A year-end review prompts, or should prompt, a launch into some serious thinking, or even some frivolous thinking, about what should we seekto do in the new year. If you haven’t yet done your own plan for 2021, finish reading this blog and be inspired to think about and write up your plan, starting with Purpose.
For me, the big ‘discovery’ of my 2020 year-end review was the affirmation of Purpose, Purpose that had been missing or doubted in my years in the wilderness. In my percipient blog post of 2020 – Travels With Myself, Lessons Learned (according to many readers who let me know) – I described how I came to realize what my Purpose actually was, and how this Purpose, made manifest by Projects, would be the source of me being able to live my next years vigourously, limited only by health and unplanned events – we never know when the next volcano or calamity will happen to upset our plans.
The 2020 year-end review also enlightened me to the fact that my Purpose had not fundamentally changed over much of my life, I just hadn’t realized it at a conscious level. True Purpose, as it should be, is essentially constant (unless some significant life event upsets previously held beliefs); it is the Mission and Objectives we pursue that change from time to time, year to year.
My Purpose was, and is, ‘to be the best version of myself I can be’. Or in Aristotelian terms, to seek excellence for myself. Not to be the best, not to be perfect, but to reach as high as I can. But for all my professional life I wasn’t really conscious that this was my ultimate purpose. Instead I thought my Purpose was to be a successful HR Executive, to use my talents and intelligence and energy to accomplish significant things. This version of ‘purpose’ also satisfied other ‘needs’ I had, for recognition, and for taking care of people who depended on me. I think for most of us this is quite common, one’s meta-purpose is obscured by the principal means chosen to achieve it, and we confuse those subordinate objectives for our main purpose. The analogy would be a corporation’s purpose and chief activities: to provide value to shareholders through the production of its principal product or service; for example, Apple Corp – excellence in design in integrated electronic and software devices.
It also gradually emerged that beyond being an HR Professional I had another means for achieving my purpose, though not especially conscious of it through 40 years of professional striving: I am creative and often compelled to lever this attribute. Despite my rather conventional career path, I was often discontent with the status quo and brought original thinking to problems.
But my ‘purpose’, or what I thought was my purpose but was merely a vehicle for using my talents, had shifted, from human resources management to story-telling. Or perhaps not exactly shifted but with new emphasis on creativity and writing. I had long been a writer, of policy and reports, and I have long been a story teller, for the benefit of my clients [and perhaps to the annoyance of some of my colleagues who prefer the 30 second version]. My creativity can also be quirky: my Groundhog Day Cards are evidence of this.
So my Purpose for 2021, and presumably ongoing, is to seek excellence in myself through the deployment of my talents for creative story telling – to entertain, possibly to educate.
Beyond creativity, I’ve also rediscovered some other strengths and virtues I should lever, or try to enhance. For ten years, following on my reading of Comte-Sponville’s book, A Short Treatise on the Great Virtues, and having concluded I had a few virtues I should continue to apply, and a few I thought I should improve, I included in my annual plan the intention of keeping these more conscious in my daily/weekly/monthly activity. Of Sponville’s 18 Great Virtues I picked six I wanted to attend to: three to lever – Fidelity, (and perhaps Fidelity’s twin, Good Faith), Generosity and Humour (good, not maligning); three to try to be better at – Courage, Gratitude, Mercy. But as Sponville also advises, intention is not enough in order to live a virtuous life. In any given moment it is possible to act virtuously, but I’ve found it hard to formulate workable goals to make these virtues manifest.
So I’ve taken another tact: to use Martin Seligman’s concept of Values in Action, to use my signature strengths wherever I can to experience episodes of ‘flow’ and thereby experience at least momentary happiness, and where I can, in the service of something larger than myself. I want to talk about the 24 VIA Signature Strengths at more length in my next post at the end of January but for now here are my top five (actually six as the fifth and sixth for me have the same score) without explanation: Perspective, Love of learning, Judgment, Curiosity, Humour, Social Intelligence. (Where is Creativity you might ask? #8.)
So for my 2021 Plan I want to be much more mindful of these concepts of virtues/values and integrate them into Purpose and Mission according to Alain Martin’s structure in the Harvard Planner. I’ve done this by associating each objective to one or more of my so-called Signature Strengths (and my aspirant virtues).
My Mission for 2021 includes these meta-objectives:
- Publish The Treasure of Stella Bay (and savour my creativity!)
- Actively promote The Treasure of Stella Bay and by extension AFS Publishing and my previous books (this requires levering Perspective; this major goal probably needs a lot of Stamina and Resilience too – not sure where those are on the VIA list!)
- Bring Carmen to Canada (surely this is Love – some blend of eros, philia – agape even)
- Live with Aging (obviously this requires Courage).
I won’t burden you with all of the other Objectives I have set for myself in 2021. You won’t be that interested and I know historically my plans have been too ambitious and subject to perturbation from unexpected events. But here are a few:
- Weight – the usual target: 190#, even though a healthier number is actually 175! [if I actually got down to 175 everybody would think I’d died]. (In this goal I can strive to improve my virtue shortcoming of Mercy, though it’s hard to forgive oneself.)
- Mental health – I worked hard, with help, to recover my mental health in 2019, I want to hang on to that; but it takes a lot of effort to work through bouts of depression (due to loss and regret), and hopelessness, especially as I contemplate the future and confront the question of aging. Maybe I need a coach. (This theme is complicated because of my Signature Strength of Perspective, and surely needs a healthy dose of Courage.)
- Altruism – finding projects to contribute to something larger than myself (but I am strangely reluctant to commit, maybe it’s my introversion impeding me). I’ve considered volunteering at HospiceCare Ottawa, even training as a therapist; I’ve become a member of MAID but short of donating, have not ventured. (Clearly this is a theme needing some extra push to overcome my inertia – more than Social Intelligence (intent) it’s another case for more Courage.)
- Travel – if I ever get Carmen out of the Philippines I want to show her more of the world. We had intended 2020 would be the year to visit England (she has family in London, I have friends in Yorkshire, and Jersey), Paris (another cousin), and Chicago (yet another cousin). (This Objective levers the virtue of Generosity. Maybe it is a variant of altruism and being in service of something larger than myself – my gift to Carmen is a gift to myself.)
I have three objectives in the theme of Family and Friends: my Filipino Family, my own Offspring in Canada, and my dog, Bonnie.
- Helping my extended Filipino family transition from critical financial support to self-reliance;
- offering my Canadian family moral support;
- and to soothe Bonnie through her own declining final year(s).
And one other in the Friends theme: to cull and to cultivate for genuine relationships. I’ve been culling for three years now, but not cultivating actively enough. This will mean my world will continue to shrink but what I am left with may be worth it. (I think this objective will depend on the virtues of Gratitude and Courage.)
There are other objectives in my Harvard Planner plan (be more active in my Church (First Unitarian Congregation), and in my Politics (less twitter, more policy participation) and exertion in promoting my writing business (e.g., the Canadian Authors Association) but let’s leave those for now, perhaps report on them in future posts.
I’m sure all of you are facing 2021 with mixed emotions: we encourage ourselves through positive self-talk, hoping we will emerge from the mess that was 2020, but still apprehensive and doubtful. For me, maintaining a positive attitude is a daily trial; regular reference to my Harvard Planner helps. I wish you all the very best for this year now upon us: may all your goals and aspirations be actualized. I can only ask that you wish the same for me.
Doug Jordan, reporting to you from Kanata Ontario
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One of my readers offered that not all human beings find meaning from striving. Just ‘being’ and accepting the universe for what is may be enough. She is right, of course, to a point. Human beings are also human doings and we are wired to seek, to understand, to solve problems and to engage in life.
Sponville lists 18 Great Virtus but discounts one of them (Politeness) and struggles with Love (as we all do); To be virtuous in all of the remaining 16 virtues is beyond human capacity. I ended up picking six for attention.