Gary Horton: Know and act yourself, fully

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We humans are vulnerable creatures. We’re as likely to fall victim to our own foibles and errors as we are to outside influence and force. Our brains are like nitro-glycerin. Super-powerful, but handled wrong, super destructive.

Humans can get into all kinds of trouble, from the silly to the severe. For many, it takes monumental work to stay on the straight and narrow. And more work still, to really make a positive impact in the world.

Christmas is past. Now comes the New Year’s Resolutions – with thousands of bloggers and “paid ads” admonishing us on how to lose those last ten pounds, how to earn more in 2018, how to achieve a lasting love life.

Input Overload! How does one sort it all out?

We can ditch much of it and keep things simple and strong. Our lives are like a long trek, requiring a trustworthy compass moving us in the right direction. More than good intentions, a compass points the way regardless of how we may be turned around. A good compass isn’t vague. It points the right way.

Years back in the Wharton Advanced Management Program I had the incredible experience of working in a small group of five other executives from around the world. Everywhere from India to Switzerland to Taiwan was represented and for a short five weeks I learned how the other guys work and think and stay productive.

“CJ” was Taiwanese. A thin and fit 50, CJ was a Tai Kwan Do master. He could be seen most mornings working through elaborate physical routines in the courtyards and lawns surrounding our facility.

CJ rarely spoke. His words were carefully chosen, and more often than not he shared his thoughts by drawing charts on whiteboards rather than going into longwinded dissertations. At first, we thought CJ was extremely odd. As time passed, we learned he was extremely profound.

Our experience together began with a two-day seminar dedicated to identifying and committing to our personal “True North.” Twenty classroom hours, focused on group and self-analysis and reflection – “What drives us deep down inside?” “Who are we, really?” “What gives us our deepest personal satisfaction?” “Where do we feel be best fit, best work, display our best selves?”

The two-day exercise led to us writing a one-page paper describing our personal purpose and motivations. Then, the facilitator instructed us to distill our one page personal purpose paper down to a single paragraph. That was tough. How does you correctly describe yourself to others in five sentences?

As hard as that was – we were then instructed, “Break it down so simply you could explain your personal purpose in life to a seven-year old in a single, simple sentence.

“Who are you, deep down inside?” in a single, simple sentence?” “What really drives you, deeply?” in a single sentence?” “How do you define your purpose, so there’s absolutely no misconstruing?

CJ summed up his life and purpose in what became his signature, intensely efficient style.

“I want to be a productive man.”

That hits you like a hammer the longer you think about it. “I want to be a productive man.” In every setting, at every time, in every moment – the guiding principle, “How can I be productive, right now.”

“How can I be positive, right now?” “Is what I’m now benefiting myself or others?”

“Am I adding or subtracting from good, right now?”

CJ’s reflective purpose didn’t mean he needed to be mowing the lawn 24-hours a day. A productive life is full of needs and varied interests and directions. His point was to work to the positive, in all settings.

That compass, that personal True North – that simple statement of who we are and what we want to be and how we want to be known – can be used to guide our actions, allocate our time, and even guide our thinking.

“Is what I’m doing right now moving me to my goals?” “Will this help my partner, my friends, my community?” “Are my current actions reflective of who and what I really want to be?”

CJ’s guiding principle was to be, “A productive man in all settings.” I only lived side by side with CJ for 30 days but I can say I never saw him squander much time – if any. And, it turns out, he and his family became prominent in Taiwan and even in San Francisco business. CJ indeed led an intensely purposeful life.

We all have our own core drivers. CJ’s was personal productivity. Mine boiled down to, “I like to build cool things that help people.” Yours will be different.

Discovering who we really want to be and using that as a compass and overriding guide is a powerful tool that transcends personal confusion and misdirection. Life is long and we all sometimes falter off our path. Knowing these foibles, checking regularly on our personal True North keeps us trekking on to where we really want to get.

“To know and act oneself,” might be the best resolution you’ll hear this year.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.

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