How To Become An Apprentice In Human Nature – A Must Read

For most of my life I have relied on the laws of physics, mathematics and strategy to explain phenomena and influence how I engage with the world. These laws, theorems and concepts influence our thoughts and decisions. Once internalized, the physical and technology worlds can most often be explained simply and logically. Our studies of first order principles establish the foundation for clear, true and rational thinking.

But, success and fulfillment in life requires relationships and collaboration with people both personally and professionally. Every human is unique, often irrational, making it challenging to explain behavior or how best to engage with someone for mutual success. It is well documented that social intelligence is as important or even more important than intelligence quotient (IQ) in life. Just as the laws of science are explained in physics books, we would all benefit to learn the laws that explain human nature.

Robert Greene’s latest book, The Laws of Human Nature, is a masterpiece for helping you become a better person and learning strategies for engaging with the right people while avoiding others. From the opening chapters on irrationality and narcissism to meditating your mortality, it’s a book that will change your life. It will likely provide frameworks and answers to aspects of your life you could not explain. I highly recommend this book for anyone that can relate to the five value propositions outlined on the back cover above. Understanding these laws, are an essential complement to the expertise that you have developed in your specific field of study.

Ryan Holiday interviews Robert Greene on the background and writing of his latest book.

In the interview, Robert Greene highlights that many people don’t know who they are. Ten years ago when I began running career strategy workshops at Microsoft, it became clear that this indeed was the case for most of the people I worked with. I too was challenged with an identity crisis at various stages of my life. People lacked an inner understanding of who they were now, why they behaved in a certain manner and how to collaborate with the wide range of personalities and cultures.

This intent of the “Know” part of the career strategy model is exploring deep into “knowing” as much as we can about ourselves. It’s a never-ending journey as we navigate through different phases of our life. The “Connect” part of the career strategy model outlines principles and virtues for interacting with people to achieve success and fulfillment.

The Laws of Human Nature has been added to the recommended reading list that aligns with the Know and Connect domains. Just as a new pair of glasses sharpens vision, internalizing these laws will adjust your mental model on how you carry yourself and see the world.

How To Turn The Elusive Goal Into Reality

It’s a gift to see the morning sun rise. Although, tomorrow is not guaranteed. We often think we have time to do this or that in the future. Retirement is often positioned as the good life. Weeks turn into months, months turn into years. Our goals that require contributions over long periods of time remain nebulous in a galaxy far, far away. We are often slaves to our job leaving a small amount of precious time for anything else. We work on other people’s goals not ours.

An addiction to social media and world events preoccupies and consumes our processing capacity. Our narcissistic tendencies fill the void with temporary vices and pleasure that only meaningful goals can provide over a longer period. We are bombarded by the illusion of success all around us, slipping us into a deeper state of inadequacy.

Tomorrow can be different.

The Goal

Pick one goal that has been on your mind and write it in a journal. The journal is critical to keeping score and collecting your thoughts over time. Achieving this goal is challenging but could significantly change your life. Just as important, it will add significantly value to others and change their life as well.  You are mesmerized by just the act of thinking about the goal. You would feel a deep sense of disappointment on your death bed if you did not achieve the goal.

Pick a goal that is personable and unique. Something you can call your own. The outcomes of your goal propel you and others to experience something very special.

The Story

Our ability to internalize and “see” the journey and achievement is critical to increasing the likelihood it will not remain a fleeting dream. Your task as the pilot of your life is to create the vivid story that will be told one day. We need to become believers and ingrain the story in our mental model right now. The pictures and snapshots in our mind will create reminders of this inspiring goal.

They emerge as we drive to work or exercise during our daily workout. Write the story in your journal and be as specific and detailed as you can. This an opportunity to be creative and not constrain your mind – think big. Plan the impossible.

Describe a typical day on your journey toward the goal. Where are you living ? What is your routine? What we the obstacles you faced and how did you overcome them? Who did you meet along the way and how did they help you? Who were the naysayers that you took note of to only prove them wrong? How did achieving the goal make you feel? How is your life different now? What are the stories of the lives you added value to?

The act of writing the goal and story in your journal will take effort and focus to translate a fuzzy idea into the vivid story.  Many of us struggle translating ideas into written form. But this very act forms and refines the goal into something you and others can rally around.  Yes, the hard work that may challenge your status quo and how you spend each and every day ahead.

An Example Story

It was Thanksgiving break back in 2012 that I thought about synthesizing what would become a cherished goal. Over the last few years I had been sharing career strategy concepts with fellow Microsoft colleagues and it had become more than an occasional hobby. Helping people along their career journey was a gift. It became clear that I was on an unintended journey although the goal was not concrete.

I realized that I was gaining valuable life lessons as a person and leader running career workshops across Microsoft. The career strategy best practices, principles and life lessons could be valuable if I could organize them into a document or even a book.

There it was – the goal. A book that I could give to my kids to short-cut and accelerate their learning.  Synthesizing concepts and knowledge that took me years to amass. The gift of my learnings and those of others could save precious time and change their life. It was primarily as a practitioner through writing, speaking and coaching sessions where this knowledge was created and distilled. I learned just as much about myself as I did about strategy and human behavior.

I still needed the visual to guide and capture the essence of the goal. A few months earlier I stepped onto the field of the renovated California Memorial Stadium at Berkeley. There it was – the visual of 63K people that I had connected with over the course of my journey that would fill the Cal Berkeley stadium.

Your visual could be a picture, a sketch, a painting – anything visual that captures the goal and drives motivation and action. You may also find it helpful to keep score and record the milestones along the way as I have in my personal quest.

Breaking the Mind Barrier

The biggest challenge to achieving our goal is paradoxically ourselves. We get caught up in trivial and non-values tasks that can otherwise but allocated to the goal. The drama and poor planning of others invades the precious 1,440 of minutes of our day. Meetings without agendas or clear outcomes. It’s essential that you break the mind barrier by altering your habits, schedule and protecting the space for making deposits toward the goal. Inspect each day to determine what you can change.

Recently, I have a dedicated a journal notebook to capture everything about my goal. I carry it in my bag everywhere to capture ideas, notes, challenges and progress.  I journal to describe what I am feeling and the challenges that must be solved for. The exercise of articulating these crystallizes the key ideas and solutions.

The journal is a way of holding myself accountable. Just the act of seeing the notebook each day is a reminder to get to work. It’s a goal I can’t buy or artificially produce. Although the goal I have set is a compilation of notes (ideally a book!), the journey and all of the people I will meet along the way is equally as fulfilling.

I have also scheduled a recurring task in my calendar to work on the goal each week. Working to make it a daily routine increases the likelihood of forming a habit that involuntarily drives action.

Sharing your goal with your relationships can help in two ways. First, the act of hearing yourself describe the goal to others drives clarity and confidence. You believe in it enough to talk about it with passion and detail.  Second, people more often than not are glad to help you even in small ways. You may be surprised to hear how others may be willing to help you.  Everybody loves a good story.

Time is Precious – Stop Wasting It!

The end of the year is often a convenient time to take stock of our life. We pause our busy schedules to spend time celebrating holidays with family and friends. The act of breaking our inertia from our normal routines can help us identify something important that we have been putting off.

A challenging physical feat, a repaired relationship, an amazing vacation, a new business – something you can call your own.  Ideally, something that creates memories that will last a lifetime.

Give yourself a unique and life changing gift this holiday season. The story and visual of the elusive goal that spawns you into action.

It may be the gift that keeps on giving for years to come.



Know what you need to leave behind

This time of year is a perfect opportunity to reflect on life and identify aspects you want to change in 2016. Over the course of our life and each year we collect fond memories but also baggage that weighs us down from becoming the person we want to be or moving forward with the life we want.  My personal journey and reflection led to the definition of this “Know” principle a few years ago:

Know what you need to leave behind to make room for the new life you envision.

Here are a few dimensions to reflect on and determine what you need to leave behind to move forward:

Failure – All of us have experienced failure and we often hold on to it so tightly.  I remember a job that I did not get that I really wanted and how I spent cycles in my head processing that.  There was nothing I could do to change to the result unless I let it go to focus on the future.  Failures in our relationships can also create heavy burdens on our soul.  Failure is a learning opportunity and once we have captured the nugget for our self-improvement we must let it go otherwise it can consume us.

Guilt – A feeling of guilt may also weigh on our mind and consume valuable time.  As I looked back at my career there were years when jobs required travel all over the world.  I often felt a sense of guilt when I was not there for my family.  It was that reflection that led me to make career changes and leave a job behind.  It was acknowledging this sensation with family members and coming to terms that those times could not be changed.  That enabled me to leave the sense of guilt behind and free myself to looking forward.  I have heard similar stories from people who have gone through the self-introspective principles and questions of the “Know” step during my workshops at Microsoft.

Forgiveness – Think about a time when you hurt or disappointed someone.  One of the most powerful things you can do is to say you are sorry and ask for forgiveness.   This acknowledges the sincerity of your poor choice and the forgiveness received  leaves the baggage on the roadside for everybody.  The courage for us to also proactively forgive can also free grudges we hold onto that may cloud our judgement and consume unproductive energy.  Pain and sorrow can sometimes be hard to leave behind but the emotional weight only slows us down from realizing a happy life.  Is there someone who deserves an overdue apology?

Habit – What are the unconscious and routine behaviors that are negatively impacting your relationships, career success and happiness?  It’s easy for these automated behaviors to go unnoticed by us individually so it’s helpful to be vulnerable and ask others what habits you should leave behind.  These people may be the support you need to be the cues of the habit and breaking it.

Behavior – Is there a behavior you exhibit in particular circumstances that you or someone else have identified that conflicts with your personal brand, expectations of a relationship or achieving success?  What behavior would you leave behind to make room for the behavior you want to develop in 2016?

Previous successful identity – Our co-workers typically see us in a particular light based on past achievements and success.  Our future success may be limited by the mental models of how others perceive us.   In these cases we need to leave a previous identity behind and develop a new one in order to be seen as someone who is capable for new growth or responsibility.  What is your next professional identity?

Current job – Remaining in your current job may be holding you back from achieving greater impact and fulfillment.  I can remember cases where it was my particular manager or organization that did not align with my career strategy or create the best environment for success.  It was in those cases where I need to leave the job behind to grow professionally and realize a sense of accomplishment.

Relationship – Research shows that we are heavily influenced by the people we interact and surround our self with.  Our success and happiness is significantly dependent on these relationships.   Is there a relationship that is holding you back, creating undo conflict or exhibits behaviors that do not align with your values?  It’s never easy saying goodbye but sometimes change is not possible without it.

Time allocation – Inspecting how you spend time each day and over the course of week can be an interesting exercise to determine if it aligns with your priorities.  What meaningless or low impact activities can you leave behind to make room for your 2016 goals?   I recently gave this more thought and determined that occasionally I get onto email or the web to take a break and then get preoccupied with content that ate into my precious time.

This past November I spoke at a Microsoft career development event and later reflected on the slide where I discussed this principle.  As I went down the list above I could think of specific things I could leave behind going into 2016.  They became tangible as I thought about how they consumed time and did not contribute to my life strategy and goals.   Sometimes it’s what we need to leave behind to become a more successful and fulfilled person at home and work.

What are you leaving behind to make room for personal change in 2016?

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