Intention, Attention, No Tension!

If you’re suspicious that simply writing down your passions is going to make your wildest dreams come true, your skepticism is justified.  While it is essential to determine your passions, simply stating them is not enough.  You have stated your “intention,” but to live a passionate life, you must now put “attention” toward those passions.  That’s where markers come into play. First, creating markers helps you to crystalize the meaning of your passions.  A passion for living a healthy life or enjoying time with family could mean wildly different things to different people.  For me, “enjoying freedom” was a passion that could be ambiguous if I didn’t take the time to define exactly what freedom meant to me.  In my life, freedom means “defining my work by the outputs rather than the inputs.”  I already mentioned that the average American does 22 hours of productive work in a typical 40-hour work week, so why bother sitting at a desk trying to look busy for the other 18 hours?  For those of you familiar with DISC, this is where my low C shines through.  I feel that if I want to work for 4 hours one day and 12 hours the next, why should it matter to anyone else if I didn’t work the typical 8 hours each day?  Or what if I found a way to get my 8 hours of work done in 6 hours instead?  What can I do with my 2-hour windfall?  Maybe I would take on more work, or maybe I would go read a book…but if I’m going to have to spend those 2 hours at my computer looking busy anyways, then I don’t have much motivation to be more efficient.

Another important aspect of freedom is “working on what I’m passionate about.”  Like most people, trying to stay motivated doing something I don’t have a passion for drains me.  I can buckle down and do it if I have to, but over time my willpower will begin to dwindle.  In my new role at The XLR8 Team, I am fortunate that I am able to explore new business ideas or possible additions to our leadership development processes when I find something that inspires me.

Finally, it is difficult to enjoy freedom without “having enough money to cover the basics and travel.”  I don’t care to buy anything extravagant and don’t need much money.  However, to enjoy freedom it is important to me that I have enough money that it isn’t constantly on my mind.  The only time I like to splurge is on travel.  To live a life of adventure (my top passion) can sometimes be expensive, but by being frugal elsewhere I am able to spend on what is important to me.

Markers tend to be grand goals that may seem daunting.  To make them more manageable, I have found it helpful to include a few daily markers for each passion (that will eventually become part of a happiness list as briefly described in the previous post).  That way, if you follow these smaller markers each day, you will be making progress towards passionately pursuing your goals.  At the end of each day, I ask myself “Did I look forward to getting to work when I woke up this morning?”  Lately, the answer has been a resounding “yes!”  But when I realize that I’m having trouble jumping out of bed and starting my day or I’m dreading what I “have to” do that day (rather than “want to”), it’s a quick reminder that I need to step back and take a look at why I’m not making decisions in line with my passions.  Another daily marker is “Did I waste time trying to look busy?”  It’s a bad habit we all fall into trying to make ourselves look busier than we are.  I try to be grateful for every moment of my day by not wasting a second of it trying to look busy.  Even though I am an entrepreneur and don’t have a “boss” looking over my shoulder, I still find myself sometimes falling into the habit of doing work for the sake of being busy and when I reflect on the day, that’s another red flag for me.

Markers are an essential piece of the puzzle to live a passionate life.  In this instance, “enjoying freedom” was a new addition to my top passions, so creating markers helped me to illustrate exactly what a life of freedom means to me.  In other cases, markers can serve the purpose of getting you to dream bigger than you may have otherwise had the courage to do.  For example, “living a life of adventure” is my top passion.  In the two years since I returned from a three-week adventure backpacking through Europe I have struggled to find that same sense of exhilaration and wonder.  I set a marker “to travel to a new place every year.”  It’s an intimidating commitment to make given the inherent financial costs, but it is fiercely important to me and I know I will regret a life that isn’t filled with adventure.  Markers can also serve to reconnect you to passions you may have abandoned amid the stress of a hectic time in your life.  I enjoy spending time with family and friends and “surrounding myself with those that I love” is my second passion.  However, when I thought back to a recent family gathering, I found myself distracted…falling into the trap of zoning-out watching television or idly checking scores on my phone.  I created markers “to be fully present at all family functions” and “to have meaningful conversations with the people I care about.”  In the month since I set this passion, I had a great conversation with my uncle and learned more about him in an hour than I feel like I had learned my whole life.  I also realized that I had lost touch with many of my friends since graduating from college and set a goal for myself to reach out to a friend every day.  In time I hope that these small reminders will help me to more fully "surround myself with those that I love."  The markers you choose could serve any or all of these purposes.  The important thing is that the markers focus your “attention” on the “intentions” that you clarified.  When you live a life according to the passions that are most important to you, it will truly lead you to “no tension” and a fulfilling life.

When rewriting your passions, start back at the beginning...

It had been nearly three years since I had written down my passions for the first time after my junior year of college.  As we embarked on our family journey to live more passionate lives, it seemed obvious that this was the best place to start.  I glanced over my previous list, thinking that not much had changed, but nevertheless began re-reading The Passion Test and started back at square one, with the question "When my life is ideal, I am ______."  It can be difficult to dream big without the inspiration of Janet Attwood's story as guidance and I would highly recommend taking the time to revisit the book when you revise your passions. Lo and behold, when I revised my passions I was blown away that three of my top five passions had disappeared from my list!  My top passion is now "Living a Life of Adventure."  After a post-graduation trip to Europe, I became fixated on seeing the world and found a blog by Chris Guillebeau, ( a man who set the goal of visiting every country in the world by his 35th birthday.  He's just a few countries and a few months away, and has written several books along the way!  While I originally started reading for the travel inspiration, it was his message of challenging the status quo and living the life of your dreams that really got me hooked.  In retrospect, this quest for adventure and new experiences was the impetus for me to quit my stable job for the uncertainty of joining The XLR8 Team.  If I had realigned myself with my passions sooner, maybe it wouldn't have been as agonizing of a decision to make.

My second passion is to surround myself with those that I love.  Of the top four from my previous list, this theme was the only one to survive.  I also expanded what had been my fifth passion focused on health and physical fitness to become "Investing in my body and my mind."  I really try to take a holistic approach to growth both by challenging myself physically and by relentlessly pursuing knowledge of all kinds.  I had a very tough time dropping "Continuously learning and growing" off my list until I realized that investing in my body and my mind as well as the pursuit of new experiences by living a life of adventure encompassed this passion.

Fourth was "Enjoying Freedom."  Another concept that grew on me influenced both by Chris Guillebeau's inspiration, but also my dad.  In Chris' book The $100 Startup, he talks about defining your work by the outputs rather than the inputs.  The average American spends 40 hours per week at work but only 22 of those hours are productive.  So why constrain myself to the typical paradigm?  My interests are varied and like my dad, I tend to get impatient without new challenges to conquer, so why not set my own challenges and work on what I'm passionate about?

The final passion to make my top five is "Giving all that I am to the world."  I joined The XLR8 Team with the goal of bringing leadership development to a younger generation.  I feel quite lucky to have grown up learning about leadership development around the dinner table.  I wasn't even 10 years old when I took my first DISC.  When I created a leadership development program as the president of my fraternity, it really hit home when many of my peers lacked this experience of examining themselves and how they can make an impact on the world.  Many young professionals are not exposed to leadership development until their first promotions.  At that point, it's simply too late.  Although I am still in the process of determining my path both at The XLR8 Team and in life, the one thing that is clear to me is that I must make an impact on the leaders of tomorrow.  Its an ambitious goal, but why not dream big?