For 35 years now I have been using the Harvard Planner (previously called the Proactive Passport) as my desktop calendar. I had first been introduced to the Proactive Passport when my T&D guy at AECL Candu Ops (whose name, regrettably, I forget) invited the inventor of the Proactive Passport, Alain Martin, to deliver a time management workshop at our offices in Sheridan Park, Mississauga. What a barrel of energy Alain was, and probably still is, a five foot nothing Algerian who lives in Gatineau, Quebec. Possibly before Steven Covey (and his latter-day partner Richard Winfield who invented the Franklin Planner), Alain started with the premise that effective use of time begins with setting priorities derived from one’s own sense of purpose, (vision and mission). I liked the workshop, I liked the concept, and I bought the planner. I’ve been buying the planner ever since.
I won’t make this post a complete commercial for the Harvard Planner, but one feature I really like has to do with the idea that every year one should evaluate the year ending and, like a strategic plan, consider whether changes should be made to your Purpose and Mission and key Objectives for the year beginning. The Planner even pre-sorts your Objectives into six themes: Health & Fitness, Personal Growth, Family & Friends, Community, Training, Coaching. It was not lost on me that a planner for my professional life needed to be integrated with my personal life.
For many years my Purpose, Mission and Objectives for AFS Consulting, were largely indistinguishable from my ‘self-Purpose’. I wasn’t conscious of it at the time – I certainly didn’t have the vocabulary for it – but my purpose was to strive to be the best HR Professional I could be, put my knowledge and brainpower to the benefit of my organization, and maybe I would get the recognition I sought. I assumed all along that I would be taking care of Marlene and my family. But in the first decade of the 21st century as I coached my clients in management and personal effectiveness, and came to write my book, The Dynamics of Management, I began to realize that success was not defined by status and recognition. Then in the years of Marlene’s illness and finally death, my purpose became very narrowly focused: care for Marlene. For the next several years after she died, and I realized I had reached a certain stage of life, I began to think I had no purpose nor even identity.
But in this last year, despite the cruel curveball Covid has thrown us, my sense of self and purpose have become clearer, though that doesn’t make it simple. I can see now some of this transition has been ongoing, and is ongoing still, but some part of my purpose is constant. To see where I might be going, we need to see where we’ve been. So let me share with you some of my annual planning and evaluation from 2017, 2018, 2019 and then we can take a look at what happened in 2020. I hope you don’t find yourself glazing over, this might be instructive for you too.
As 2016 ended, we knew Marlene was dying of cancer, we just didn’t know she would die in 2017. I think this is the normal psychological condition; we didn’t know when her time would actually come (or for that matter, any of us) and so our plans assumed a high degree of continuity. Hence my Purpose and Vision in 2017 was substantially the same as it had been for ten years. That’s the thing about Purpose (and Vision), it is substantially constant. You never achieve your purpose, you just keep working towards it. (You see how this vernacular is similar to my earlier discussion of purpose made manifest through Projects.) The Mission for any given year, on the other hand, contrary to popular belief, is the meta-objective for the year, the thing you hope to accomplish that progresses you towards your purpose.
Here’s my Purpose and Mission for 2017, much as it had been for many years:
- Purpose: To help others achieve personal growth, and in the process meet my own needs for growth, well-being, autonomy and ‘success’.
- Vision: Growth through giving of myself.
- My ‘Gift’: Challenge People to Think; inspire them to Act!
- 2017 Mission:
- Push harder on new products and clients (old base eroding?)
- Exploit competitive advantage – promote and lever my book
- Move to Home Office
- Care for Marlene
There followed a number of Objectives which I won’t list here, save a few: promote my service offerings in Mediation and Harassment Investigation; continue web site development; write a follow-up book to The Dynamics of Management – ‘Followership’; get down to 190 pounds! (which goal I ‘exceeded’ once again!). I tried to push but it was a pointless gesture. Self-flagellation didn’t work:
In retrospect it is apparent to me that my purpose at the time was really the meta-goal – care for Marlene. Marlene died in 2017 and it seemed to me I failed in all my goals and my purpose. Nevertheless, despite the tragic outcome of that year, I did manage to accomplish some significant things (e.g., I did publish my book, The Hallelujah Chorus) which confirms that even in the worst of times, some good things happen.
My Purpose began to evolve in 2018. Maybe it was already evolving but I was not much conscious of it going into 2018.
- Purpose: To use my talent for storytelling to entertain, possibly to educate, others and myself.
- Vision: Growth through giving of myself.
- My ‘Gift’: Challenge People to Think; Inspire them to Act! (but manage being too provocative… )
- 2018 Mission:
- Close down AFS Consulting Office at 350 Sparks Street and Move office to Home Office
- Consider Selling the Practice or examine viability
- Channel energies to write and publish more.
And then the set of Objectives for that year: Professional/Personal development (learn about grieving); Develop new website: AFS Publishing; get down to 190#s! But in reality, my mission was none of these; it was to fill a void and find love.
Let’s face it, 2018 was a disaster, even worse than 2017. I did not find love, and worse, I suffered another huge loss. I did sell my house, closed my office downtown, consolidated everything in new digs in Kanata; more importantly I learned about mental health, the hard way. This was not part of the plan. Neither was flying off to The Philippines, hair on fire. (I did achieve my weight goal – I lost 25#s and got down to 189 lbs, through not eating!)
Which brings us to 2019, the last year of normalcy for most people, though for me it was anything but normal. My Purpose, Vision and ‘Gift’ remained unchanged from 2018. Why should it change? That erratic year (2018) had been more about lurching than execution.
- 2019 Mission:
- To find a mate/partner in order to find happiness and love
- Regenerate AFS Consulting
- Publish five books in 2019.
And a set of Objectives that expand on the Mission. At least I recognized what my main mission actually was in 2019, unlike in the previous two years when I was largely in denial that my life was in dramatic change. In retrospect it seems obvious I was still suffering mental illness! or at least irrationality: publish five books?!? Buy a puppy and begin to train him for the show and become a therapy dog?! But I did publish one book, Amitié, A Novel; began a blog; I brought Carmen Beauty from The Philippines to Canada, then returned with her to Philippines; I lived life vigourously, though now not with my hair on fire; I gained back 10#s but I did begin pounding the bag in my basement boxing gym. I was in much better shape entering 2020 than I had been in years, though ‘much better’ does not mean completely well – aging is inexorable.
I wonder what 2020 would have been like if the world hadn’t panicked in response to a pseudo-calamity, covid. As I wrote my annual plan in my virtual Harvard Planner last January while I was in The Philippines, who would have guessed the events that turned my plan upside down.
I had reworded my Purpose in 2018 and repeated it in 2019, but only vaguely conscious of why; the Vision Statement remained the same. In retrospect I was in transition, groping in the confusion in my mind. When survival is the priority, lofty purpose loses meaning, even as Viktor Frankl might say otherwise.
My Plan for 2020 remained much the same as 2019.
- Purpose: To use my talent for storytelling to entertain, possibly to educate, others, and myself.
- Vision: Growth through exchange with capable people.
- My ‘Gift’: Challenge People to Think; Inspire them to Act!
- 2020 Mission:
- To resolve the question of a ‘mate’/partner
- Move AFS Publishing to the forefront; publish at least one book
- AFS Consulting in perspective
- Grapple with Retirement/Aging.
And a revised set of Objectives that fleshed out the Mission.
So how did we do in 2020? Covid of course perturbated all these plans and objectives. I’m pretty sure I managed to put on the covid 20 pounds, despite being fairly fastidious about healthy eating and regular exercise – poolside in Qubo Qabana, my basement boxing gym back in Canada. My mental health stabilized despite the frustrations of being constricted by covid rules. I had to leave the Philippines, finally, in May, and have been unable to return nor bring Carmen back to Canada.
I have not been able to completely expurgate the phantom demon from my mind but I am resolved to accept Carmen as iko lang [you only] in my life. To do this I have consciously cultivated the virtues of courage (and resilience), gratitude, and even mercy.
You may have noticed that I have altered my vision statement: In my remaining years I have concluded that I can no longer expend energy on people who do not contribute to my own growth. Irony, good humour, opposing but thoughtful views, make for an interesting life; superficial values and judgmentalism are no longer tolerated. I want quality relationships, not ersatz.
I am pleased to say that my connection with my three children are now solid mature relationships. They have their own lives to live and many problems associated with life’s challenges, and they are now accepting that I have to find my own way in my remaining years. The last five years have been difficult for all of us but there is no going back. Marlene’s legacy sustains us still, but it is not the same.
The AFS Consulting practice has been reduced to almost zero by covid and life events. I considered selling it, or even closing it down, but my accountant and my lawyer said I should leave it in a semi-dormant state, accept assignments that appeal to me. This does offer some comfort against the otherwise loss of my former identity. But as Martin Seligman advises, we cannot let the past hijack our present.
Writing has now become my main activity for manifesting my purpose and identity. I did publish a book last year, Travels With Myself, converting my blog into something you can hold in your hands, and mark up with your highliter pen. And I finished the first draft of my latest project, my novel, The Treasure of Stella Bay.
All in all, 2020 has turned out to be satisfactory. In the end, growth has happened, purpose renewed, and acceptance that not every day will be productive. It’s easy to dwell on all the negatives and the frustrations, but, as the sagacious Carmelita Espino would say, pansamantela, it’s only temporary.
Now, the 2021 edition of the Harvard Planner has arrived and over the next few days I shall draft my plan for 2021: Purpose, Vision, Mission, Objectives. Then the hard work begins, striving to turn Mission into Results, and advancing my Purpose.
Doug Jordan, reporting to you from Kanata Ontario
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And by desktop I mean desk top, an actual paper-based book requiring a pen or pencil to log goals, plans and appointments. No electronic outlook or calendar for me. In those early days there was no such thing as an online planner/scheduler but later when these software tools became more and more common and user friendly (efficacious?) I ought to have been an adopter. And I would have but Alain never got around to designing and programming an app for that. And in any event, since as Principal of AFS Consulting, a company of one, I had little need to coordinate my calendar with all the other employees in the firm.
When I left AECL for Mitel I influenced Administration, who reported to me, to negotiate a block agreement with Alain’s company PDI Inc., to supply the Proactive Passport as the standard Issue planner. I never saw any commission or credit for my efforts.