In his story below, J.D. talks about one of the most challenging areas for people—our work, jobs, careers—and how he overcame his own challenges in this area. J.D. inspires us to find our strengths, gain clarity and live our lives by creating them consciously. And perhaps most importantly in the midst of it all, add value while doing so.
My journey of awakening and personal expansion
Stephen Covey has an empowering way of thinking about spiritual intelligence. He describes it in terms of three related parts: integrity, meaning, and voice. He says integrity is being true to your highest values and conscious. Meaning is a sense of contribution to people and causes. Voice is about aligning your work to your unique calling and gifts.
Turning a few pages back in time, I was bumping into the limits of my day job. I felt that to be true to my highest values, create greater contribution, and share my gifts with the world, I needed to change my game.
My day job was focused on creating success for customers on the Microsoft platform. By day, I was a Program Manager on the patterns & practices team at Microsoft. As I described the job to my Aunt, I said think of it like helping “put the Legos” together. As a Program Manager, my job was about driving projects from cradle to grave, while orchestrating multiple activities across multiple people. You can think of a Program Manager as a technical Entrepreneur that blends and balances customer focus, the business, and technical expertise.
In many ways, my day job was fulfilling. I was surrounded by smart people and tough challenges, and it was a constant source of growth. I was also mentoring many people so I was always sharing and giving back. I also connected my day job to my higher level mission to improve the quality of life for as many people I can, as long as I can. By focusing on customer success, I was attempting to improve an aspect of their life through my daily work. My job was focused on best practices. It was my job to create “prescriptive guidance” to share and scale success patterns and expertise.
But I had always felt like I was born for something more.
I always felt that I would unleash exponential results for underdogs around the world, by equipping them with executive thinking skills and powerful techniques for personal empowerment. Basically, I would help people bring out their best and lead a better life, with skill.
My day job was very much focused on software development, information technology, and complex systems. Yet, I knew that for people to be successful in life, they need a different set of skills. They need a cross-cutting set of skills for life that they don’t learn in school, or ultimately learn the hard way, if they are lucky enough to learn them at all. I was lucky enough to have many great mentors, and great leadership and learning experiences. I got to take many advanced training sessions in leadership, communication, interpersonal skills, thinking skills, emotional intelligence, etc. The more I learned, the more I wished that everybody in the world had a chance to learn these skills. A lot of the skills are executive tools for effective business, and the irony was that these same tools apply to life. The most effective tools are the ones that help you as an individual make the most of what you’ve got through self-awareness, adapting and coping mechanisms, as well as specific methods and techniques.
With the encouragement of my manager, who had always wanted me to share and scale my skills more broadly, I decided to create a new arena and channel for my impact. I would up my game. I decided to launch my blog, Sources of Insight, as a way to help more people around the world to “stand on the shoulders of giants”, and to find and share the world’s best insight and action for work and life. It would be my way of giving back in a bigger way, and helping people make the most of what they’ve got, through principles, patterns, and practices. I chose “stand on the shoulder of giants” as a mantra because rather than be the expert, I would channel the expertise and draw from multiple sources including books, people, and quotes. In terms of people, I originally featured best-selling authors, but then gradually opened up to insightful people and experts. At the end of the day, I want people to share their unique gifts with the world, and do it in a way that’s actionable.
So in a nutshell, I decided to create another channel and arena to my life, where I would contribute to a broader audience while focusing on more cross-cutting skills for life, including mind, body, emotions, career, financial, relationships, and fun.
My Inspirations and Influences
To implement the change, I focused on taking three key strategies to the next level:
Be who you want to be and create the experiences you want to create.
Give your best where you have your best to give.
Live your values.
The first strategy actually starts with a very fundamental question:
“Who do you want to be and what experiences do you want to create?”
For me, I wanted to be a healthy combination of courageous, competent, confident, compassionate, and curious. I wanted to live more, learn more, laugh more, and love more. I wanted to inspire people to be their best, while pushing the envelope of my own abilities. I wanted to create compelling adventures while growing my skills. A book that put a fine point on this idea is Conversations with God. My Dad had recommended it, and I read it on a Christmas day, all in one sitting. The idea of creating the experiences you want to create and focusing on growth really jumped out for me in a new light.
The second strategy was about getting the idea of spending more time in my strengths, and less time in my weaknesses. To do this, it meant getting clarity on my true strengths and talents. By this, I mean really figuring out my natural thinking, feeling, and doing patterns. One of my strengths is simplifying complex information and making it actionable. I started to put a focus on this at work, and my day job got easier and more people noticed my unique strength, and it started to play a bigger role in my day job. Instead of going against the grain, I was learning and growing faster in my strength. This gave me more energy and drive to invest in more areas. This is what made it possible for me to focus above and beyond my day job to create greater impact in new arenas.
One of the outputs of my day job was technical guides. I had written eight technical books, and I had developed skills around sharing and scaling expertise. To truly give my best where I had my best to give meant using this talent and applying it more broadly beyond Microsoft and software. I decided that stepping up to the plate meant going down a path to write the guides to change the world. My first book down this path is Getting Results the Agile Way.
It’s a personal results system for work and life. I figure the single best thing I can give people right off the bat, is a sustainable way to find their way forward and deal with an ever-changing world. I wanted everybody to have a way to master time management, master their energy, master their productivity, and write their story forward, on a path of meaningful results.
There are a few good books and authors that really help people find and use their strengths. I think one of the most effective is the book, Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance by Marcus Buckingham.
The third strategy, is about living your values. To live your values, you first have to know what they are. This sounds easy, but the problem is that if you see a list of values, they all look good. After all, they are “values.” The trick is to find the vital few that help you prioritize the others. The other trick is having a label for your values, so that you have a handle to refer to them. I find that having a label for them helps make them more explicit and can help you consciously drive from them. For me, some of my key values are adventure, achievement, and growth. The balance between achievement and growth is that I want to enjoy the journey AND the destination, creating meaningful adventures along the way.
With my values in hand, it’s easier to make choices and drive from them. I can also connect the work I do in my day job to my values to make it more meaningful. For example, rather than just drive projects, I lead “epic adventures.” I focus on the growth and meaningful impact. This helps inspire action, and it’s contagious. This is where the magic of life happens, as stories unfold.
There are several books that help along these lines, although finding your values is still a tricky exercise. One of the books that I found especially helpful is the book, Work from the Inside Out: Seven Steps to Loving What You Do by Nancy O’Hara. It’s a great book about growing happiness under your feet vs. chasing the grass that you think is greener on the other side of the hill.
To wrap all these ideas together, I ended up creating a short and focused guide named You 2.0. The name is a metaphor and it’s about generating a stronger, powerful, more able you. It’s about getting back to the basics and building a solid core and firm foundation that you can drive from. The foundation is created by figuring out your purpose, your strengths, your values, and your personal success patterns. It cuts right through the fog and helps you surface your inner strength and guiding light. Ultimately, it’s a way to lead your life from the inside out.
My Positive Life Changes
Multiple benefits flow from having a firm foundation. By knowing my strengths, I know where my energy comes from. I know my unique value. Spending more time in my strengths keeps me strong and helps me grow in exponential ways. The growth feels good. It amplifies my impact and helps catalyze my efforts in countless ways.
By driving from who I want to be and creating the experiences I want to create, it’s easier to choose paths when I come to forks in the road. I simply have to choose the path that allows me to be more me. I balance that with a simple question, “What are the experiences I want to create?” The more me I be, the more I’m making the most of what I’ve got. The more I pave this path, the greater my growth. The greater my growth, the more the fulfillment, especially when I can truly answer the question, “Am I giving my best where I have my best to give?” This little loop helps me contribute to the greater good in ways that build synergy and lead to serendipitous opportunities that I can’t predict. And that defines the journeys and adventures that light up my life.
It’s been said that “the Good life” is about spending more time in your values. It doesn’t mean that life comes without suffering or that life is a bowl of cherries. It does mean that along the long and winding road, you can be “on path’ and when you’re “on path” you can fight the good fights, and you can truly answer the question, “Was it worth it?” This for me, is the key to fulfillment. At the end of the day, the best I can do is spend more time in my values, while creating the experiences that help me flourish, and help others shine. I can’t help but to think of the way Seth Godin put it: “Have as many good runs as you can until the sun sets.”
My Next Steps as an Evolving Being
My next steps include solving significant challenges for people, through principles, patterns, and practices. I can’t ignore the fact that a lot of people can’t make a living in today’s world. It’s tough for people to move up Maslow’s stack and find their own self-actualization when they are struggling with the basics of food, shelter, and basic health care. I know a lot of people willing to work, but they’ve been displaced for one reason or another. The world is changing at a fast pace and I don’t want people to just survive, I want them to thrive. I see way too many people unemployed, homeless, and looking for hope. Many people are scared for the future and for many people this is the first time they have ever found themselves wondering if they will ever find a job again … and for many more, they are wondering whether they will keep their job or stay employable in the future. That’s not chasing dreams, that’s basic survival, and I think one of the best things I can do is turn my attention to this problem and find and share both proven practices and emerging practices. I’ll find the models and examples to draw from and help people expand their possibilities for earning a living and making a living in our new world.
I see a lot of people trying to make a living online, which is a great place to figure out how to reach a worldwide audience and share your unique gifts with the world. The problem is, there are a lot of myths and false promises. Like a dangerous maze, it’s full of pitfalls, traps, and dead ends. What I hope to accomplish is to give people true insight and action they can use, and help them avoid going down the paths that don’t work. I want to give people the core business skills and project management skills they need to succeed. I want to help them find their passion work. I want to help them shine, using their natural born gifts and lead their life from the inside out, while driving from who they want to be and what experiences they want to create. Above all, I want to give people the cross-cutting skills for life, so they can make a living, and move up the stack, and lead a better life. I absolutely don’t want people in situations where they are choosing food on the table vs. healthcare, and taking jobs that suck their life force out, or crippling their potential to bloom while they lose their house, and deal with everyday struggles. That’s just yuck, and I want to tackle the problem in a way that empowers people and helps them find the education and skills that help them level up in life and find their path and their process for their best life, in a meaningful way.
That’s just one example.
I’ll also be exploring more paths and possibilities while doing spin offs from Sources of Insight. Ultimately, I think this translates into writing more guides to change the world. Even before that though, I need to significantly raise the awareness of Getting Results the Agile Way: A Personal Results System for Work and Life. When people find it, they fall in love, but too many people tell me that it just doesn’t have awareness yet. So I have more work to do here.
My Advice to Others
I’m really a fan of simplicity, and so to wrap this I’d like to reiterate and focus on three compelling questions to help guide similar journeys:
Who do you want to be and what experiences do you want to create?
Are you giving your best where you have your best to give?
Are you living your values?
O.K., I need to throw in one more for the road, and it’s a guiding question that has served me well.
“What do you want to spend more time doing?”
It sounds simple, and yet the better you can answer that question, the better you can master your time … and some say, time is all we’ve got.