?

It turns out we don’t really know what we want to do either. For the most part, we just start with an unconscious hypothesis and keep moving forward. The only difference is that we seem to be following millions of others who are doing the same thing. It is easier.

And, as always, let’s not confuse easier with better.