Purpose

How To Direct Your Own Fulfillment, Part One: PURPOSE

pexels-photo-220147.jpeg

I read an article yesterday on Business Insider about the traps that people fall into when they choose to start a business, aptly named "Entrepreneur Porn". It comes down to the question of Why they are starting the business. I will discuss a few aspects here, but the full article can be found at: https://www.businessinsider.com/starting-business-entrepreneurship-hard-7

Side note: I love how the shortened link title above says STARTING-BUSINESS-ENTREPRENEURSHIP-HARD. No beating around the bush. ENTREPRENEURSHIP HARD. That is the gist before you even click the link and read the article.

As I said above and so many times before, it is all about the why. The article talks about several aspects of specifically entrepreneurship, but I would like to expand that a little bit for my readers. I do not only work with entrepreneurs and so I want to connect the points to 9-5 jobs or even hobbies and leisure activities in which people participate. The two main points that I am going to cover in two separate posts are:

PURPOSE and PREPARATION

Purpose

The article discusses the sexy allure of calling oneself an entrepreneur or adopting the liberating mindsets of "not having a boss anymore" or "freedom to make the schedule I want". Those are all attractive, for sure, but then what? Once you LLC your company and technically are granted those freedoms, what are you going to do with the business? What next?

This is where the WHY comes in. This is all about what truly drives you. Whether you are starting a business, you work 9-5, or you started a new hobby (or habit re: last week's post), why you are pursuing that thing is the most important predictor of your future and satisfaction. Hoping to call yourself an entrepreneur or hoping to have a steady job are good goals, but they can be achieved in little time. Once achieved, you are left then with a lot of subsequent responsibilities you had not considered because your only goal was achieved at the start. After starting a business, there is a lot that goes into maintaining a business. Once you get a job, you have to show up every day and perform. 

If you only thought about obtaining one or the other, you will be in for a shock about what comes next.

It is like the phenomenon of weight loss. If you set a goal to lose fifty pounds and you do it, what then? People often cop out and say "I'll just maintain it" when really they did not set a new next goal to proactively start pursuing such that a new success is defined. 

The "allure of entrepreneurship" is something I have thought a lot about. I wanted my own company all the way back in high school, but why did I want it?  Why do I want it now?  Upon reflection, I have realized that, even though I agree with the article about how sexy the Entrepreneur title can be, that was never why I went into entrepreneurship. The title feels good, yes, for sure, but I learned that it is secondary to what really fuels me: creative independence. 

There are a lot of things about business management that I am so aware that I am not interested in and the delegation of which I am slowly learning how to orchestrate. I am proud of the fact that I own something unique and authentic, but being the "owner" is not my reason to do it. It is not my why. When my business grows and there is more of a team involved, I am interested in being its leader but not its owner, i.e. not an authoritarian dictator at the top of some hierarchy that I imposed because I own the company. That does not excite me. That is only ego. Being part of a team that is serving a brand does excite me. 

My why for entrepreneurship is the independence of it.

Homework: 

  1. If you started a business or want to, why do you want to be an entrepreneur?
  2. If you are currently working a "9-5" job, what does that job do for you?
  3. If you are currently searching for a job, why do you care about having a job? What is the specific motivator?
  4. If you have just begun a new hobby or are continuing an old one, how does that hobby serve you?

The reasons are different for everyone, and your unique reasons dictate your satisfaction with that pursuit. Take a minute to answer a question for yourself.

Your future depends on it.

How To Understand Your Habits - Yes, All Of Them

pexels-photo-761963.jpeg

This is officially my 53rd blog post, which means that I have successfully posted each week for an entire year. Bloggers out there will be like "that is adorable" and pat me on the head, but it is pretty enormous considering I have been consistently working three jobs over the last few years and, prior to the last year, I had only written two unrelated posts in the first year of my business' inception. 

I am not asking for celebration. Instead, a year-long habit of anything is a powerful opportunity for reflection. A lot has changed in the last year. I separated myself from one business partnership, initiated another, combined my two businesses, and moved across the country. But I want to focus on the blog posts. 

We are habit forming creatures. Our brains crave certainty and familiarity for the sake of surviving as efficiently as possible. To an extent, that often means in the easiest way possible as well. How many people do you know who coast through existence, apparently lazy and uninterested in putting any extra effort into their daily lives than is minimally necessary? I bet you know a few. 

They are the people whom we identify as having "bad habits" or "unhealthy habits" and whom we might generalize by the food that they eat and the activities they pursue. But I am not here to bash others for the way they spend their time. This is a judgment free zone.

Habits are habits for a reason.

Instead, I want to focus on positive habits. By that I mean any habits that you enjoy or think are evolutionarily beneficial.

What habits have you maintained or started in the last year that felt good to you? 

I do not care if it is something that society at large deems unhealthy or negative, or even illegal. I want to know what habit you have enjoyed. Making consistent income? Awesome. Running three times a week? Cool. Using hard drugs and alcohol? Do you. I want you to identify at least one habit from the last year about which you are either proud, you enjoyed, or which made you feel good in some way. 

Once you have chosen it, I want you to think about and answer this question: 

What does that habit do for you?

I mean, really. Think hard. What does it give you? What do you feel other than the enjoyment or pride? What is the primary reason for that habit in your life?

Let us consider my example of this blog. Yes, a blog is a helpful piece of a brand and it is an outlet for me, both creatively and intellectually, but what does it actually do for me, deep down? 

The discipline part of the habit is cool, but for me it is about the commitment.

As a solopreneur, commitment to maintaining habits can be difficult. Discipline can be difficult to maintain (Let me hear an AMEN from my entrepreneurs out there). But what is empowering about my year of writing blog posts is the fact that I can now be confident in my ability to stay committed to something. As I reflect on the past year of writing content, I think about how I was able to unflinchingly write two posts one week because I was on vacation the next or write my post earlier in the week because I knew that Wednesday and Thursday were booked up. I think that is so cool. All commitment and no compromise. 52 straight weeks. 

Identifying that commitment empowers me. 

What does your habit do for you? What makes it so empowering? 

Maybe watching movies lets your brain feel creative. Maybe lifting weights liberates you from anxiety. Maybe listening to music helps you sleep. Whatever it is for you, it empowers you in a unique way. And whatever empowers you is likely something you crave on a primitive level. Let us label it together. 

What Is Missing In Your Life? Your Skills, Values, And Ambition Assessment

pexels-photo-102170.jpeg

What do you care about? 

I should just end this post there with that question. A real punch to the stomach that would hopefully confuse you and then stress you out as you think about how to answer it. 

I work with a lot of people starting businesses but I also work with even more people who dislike where there career is and desperately want to make some kind of change. The wall they run into on their own is an incomplete awareness of what is needed to make that change. 

A common framework that helps put structure to this mental roadblock is the definition of a person's unique skills, values, and ambition. In my class, I teach the importance of not only defining them but aligning them so that one's self-concept is rock solid. I visualize it for students like an equilateral triangle and talk about it like Tony Stark's triangular arc reactor chest-piece that he makes in Iron Man 2. When the energy is flowing through it, the whole triangle lights up with epic power. That epic power is available to anyone who puts the time and energy in to aligning their skills, values, and ambition.

Now back to you. Answer me this:

- have you ever gotten so inspired about something you care about but then you do not even start it because you do not know how to do it?

- have you ever gotten so good at something in your job and you have goals for yourself within the company but you never make progress because you do not care about the company's mission?

Let us break it down into common sense: 

1. If you care about something and you have related skills but you do not have goals or ambition, you will not be satisfied.

2. If you have a goal and skills that can help you achieve it, but you do not care about anything specific, you will not fulfill that goal.

3. If you care a ton about something and you have all the ambition in the world to go after whatever that thing is but you do not have relevant skills, you will not make progress. 

Unfortunately you cannot just have 2 out of 3.

No ambition = progress will be like molasses.

No relevant skills = you will feel incompetent and frustrated.

No core value set = you will become apathetic and aloof.

Now what is there to do about it? Assess yourself. Of the three categories with clients, I often start with values because people often have a more accessible sense of what they care about in life than the other two categories. 

Values

Let us start with values. Here are some guiding questions.

  • what are some things in life that matter to you, in general?
  • what is important to you in your work or at your workplace?
  • what kinds of causes or societal issues pull at your heart strings or fire you up?
  • what do you care about having in a relationship or your friendships?

Skills

Skills are sometimes harder for people to reflect on, so be gentle with yourself when you are answering these questions.

  • what are some things that you consider yourself good at?
  • what is something you love doing?
  • what are your responsibilities at work? 
  • what do you do in your free time?
  • if you know specifics, what abilities are you confident in?

Ambition

Ambition can be big or small, future or present. Think about any goals at all that come to mind.

  • what is your goal for your career right now, overall?
  • what is your goal for your work right now, specifically?
  • what is a goal you have for your relationships or friendships?
  • what is your personal development goal for the future - aka what are things that you want to learn about yourself, where do you want to live, what do you hope to personally achieve, separate from work?

The important thing to keep in mind is that you do not have to be able to answer every single question. I often customize these questions into only one or two that are specific to my client's situation. For you the readers, I wrote longer lists in hopes that at least one of the questions is helpful to spark your reflection. Do not put pressure on yourself to answer every one and to make sure your answers are perfect. 

If an answer comes to mind, no matter how disorganized or basic, WRITE IT DOWN. It will be your perfect starting point. 

Now, step two is to look back at your responses and feel which category either garnered the least awareness or was more difficult to answer. If only one stands out, great. If two stand out, choose one that feels most relevant to focus on first.

If it is your values, think about it again. Everybody cares about something, even if that something is video games or not going to work. 

If it is your skills, are you able to identify what skills would be helpful? If not, ask someone what they think. If so, what is a first step you can take to acquiring those skills - who can you talk to, what can you read/research, what class can you take?

If it is your ambition, ask yourself why you are having trouble identifying a kind of goal - is it because you do not like where you are at in life? If so, what don't you like?  Do you wish you could identify a goal? If so, who could you talk to for help around thinking about and defining goals?

Whichever one is most relevant for you is that on which your career satisfaction or your personal fulfillment depends. 

The 3 Crucial Personality Traits You Need To Start A Business: Part 1 - COMMITMENT

You meet commitment at the intersection of excitement and fear.

You meet commitment at the intersection of excitement and fear.

This week marks the start of three posts on the most crucial personality traits needed to start a business. Even though I will discuss it in the context of entrepreneurship, each of these themes can be applied to other jobs, workplaces, and career shifts. All are welcome. 

A lot of my clients and students fall into the classic creative trap of focusing so much on the idea of their business and the excitement that they feel that they do not step back and consider the logistics of its execution.

This is normal.

It is so exciting to come up with an idea for a business that you think will make millions and change the world. I have come up with dozens and dozens of ideas for businesses and collaborations that feel cool when I imagine them. When I think a second later about what would be required to execute them, I am not excited. Even with the companies I do have, there have been several points where I have had to pivot because the block I ran into was something about which I was not excited (often some kind of marketing, it did not feel authentic to me and I did not have the funds to hire out for it).

As a result, I tabled it and focused my energy on what was energizing. 

I am getting ahead of myself, though. LESSON #1 is on the COMMITMENT to your idea.

We are creative in our own ways and our values allow us to care about different things. When we come up with an idea for a business that aligns with our values, it is like a nuclear bomb of exhilaration in our circulatory systems and brains. We feverishly white board our ideas and diagram out our product options and design logos and taglines and what our office will look like and what color post-it notes we will buy, but we do not think about buying those post-it notes tomorrow, getting an accountant to track our expenses, then talking to people outside of our team to see if the product could be helpful.

Why? Because it is not exciting. It is not fun. It is not time spent in La-La-Land dancing with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone on sets only your imagination can create. The logistics are the hard, grey cinder blocks that keep you down here with the rest of the dirty world and which remind you to pay the bills and construct a real product. 

This is the difference between having something to say and committing to starting and running a business.

If you have a great idea, you want to share it with the world, but you do not care about scaling a business that becomes your career, that is fine. Own it. Write a blog, sell coffee mugs, give talks, and leave it there.

If you have an idea and want to make it a business, you must commit to exactly that. 

Act on the assumption that your business will grow. How does that demand make you feel? Are you excited about that opportunity for growth, or does the idea of keeping up with the growth repulse you?

This is the most important question to ask yourself as a beginning entrepreneur. You could be a rock star undergrad Entrepreneurship major prototyping an awesome product, but it will not go to market if you are not committed to the grind of networking and pitching. You could be a 30-something who just received huge funding for trials of a new miracle treatment, but you have to be committed to the long game of the trials and execution if you want to match value to that investment money. 

Entrepreneurship is hard. Much hustling is required. That is why taking a long awkward look at yourself in the mirror and asking "To what about my idea am I committed?" is the most important first step. 

I started desiring entrepreneurship back in high school, and not until I formulated my very first real true business idea in college did I stop and reflect on why I wanted to own a business. My first idea was cool and super creative, and had I pursued it I probably could have cornered the market and quickly done well with it, but it was not exciting to me at that moment. I was not interested in what was required of running that business at that time. 

So I waited.

Desire only grew, which is so cool, and the opportunity arrived right when I was ready to commit.

I still did not know what would go int to the day to day logistics, but the difference was that I was open to committing no matter the responsibility. 

In conclusion, whether you are a budding entrepreneur with an idea, you have started a business, or you have owned a business for years, check in with yourself. What is your commitment level? What do you care about now and how has that changed over time? To what about your idea can you commit yourself RIGHT NOW? What feels exciting to you within your brand?

The 4 Step, 3 Minute Way To Slow Down Your Life And Reflect On What Matters

pexels-photo-298018.jpeg

Last night I got dinner with a dear friend who straight up devours any food set before him - not because he has poor eating hygiene, but because he enjoys the food. We got burgers and we shared fries. I started on some fries to warm up my stomach as we were talking. Thirty seconds pass and I look at his tray to see a street food graveyard. The wrapping that held the burger as one unit was crinkled and discarded and there was a contemporary pallet of ketchup / mustard / hot sauce across the plate, swirling together into nice sunset tones.

I had not even looked at my cheeseburger. 

He and I often laugh about how slow and methodical an eater I am (I am not slow, but I sure am methodical) compared to his vacuum cleaning system that disappears whatever lands on the table. 

I have observed and journaled a lot over the years about the Life Pace of different cultures. We all know that America runs on Dunkin and it is overcaffeinated and that society here puts value on moving fast. In Up In The Air, George Clooney's character says "We are like sharks. If we stop moving, we die." A little dramatic, George, don't you think? Can we find a middle ground where we stay alive but slow down a wee bit? 

American business is cutthroat. Corporations are ruthless. Sales quotas still exist. Greed is still one of the seven deadly sins. When we are so afraid of keeping our job, it is no wonder that people sacrifice slowing down and reflecting on themselves and what matters. 

I am sensitive to the world's pace around me. I have become more and more introverted over the years because being so extroverted in college wore me out and I could not keep pace with the extroversion of society. And that is not a bad thing.

In my next life, I want to be the geography professor I had in college. He told me of a time when he was GIVEN FUNDING to travel to multiple countries around the world, sit down at a coffee shop, and actually time how long it takes - with a damn stopwatch - for strangers on the street to walk from one point to another in his visual plane in order to study how people move through their cultural surroundings. That is it. He studied the pace at which people moved around in different cultures. WHAT? That is epic. Think about it. He got paid to slow himself down, sip coffee, and peoplewatch for science. If that is not escaping the Matrix, I do not know what is. 

But like me and my food consumption rate, it is about what you value.

I value conversation. Others do not. 

The past month of my blog posts has taught you how to be a more aware and effective communicator. It is important to teach because these days two kinds of communicators are dominating the market:

  1. the kind who talks just to hear themselves talk and you are a worthless piece of human material to them.
  2. the kind who talk just to receive affirmation that what they say is valid - and I do not mean that they listen to your response, I mean that they see you start to respond, count that as affirmation because they are so insecure, and then do not listen to a word you say. 

Neither of these are conversations. In the fast paced culture we live in, people want to be heard. Plain and simple. The problem is that everyone wants to be heard so it is a power-struggle-shouting-match to only talk about themselves. I know so many people who get lost in the fray. They know they want to learn more about themselves and differently express themselves to the world.  They do not know how, though, because they are focused on getting ahead in their work, so the arrogantly insecure coworkers and bosses overtake them. 

Everyone in this societal stranglehold desperately seeks to yell out how they feel but they do not because they do not know who can support them and what to do after they yell it out. They simply want to yell. 

People want to express themselves. 

The past four posts was the first step to becoming more aware of what you want to yell out and, more importantly, what is getting in the way of that. For most people I know, it is the pace of the world around them. Maybe they are lucky enough to know how to self-reflect and journal, but have trouble slowing down to focus on it. A lot of those people do not know how to reflect. 

You cannot learn to express yourself more authentically without slowing down and stepping back from the crazy train of your daily life in America. You have to hop off at the next station and stare at the forest, even if you are the only one there. 

Start here:

  1. What part of your life is moving too fast for you to keep up?
    • work?
    • relationship?
    • money?
    • sports / exercise?
    • sex?
    • nutrition?
    • pets?
    • friendships?
    • other: _________?
  2. Why is that part of your life of value to you?
  3. How long have you been unable to "keep up" with it?
  4. What feeling states have you experienced about it?

This simple set of four questions should take THREE MINUTES for you to complete. That is all. What it does is helps you label your feelings (likely angst) and the cause. Once you have these answers, you have a perfect prompt to:

  • journal about!
  • or tell someone about, and then ask for their advice.

Tell them the answers to your questions. It is easy. Watch: "Hey, man, for the past three months or so, I have been feeling stressed about work. It is like its demands and my coworkers are moving too fast for me to keep up. I like what I do but it is anxiety-provoking because I am exhausted and I feel like I am barely on top of things. Do you have any advice?"

BOOM. All four answers in a pretty little paragraph. That felt good. 

You slow down to answer those questions. You slow down to express the answers to your friend. Your friend slows down - hopefully - to give you some advice. You slow down to think how to change that advice into a plan. You slow down to put that plan into action at work the next day. 

Feel relieved yet?

How To Find Your Authentic Voice, Part 3: What Is The Point?

pexels-photo-326102.jpeg

If you have not read the past two weeks' posts, a) shame on you and b) go back and read them. As a Sparknoted summary that will not give anything away from the actual posts, Part 1 was about self awareness and Part 2 was putting preliminary words to something you want to express. Now that you have diligently followed my instructions and you have done the homework from the last two posts, you should have a simplified note of what you want to express in its raw form. Some examples could be:

 If you hate your boss: "GAHH he / she is such a self-absorbed a-hole!"

Or if you are mad at your significant other: "GAHH I wish he / she would stop telling me to X"

Or if you have a pitch to give: "Why can't they just tell how incredible my product is? 

That is okay. Let it be pure and angry. Vent into that notebook. It is the starting point. 

Now comes the most important part. The ultimate question: WHY DO YOU WANT TO SAY THAT? What is the objective of what you want to say? Why do you want to tell your boss that you hate him / her? Why do you want to grab investors by the collar and shake them into understanding why your product is so amazing? Why do you care about the way your significant other is addressing you? 

If you can answer the Objective question for your situation, you are at a huge advantage. I asked my client - the one I mentioned in last week's post - that question and, after he stutter-stepped for a second, we got down to the fact that he enjoyed his job, he knew he was good at it and that he had a plan for its success, but that his value of autonomy and innovation was being intruded upon by his manager. Ultimately, it was not solely that my client was mad at the manager as a human being but mostly that the manager represented an obstacle to my client's long term performance and growth as an employee. The next step - which you will read about next week - was taking his answer to the Objective question (and the personal goals and value sets) and crafting a conversation with the HR office in which he talks about his role and his goals for it and how it would benefit the company and how he relates to his manager in a polite and level way...instead of sitting down and reaming the guy out and getting nowhere but angry again. 

Your homework for the week is to think about the thing you so badly want to say and ask yourself why you so badly want to say it. What is the point of expressing it for you? What good would it do?

Spoiler Alert: it is emotional. 

When I discovered my voice for the first time at the Book Swarm in California, I spoke up not because I was angry at my colleagues but because we were not focusing on what was most important for the project in that moment. But why did that matter to me? What was the point of speaking up and getting them back on track? 

It is because I loved what we were doing. In less cliche terms, I was so immersed and so interested in the subject matter and what we were trying to accomplish that I felt like the discussion in the moment was an obstacle to our efficiently completing our task as a team. I cared about the subject, so I cared about my team’s success, and I spoke up to that authentic feeling. 

Truly why, on the deep level, do you want to give your boss a piece of your mind? What value set is involved when you tell your significant other how you’ve been feeling? 

Your unique answer to that question will ground you back down from the raw truth and remind you why you care. That way, you can have the polite, authentic conversation you want to have and express exactly what you want to express. 

Want To Enjoy Your Job? Answer These Two Simple Questions

pexels-photo-165907.jpeg

I took an anthropology course in college for the sole purpose of satisfying a graduation requirement. It was on the concepts of heritage and cultural history in the middle east. I thought it would be an interesting choice because I like history and the middle east was a region about which I had not learned much. Let us just say that the professor loved talking about her own research and I did not understand most of the points that she tried to teach. I did know that I was a young science nerd sitting in a very humanities class among twenty history and anthropology majors. Lost at sea, was I. 

One particular evening, the class sat in a circle and discussed a photograph on the cover of a book we were reading for homework. As I recall, it was of an elderly gentleman standing at a railing in the inner atrium of some hotel or apartment building. It was an old photograph, black and white, probably taken sometime in the fifties. The man was somewhat far away in the photo too. At this point in the semester, I was already having a hard time tracking what the heck the professor was trying to teach in the course, so I somewhat bluntly offered the suggesting that it was objectively difficult (put politely) to have a conversation about what that man was doing or why he was there because there are infinite possibilities and perspectives. Starting with the twenty wildly different perspectives in that classroom. 

I said something similar in an ancient Greek history course the following year. 

What I tried to study for the final project in the middle east course (which the professor swiftly kabashed before commanding me to write something in which she was more interested) is how perspective plays a role in the objectivity of a scientific discipline and the question of how that discipline's research can ever be formally validated as a result. I was becoming vehement about it. What I did not know at the time was that this idea was the younger brother to the overall question of how history is written at all, who gets to write it, and how objective is it really?

In all my years of playing soccer, one of my strengths was spacial awareness and vision of the field during the run of play. Wherever this developed in childhood, it consistently enabled me to keep the big picture in sight. Soccer games were just individual games. Soccer was not the only thing to my life and my future. I loved studying neuroscience but I did not have to work in that field. This let me be more present years before I consciously tried to meditate and practice intentional presence. It was already a subconscious byproduct of a preexisting skill. 

Furthermore, one of my current clients is a young girl who psychs herself out in sports competition because of a random subconscious expectation in her head that she "should beat that particular opponent" or "should be better than that" or "should have gotten that point." The first step for her - if you recall the brand pillars I described in an earlier post - was drawing awareness to the big picture and to keep perspective.

She was able to tell me that the perspective she wants to keep is that "it's just one point. There are so many more opportunities. And if I lose this match, it's not the end of the world." Some would say that sounds cliche, but remember that she came up with those words herself, which means that that is the objective perspective that will work uniquely for her. Next we collaboratively found a way for her to start putting that into practice in other areas of her life so that it is second nature come game day. 

Cool, Taylor, thanks for venting about college and telling us about a random client, but what now?

We all have subjective perspectives on the objective things we do, and that is okay as long as they are either aligned or healthy or both.

Think about your job. Wherever you work, whatever you do, it is difficult to avoid getting stuck among the weeds and forget to look up at the beautiful forest. It is natural. We get a to-do list, we talk to coworkers about specific things, we fire up our productivity playlist on Spotify, and we plug away. Head down, plowing ahead.

If you are lucky, you might connect the dots of the task you completed earlier today to the big picture of what that task means in the long run when you are having happy hour drinks with coworkers or talking to your partner tonight, but often the big picture remains lost in Unconscious Land. Retail is a good example. Sales associates in a retail store change visuals and presentations and piles of products, but it is hard to remember the Why behind one product's new display (other than to sell it, of course). As a result, the day consists of moving things around and occasionally selling things and then rinse and repeat the next day on an unending wheel of transaction reports. 

Spoiler alert: this Big Picture Why ought to be the same Why that you chose to engage in that work in the beginning. And this is why learning your narrative is so important. Let us work backward:

If you can recognize the big picture perspective of your work, then you can remind yourself all day long that of which your work is in the service and you can feel more purposeful. Awesome.

If you are able to recognize that the reason why you are engaged in the work (so your own personal big picture) is aligned with the big picture of the job and the tasks you perform, then eureka! All is right and keep doing what you are doing.

If they are not aligned, why is that the case?

This is where narrative comes in. This is where you begin to reflect on why you are engaging in the work that you are. 

  1. What personal values of yours is the work satisfying?
  2. What personal interests do you maintain in the work, or do you maintain none and hate every second of the work day? 

It is often easier to think of negatives things, so ask these questions to yourself and see what comes up in your mind that is not working if you are able to come up with answers at all, and then translate those into their opposites that may be more positive. 

As an entrepreneur, my most common task is prioritizing into what new ideas or features it would be worth investing my energy to in the moment. The ideas may be things that I am curious about and interested in doing in a broad knowledge and development way, but I have to continually ask the two questions of myself:

  1. Is this something I would be genuinely interested in taking the time to learn, implement, and maintain right now?
  2. Is this something that fits the personal values that I maintain behind my company mission? 

If it is one or the other, I write it down and save it for another time. If it is both, then I strategize how to integrate it into what I am already doing. Being it that I am still a solopreneur, the list of ideas that I can prioritize and integrate is necessarily small. When the time comes that I hire employees or take on partners, however, the questions will not change. Each individual on the team must ask these questions of themselves and then we must ask them as a team.

Answering these two questions on a regular basis helps me maintain awareness of my own big picture every day. As a result, any setbacks or disappointments are understood much more quickly and put in perspective instead of taking all of the focus and sucking me down into a storm of defeat (hint: read last week's post) as though some little "failure" was the last straw on which my business was balancing. 

Try it for yourself. No matter where you are reading this, think about your current job or work. Does it satisfy both questions? Are you able to keep the big picture perspective in mind of why you do that work?  Spoiler alert #2: chances are good that most people's work does not satisfy both questions. That is often the way it is. That is okay. Do not panic. If you are able to answer Yes to just one of the questions, where does your work fall short? What is getting in the way of the second question being affirmed? 

Suddenly the big picture does not sound so daunting, does it? Just two simple questions. Start there, and you will take the first proactive step toward so much more satisfaction in your work and career. 

SOME THINGS CHANGE, BUT MANY THINGS EVOLVE: the concept of Stable Evolution in Narrative.

I am currently home in Vermont for a couple of days visiting family, and my mom made a dentist's appointment for me. She made it last week before it was even confirmed that I was coming home. I am not sure if it is the evolutionary predisposition of a mother to care for the health of their child that it is still raging in my mother or if sending me to the punishment of having sharp metal objects scraped across my teeth like a dagger across a chalkboard is somehow sadistically enjoyable for her. 

It does not really matter which, but it suffices to say that she has not changed. And that is awesome. Some things really do not change in life. Childhood bullies still might be jerks, siblings will fight no matter how much "maturing" they have accomplished, and my mother will always stay on me about going to the dentist. If you recall from an earlier post that calling the dentist to make an appointment was a huge learning experience for me when I was younger, this time around is a good example of my mother's personal narrative. 

See, narrative evolves. There is no beginning, middle, or end to narrative. It simply evolves and reiterates infinitely. Even when someone dies, their legacy maintains characteristics of their narrative. Any long dead historical figure currently lives on well past the individual stories of their life because of how their stories are told now. 

Despite how one's narrative evolves, though, one does not fundamentally change. Yes, of course you can get plastic surgery or transition your gender, or suffer traumatic brain injury that alters your personality, but you as a human specimen have not changed. You are the same person that takes up space on this planet, but you have evolved into another version of yourself. 

Stick with me.

This is the concept of Stable Evolution that I teach clients and students about in the world of narrative. You remain the same person but you evolve over time. I share so much with the little child Taylor in the photographs here in my childhood house, but so much has happened to me in the years since then that has transformed the sense of who I am. My mother's care about my dental hygiene has not changed for my entire life while she has experienced so many things that have caused her to evolve. The things we experience are events and the events are stories that affect us, one way or another, because we are at the very least aware of them if not intimately involved in them. These stories affect us and contribute to our narratives, which is the neverending evolution of each of our lives. 

I reunited with my college soccer teammates last summer. It was fascinating to hear how each and every one of us had such a different career path and different set of goals for ourselves. Some guys were married, some were talking about buying houses, others about moving across the country for work, most about still playing soccer somehow. We were the same people I knew in college (myself included), the same personalities, but we had all evolved. We had all remained exactly who we were/are while remaining open to the events we experienced since college that have transformed our day-to-day activities and goals. 

"Stable" has a heavy connotation to it because so many in western culture associate it with mental health and use it as an idealized goal to become stable or maintain stability. The problem is that there is no such thing as true stability for a human being. Sorry. It is not possible. The countless things we look at, react to, feel, say, move toward, and think about make it impossible to sit down and say "Yep, all settled." People even think that meditation is the way to shut everything up in your head and turn everything off. Nope, not true. Instead, meditation presents the space to be accepting and aware of all the thoughts and chaos. To let them happen, not to suppress them, and be okay with them. This is why our existence remains stable but our identity is never defined. It continually evolves. The only stability we can achieve is the consistent openness to this evolution. Even ignoring some kind of thought or emotion is still an action that will inform future responses and thus evolve how you personally handle certain situations.

At first listen, a lot of people have trouble understanding this idea of Stable Evolution because the words are contraries. I like to tell them it is characterized by consistency. If you are open to accepting the fact that you are constantly evolving, then your sense of self will remain consistent. One is dependent on the other in that the stability of your sense of self depends on your openness to personal evolution. 

Before I spin you down the rabbit hole any further, here is an activity:

Pick an age in childhood. Imagine what you were like at that age, what you looked like, and what you remember your personality traits to be. Write down everything that comes to mind. Does your current recall of yourself at that time seem very different than who you are now? If so, why? What personality traits are similar or different now?

Now think about all the events of your life that have occurred since that age. Okay, not ALL of them, but run through the timeline in your mind. Imagine how those events have affected you. What did they change about you, if anything? Hopefully, if you are human, you learned something from every event (whether consciously or subconsciously) that has made you evolve but who you are as a person has not actually ever been "changed".

Some things do not change, but a great many things evolve. My mother made dentist appointments for me when I was little until I learned how to do it not because she enjoyed calling them but because she cares about my wellbeing. Even with the multitude of events and situations from which she has evolved since my childhood, she still made an appointment for me to see the dentist today. 

The Two Most Important Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Life

I majored in Neuroscience in college. Remember how I said I am a nerd? If you need more confirmation, just keep reading. 

But seriously, I majored in Neuroscience (and now own two businesses? How does that work??). I went to a liberal arts college and went in with the most common liberal arts course of study: UNDECLARED. I thought I wanted to study history, so Freshman fall, right off the bat, I took an Ancient Greek History course. Greek and Roman histories are my favorite so I thought this would be a great place to start exploring. So many names and dates, thought papers, and discussion classes later, I realized that the bleak career prospects were not enough to appeal my interests in the subject.

My second choice was psychology because I had enjoyed it in high school. Freshman spring I took intro psych with a visiting professor who spoke to a lecture hall full of forty students as though they were teeny tiny toddlers learning how to keep drool in their mouths for the first time (I think she was a child psychologist by trade). Beyond her tone, cadence, and overall way of interacting with us, her lectures were slow and her tests were hard. HOWEVER, a neuroscientist from Indiana University who somehow happened to be in Middlebury, VT, exactly when we needed to learn the anatomy of the brain and nervous system (?), presented the neuroscience lecture and holy smokeshow I fell in love.

No, not with him. With his sweet, beautiful, nerdy words about the brain and nerve cells and autonomic responses. Speaking of autonomic responses: I was autonomically reacting to the subject matter in the same manner I did when I first fell in love with a human female.

Flashback to exactly a year before that: In high school AP Biology senior year, I did not hesitate to dissect the brain of a fetal pig even though the internal body systems were all that were required for the lab report grade. I painstakingly chipped away at the skull and gently shaved it away so as not to damage the brain tissue underneath. I peeled off the coating of the brain and slowly wiggled the brain out of the spinal column.

I had no idea why I so comfortably volunteered to do it and immediately went after it in my free periods or why I took suchpride in holding the brain of another animal in the palm of my hand, but it happened all the same. I was in flow.

Fast forward a year and even though a brain was not in my hand, the love was back in my heart. I immediately declared neuroscience, found my advisor, and signed up for all the classes in the major I could. I even finished my general ed requirements by the end of Sophomore fall so that I could literally spend two and a half full years nerding out on the best subject matter of all time. 

I will never forget sophomore spring when I took four science classes in my major, two of which had labs, and people began to ask me: "so what are you going to do with neuroscience?"

Good question, though it is beyond me why I was being asked that mere months after I declared and before I was even halfway done my college tenure. Despite that, this is what it came down to: it did not matter. Who cared what I did with it? I did not care. I had no interest in going into the field of neuroscience at the time but I simply loved the subject so damn much. 

On a particularly stressful night before I probably had two exams, a paper, and a lot of reading assigned, my dad asked me on the phone: "why are you studying it then if it is causing you that much stress?" I know he cared about my health and was genuinely concerned, and I was equally genuine when I shrugged to myself and answered: "because I love it."

I still do not know why I fell so hard in love with neuroscience, but there also does not need to be an explanation. It simply clicked.

We all have unique interests and we are all presented with choices.

What to study, where to live, where to move, where to travel, how to get there, what job to get, what career to create.

No matter your interests, there is something in a choice that connects to who you uniquely are as a person that pulls you toward an option or away from one. Either way, the choice you make says more about you than the choices on their own. Something inside me guided me to work on that pig's brain and that says a lot more about my personality than it does about the fact that a fetal pig was lying on the lab counter in front of me with an untouched head. 

What is it about you that guides your decisions? Why are you where you are? It is okay if the answer is: I made a mistake. That is fine because it is accountability for a choice you made. Even if it turned out to be a mistake, you still made a choice and that act says a lot about who you are and where you are in your life. 

So question number one is: no matter what choices you made to be in the spot you are right now, what do you love about what you are doing? Think about it. Is it something about the work itself? Do you just enjoy the commute? Are you thankful that your job sucks and it gives you something to complain about? What is it for you? Why do you get up and do it all the time?

I have discovered - only recently, mind you - that the unique love I have for neuroscience is about the exploration. I will get into more of that at a later time, but it suffices to say that the architecture of the brain and its organization and functions present the opportunity to explain everything about who we all are. I think the brain is cool as a physical object, sure, but that is not why I took so much time and care to breach the pig's skull. It is because the experience offered an opportunity for exploration. 

So question number two is: now that you know what you love, what do you want to do about it?

Where do you want to take it? Is there a change you want to make, or a next step within your role that you want to take? What are you going to do with your love?

A lot of people I work with hit this point where they realize there is something in what they do that they love that keeps them going every day and that they want to do something about...but they are terrified of taking a next step because they cannot articulate answers to these two questions.

I have answered them for myself, and the second answer continues to evolve, but that is okay. That is the process. When you are in love, the feelings evolve. The nature of the connection evolves. 

What evolution are you hoping for?