Groundhog Day Resolutions 2011: Realigning the Compass

I outlined my thoughts on the Groundhog Day Resolution System last week, pushing the actual goal definition for a later time. In today’s post, I push the definition a little further, but first there’s a detour through Joss Whedon’s Firefly, which has helped me see what was missing from my earlier plans. In short: I did not recognize my lack of love for my plans.

Reviewing Last Year’s Goals

Last year, I’d made a 2010 Master Goals sheet, which I used for a whopping two weeks before abandoning it. While it did a good job of distilling what I knew about myself onto one sheet of paper, it offered no real reward for daily use. And because of that, it quickly fell into the “superfluous overhead” category of “things that I should do but don’t.” However, it’s about to come into its own as a historical snapshot of my 2010 state-of-mind.

There’s quite a lot of complex state recorded on that form, represented as five distinct areas of thought. First, here’s last year’s master goal, as I wrote on that sheet:

  • to create exciting start-up kits with people I like and respect while making an honest buck.

The thinking behind this: By focusing on making these “startup kits”, I would put my energy into making tangible assets that other people would find useful. I like being around people who are starting things up too, or so I thought. It seemed to make sense. I then identified four areas of endeavor that would help bring this about:

  • Create packages from existing knowledge and ability
  • Sell packages on the website, with supporting collateral
  • Recruit people to join production chain and revenue sharing
  • Expand the product line from 1 to 10 SKUs by end of 2010

Additionally, there were the five destinations I defined in my world domination / empire building journey:

  • The Niche Design Business
  • Physical Goods (Books & Published Works)
  • Electronic Media, Software, and Online Tools
  • Community, Local arts & Crafts, Blogs, and Guilds
  • “Professional Sounding Board”

There were three main powers that I identified in myself:

  • The Interest and Urge to Understand and Reconstruct
  • The Endless Ability to Write and Blog
  • Graphics Production Tools and Know How

Finally, I acknowledged that there were five trade skills I had to work with to make money along the way:

  • Programming
  • Interactive Design and Development
  • Web / Internet
  • Graphic Design
  • Information Technology

At the time, I was patting myself on the back thinking I’d done a good job of really identifying the strategic elements of my life plan. While I made some progress toward the “five destinations” and splashed mightily in the “area of endeavor”, I didn’t complete many goals. At least, it doesn’t feel like it. I could paint a rosy picture in hindsight, pointing to things like starting the design website, setting up digital downloads, and continuing to improve my understanding of the print products, but none of these are significant drivers of revenue. If pressed, I would say that 2010 was the year that I moved in some promising directions, but didn’t create any new assets. The one bright spot was the partnering up in The Google Wave with Colleen™, which continues to be an awesome test chamber for figuring out what ain’t working.

The Firefly Effect

On Valentine’s Day, my sister sent and email noting the anniversary of my mother’s passing, and reminded my father and I that despite this darkness that it was still a day of love and remembrance. Touched by this, I remembered how I observed Groundhogs Day with my annual viewing of the eponymous movie. I tried to think of a movie that I might watch in commemoration of this kind of love I was thinking about: bittersweet but good, and still tinged with loss.

Something inside me told me that an episode or two of the sci-fi cult favorite Firefly would be just what I needed. From the first DVD I was captivated anew, and I noticed something about the show for the first time: underneath all the gunplay and gleeful space crime, this show really was about love. In all forms. Love of freedom. Love of family, both of kin and the people who share the same journey by choice. It shows on every face of every actor in every scene; the cast and crew of Firefly later commented on just how special this show experience had been to them, how they’d bonded to each other, and how the best work of their life had found a huge connection with the fans who “got it”. Cut down after just half a season on the FOX network, Firefly would fly once more through fan action–and powerful DVD sales –in the form of the motion picture feature Serenity. As I rewatched it, I took particular note of the dialog at the denouement of the film, when Captain Reynolds is explaining the philosophical underpinnings of flying a spaceship properly to new co-pilot River:

Reynolds: “Ain’t all buttons and charts, little albatross. Know what the first rule of flying is? Well I s’pose you do, since you already know what I’m ’bout to say.”

River: “I do. But I like to hear you say it.”

Reynolds: “Love. Can know all the math in the ‘verse but take a boat in the air that you don’t love? She’ll shake you off just as sure as a turn in the world. Love keeps her in the air when she oughtta fall down…tell you she’s hurtin’ ‘fore she keens…makes her a home.”

If you’re a die-hard browncoat, you’re probably sniffling a bit as you remember the close of one of the finest sci-fi shows to grace your television set. That’s because Firefly speaks a certain kind of TRUTH to us, and it was in that instant that my own truth came a knocking: Sure, I’d mapped out the destinations and identified the parameters of what I needed to do, but really that was just a mess of buttons and unfeeling abstract connections. Somewhere along the way of this planning, I’d forgotten that love had to be a part of it. Love of something, anything. Call it passion, obsession, or inexplicable attraction–I hadn’t written that into the business plan. I might have thought I did, but I never did feel it beyond the initial psyching-up that mere newness imparts to the start of a project. It’s no wonder that my plan was dragging its belly in the sands of my metaphorical desert; there was nothing inside it to fill it full and make it rise.

An Acorn a Day

Now, I had an inkling of what this missing “love” might be. I’d had a clue in feeling a tremendous lack of it in my own writing last year, as I tried to yank all the control lines of my plan while whipping myself into a productive frenzy. Didn’t work.

Let me spell it out the complication: I had a dream in my 2010 Groundhog Day Resolutions, but it was an empty one. Sure, it made sense from a functional perspective; it’s great to have money and to feel you’ve put something grand into the world, but there had to be something more for it to work for ME. Up until yesterday, I thought it was just one of those cases of “deferred reward”; we humans are tremendously bad at being motivated by a reward that’s two years away; you can read more about this in Dan Gilbert’s book Stumbling on Happiness. I figured that I could maybe game myself into action through improved task tracking, as I did with the form I experimented with last month. It had sorta worked, but really it was too much for me to handle. Afterwards, I’d switched to a much simpler system based on collecting metaphorical acorns, which consists of getting just ONE thing done a day that I knew would produce some kind of tangible contribution to my various goals. From the Acorn experiment I’d realized a couple of things:

  1. I already had a pretty good sense of what was going to contribute and what was not. While the number of things I had to do was gigantic, I had no problem picking just one thing to do that would move me in the right productive direction. All that tracking with the Concrete Goals Tracker and the Daily MGT Forms had conditioned my mind so I could see them pretty clearly.
  2. As a low-energy conservation strategy, the “one thing a day” approach worked pretty well. This was because, I think, (a) the progress you make today is still progress and (b) natural human hoarding instinct makes you want to get as many acorns as you can. At least it works that way for me, because I happen to like acorns…I just think they’re neat.

I’d been collecting these virtual acorns for a couple of weeks before re-watching Firefly, and it correlates with increased activity on the blog. The writing feels a little crisper. The variety and utility of the content is a little better. The website and its content, I see now, provides of the feedback I needed without the need for a separate tracking form. That may change in the future, but why complicate things now? Improving davidseah.com is the goal that enables all other paths of possibility. And, as I see and feel the site improve, my surety grows. For the first time I could say, “I’m on the right path. I feel it in my bones” with 100% confidence. I don’t know if it’s going to any particular destination, but I sense that the path is right. Or I’m too tired to argue with it, which maybe is just as good.

Redirection of Angst

One of the results of this new-found confidence was the decision to drop the design business. I’m not longer offering design services directly. Instead, I’m focusing on just two things: developing my own products, and doing development work. While I like design, I find that it’s difficult to practice it the way I like without having to establish a full-blown boutique agency model. Plus, I need to see the faces of the people I’m designing for. The face requirement isn’t as necessary for development, and an additional benefit is that the design energy is reserved for my product work. This move is hedged by the strong possibility that I’ll be diving into some fancy interactive work later this year for an existing client, and I have been wanting to revisit this type of work for some time.

Having dropped design as a direct offering, the next step was to update my public work statement. My preliminary copy under the WORKING WITH DAVE menu covers it, but it’s very wordy and doesn’t contain a strong call to action. The main reason for this shortcoming is that there’s still a lack of heart in it. This can be traced to a long-standing personal blind spot: the constant urge to define who I am and what that means to me first. While it makes for productive introspection, it don’t exactly sell boxes of soap, if you catch my metaphor. What’s really interesting is that I actually was able to perceive the hangup today in a different light because the need to define myself is gone. Why? I’ve decided that the definition is that I’m the guy on the right path. THAT is my identity now. For proof, I’ve got the pile of metaphorical acorns that say it’s apparently working. I feel like I’m getting things done.

I know, I know, it sounds CRAZY. But a little crazy can go a long way, that kind of true belief. That’s another aspect of Firefly that I was reacquainted with; your beliefs can be simple, complicated, or just batsh*t insane…but having something to believe in defines your very character, and settles your heart. I hadn’t realized I’d been wandering around making plans without my heart dragging in the dust. Laugh if you will, but that’s the plain truth of it. But now I have something to believe in: my path seems right. Or maybe it’s the other way around…no matter! I have the reins of a few engines of commerce on my hands; with a little coaxing they can be more productive. It just takes time and persistence.

The New Guiding Principles

Despite this new-found lack of angst, I’m still on the hook to describe what it is I do on this website. Up to now, I’ve used phrases like “I write about what catches my eye” and “design, development, empowerment, inspiration, and productivity” as a five-year-long stop-gap measure. I want to stand for something more than a handful of keywords. It’ll give focus to what I write and design for the site, and I think it’ll help people decide whether it’s worth sticking around.

After puzzling this out for a few days on The Wave with Colleen™, I realized that this website is really about excellence. I write about my personal struggle to attain excellence through productivity, not productivity for its own sake. I comment on excellence in design when I see it. I catalog insights that point the way to excellence, and deconstruct that which I suspect may point the way a little further.

There’s just one problem with choosing “excellence” as a focus: it just sounds so POMPOUS and UNFUN. When I look back through my catalog of writings, I notice that while I feel a sense of accomplishment with regards to those works that I think were well-done, they are not my favorite pieces. My favorites are the borderline silly stuff, like my much-mocked Gauntlet of Productivity and the obsessive dissection of a Vietnamese sandwich. And I like talking about stuff that I think is AWESOME for any number of reasons, as I define it. That’s the stuff that makes me feel alive and happy to be living in such a strange universe.

The combination of excellence (which is about mental discipline) and awesomeness (which is about feeling and breaking expectations) strikes me as a much better compass than “design, development, etc.” So let the record show that this blog is about excellence and awesomeness, the identification and pursuit thereof, and the daily practice of it. Which brings me to the third leg of the triad: persistence. That has always been my challenge, and without belief it’s pretty near impossible to do by yourself.

It probably doesn’t hurt to identify what I think of as EXCELLENCE:

  • technique driven by insight
  • a grounding in core principles
  • speed, rhythm, and grace
  • the continual pursuit of skill and mastery
  • adherence to high personal standards
  • raising the bar by your own example

And AWESOMENESS:

  • cunning creativity
  • originality and unexpectedness
  • pure grit and sheet guts
  • the call to be different
  • courage under fire of all kinds
  • daring to create and put the work out there
  • the personal voice
  • authenticity and transparency
  • being real

And PERSISTENCE:

  • doing what’s right
  • staying the course
  • rising above the doubts
  • taking the high road
  • getting up after you are pushed down
  • believing in others and yourself
  • protecting your own
  • making do with what you got

That’s what I aspire to stand for, dynamically balancing these three big ideas not only through my writings, but also through my works. Looking back at the past 5-6 years of my writing, I think one can credibly argue that this has always been the direction I’ve been moving. And I think it’ll be easier to explain, because these are the topics that set my heart on fire.

And what about the Groundhog Day Resolutions goals? They’re the same, more or less. I’ve got to make products and expand the line to increase revenue. I need to improve the blog, acorn by acorn. There’s just more of a purpose to it now. There’s the path I’m walking…I’ve committed, apparently, and this gives me a clarity of mind that I welcome. There’s also the acceptance of what I stand for, thanks to the lessons on love and character that I happened to pick up an old TV show. It seems strange at first, that I’m willing to accept an epiphany like this from such a bizarre source, but I think that’s what happens when you’re on the path and are willing to see what happens. If you think that sounds nuts, I challenge you to think of how you have met your very best friends. Was any of that planned by you? You didn’t decide one day that you would find a new dear friend and go hunting for them. Yet, there they WERE, and your life was reordered from that moment on into some of the best times of your life. Five minutes earlier or later could have made all the difference in creating that connection. Basically, it’s chance. The best we can do, I reckon, is to keep our eyes wide open and step lively as the path opens before us.

So with that insight…Sergeant Squirrel, your squad is to proceed with Operation Acorn. Repeat: Operation Acorn is GO.