Duty, Honor, Country: Part Two
In my last column, I described how the West Point motto, “Duty, Honor, Country” touched me deeply and became an important part of my personal value system. In this column, I will go on to describe why my experience is only one example of a broader, more important principle.
The general principal is this: There is a strong and enduring source of motivation within each of us that has its foundation in our unconscious minds. If we can tap into this motivation it has the potential to make our lives better.
I learned about this internal source of motivation early in my business coaching career. It’s well known to the better business and leadership coaches, and I’ll name a few of them so you won’t think I’m making it up. Steven Covey, author of the blockbuster “Seven Habits” books, thinks it’s so important that he called it the Eighth Habit. Tony Robbins, another mega-best seller, doesn’t give it a name, but acknowledges that it’s a key source of motivation. Michael Gerber, founder of a worldwide small business coaching company, author of the best selling “E-Myth” series of books, and for five years my boss, calls it Primary Aim. Michael Ray, Stanford Business School professor, the so-called “most creative man in Silicon Valley,” and author of the book he wrote about it, called it “The Greatest Goal.” There are many others. In my own business coaching company, we call it “core purpose” so that’s the term I’ll use in this column.
What is core purpose? Generally, it’s an unconscious, probably inborn, desire for meaning, for making a difference, and for contributing to something bigger than ourselves. It’s different for each of us…that’s why General Patton in World War II was motivated differently from Mother Theresa in our own era. In the business coaching world, we discovered that, if we helped our clients understand their core purposes, they could improve their decision-making and get better results. They discovered, and reported back to us, that core purpose also helped them make better decisions in their personal lives.
Core purpose is the altruistic part of ourselves, the “better angels of our nature,” so to speak, and it’s within all of us. Usually it gets so overwhelmed by our more urgent desires—for success, wealth, status, acceptance, and even survival—that we don’t even notice our deeper urges. But we can tell it’s there because we admire others who do things in response to their own core purposes, things for the “greater good.” Heroes, statesmen, first responders and soldiers, come easily to mind, but people who sacrifice in small ways for others, and do things that will benefit the larger community, also earn our respect and admiration.
So, back to the central idea: How can we discover this mysterious drive—this core purpose—that we all have, and how can we bring it out of its hiding place in our unconscious minds into our conscious awareness so that we can use it to make our lives better?
I did it by reading “The Greatest Goal,” by Michael Ray. His process asks you to identify those times in your own life that were most satisfying and meaningful, and then to explore each experience in order to find out what made it so satisfying and meaningful. The process is easy and quick for some, challenging and difficult for others, but it’s a rewarding experience, and the results can have big impact on your life and the way you look at the world.
The essence of the process consists of three steps. First step: Make a list of your life’s most meaningful experiences. By meaningful, I don’t mean happy, I mean the ones that resonate as important, as significant, as going beyond yourself. These experiences could be things you did, things others did, or books or movies or even dreams that had a big impact on you in an uplifting way, even if they were actually sad. Most people end up with a list of more than a dozen experiences.
Second step: Mentally relive each experience to determine why it was so meaningful. You’ll have to dig deeper than your first impressions, and look beyond the self-serving satisfactions that come from success, wealth, status, acceptance, etc. What was it about the experience that was so meaningful at a deep, gut level? Write down a key word or two that will remind you of it.
Third step: Look over the key words you’ve written and see what patterns you find, what themes are central to them. If the patterns and themes are “all about me,” in other words all about your achievement, status, wealth, fame, etc., you’ve been too superficial. You need to dig deeper.
When you find that key, central theme, it’s the essence of your core purpose. Try to condense it into a word or phrase that has meaning for you. Don’t stress about the phrase you come up with because you’re the only one who ever has to see it or understand it. It can even be silly as long as it reminds you of your core purpose. I once coached a young businesswoman who shared with me that her core purpose phrase was, “Life is a chair of bowlies,” which is a ridiculous thing to say, but which was perfect for her. I still don’t know what it meant, but she did, and that’s what counts. It reminded her, and still does, of what’s meaningful in her life.
Most people aren’t inclined to take on this kind of introspection. I certainly wasn’t in my younger years. But it’s a worthwhile exercise. You almost certainly won’t end up with Duty, Honor, Country as your personal motto as I did, but you’ll find something unique, something that works only for you—and it will connect you with a value system that resonates with your soul.
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