We need to rethink how we set a vision for our lives

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Something that’s been coming up in a lot of my conversations lately, is the concept of having a clear vision for your life.

It’s always an interesting conversation, because while I see immense value in being purpose driven and having a vision to strive for – I’ve also witnessed its potential to cause distress and dissatisfaction in people’s lives (myself, most certainly, included.)

In this post, we will look at a few examples that demonstrate what happens in the vision setting process that can lead to stress and dissatisfaction. I also want to offer up some food for thought and hopefully, you’ll walk away with a new way to think about your vision and purpose that allows for a bit more flexibility (and ultimately, happiness) along the way. (P.S. you’ll notice that I use the terms purpose and vision for your life interchangeably in this post, they are definitely separate concepts but for this post, it’s not as important to distinguish.)

 

Let’s look at 3 brief examples of how this idea of having a vision for your life can lead to stress or dissatisfaction.

 

1. My sister is in the process of transferring from community college to a 4 year university. Since she is transferring in as a junior, the infamous “pick your major” conversation was one of the biggest things on her mind. My sister is extremely hard working and ambitious, and as a result, I watched her put a lot of unnecessary stress upon her shoulders as she went through the process of selecting a major.

  • I don’t have a vision of exactly what I want to do/be, so I am nervous I am going to choose the wrong major
  • Betsy (fake name) is so lucky, she knows her purpose is to be a teacher so she knows exactly what classes to take and doesn’t have to waste time figuring it out. I wish I had that
  • As soon as I can figure out my purpose I’ll feel more motivated in the things I do (class, extracurricular activities, etc.)

For those of you who don’t know my sister, that girl is a ray of sunshine, so it was painful to see this pressure of having it all figured out impact her mood, sense of confidence, and general level of happiness.

 

2. Conversely, a close friend/colleague of mine has a very clear picture of what she wants to do with her career. We have talked a lot in the past and she knows exactly the types of projects,  people, and skills that exist in the industry. She is one of the most intelligent people that I know, so when it comes to job opportunities, the world is her oyster. I’ve had the opportunity to be a close friend through her last two job transitions and here is the interesting phenomena that tends to happen.

  • She’ll apply to a few organizations that excite her, she crushes the interviews and the job offers start coming in. It’s everything she wanted right?!
  • Kinda…
  • When it comes time to make a decision, which granted is a very important decision, she stops herself and thinks “shit, is this actually the right move? Is this absolutely going to get me to my end goal? Is it the best choice?”
  • The result is that rather than get pumped for the amazing options in front of her, she becomes plagued with the pressure to make the perfect choice. At times, she will even undermine her accomplishments because they’re not exactly what she thinks she needed. The end result is still a great job, but the pressure along the way makes the journey stressful and anticlimactic, rather than exciting and affirming.

 

3. A guy I know from the gym is just a few years from retirement. He was recently laid off from his job and was working to answer the question of “what’s next?” I had a few chances to speak with him through the process. In our first conversation, he told me “Matt, I’m tired of this shit…I’ve been doing (sales) for over 30+ years and the last thing I want to do is ramp up at another company right now. I feel like I finally have an opportunity to stop working for someone else.” Our following conversations were awesome, the guy had clearly been successful in his life. We’d talk about ideas of what he could do and some of them really got him amped but each time we’d go down a path, the momentum would slowly crumble because when it came time to pull the trigger he wasn’t sure that it was the best option – I sensed a fear of “what if this is the wrong decision? The result, he is back in sales and honestly I don’t think he is happy about it.

 

All of the above examples are really close to home for me, they are stories of people who I love, respect, and look up to in many ways. The examples also purposely span from college, to mid-career, to end of career. I chose these examples to show that this is something we deal with throughout our lives, so if it is a source of distress/dissatisfaction in your life as well, that’s not going to go away unless you directly address the root cause.

 

Now, let’s explore the root cause and the impact it can have on us.

 

At one point in our lives, we’ve all thought about our vision for who we want to be and what we want to achieve (our legacy). If you haven’t, you should certainly take some time and start thinking about it.

 

The issue, is that when setting our vision, we tend to put a very specific end-goal in our minds of what our lives need to look like in order to feel like we “succeeded” or “made the most of it.” When we finally define that clear end-goal, it tends to come with a very clear-cut path in our minds to get there (or at least a desire to have one).

 

What often happens with this approach is that the specific end-goals in our minds are typically articulated as a role or a specific measurement (i.e., I want to be a doctor, I want to be a teacher, I want 10 million dollars, I want to win 6 NBA championships [Bron, if you’re reading this, that means you]). Naturally, with the specific end vision, comes a clear-cut path to get there. “I have 10 years to become a partner, I’ll start as an analyst, then I’ll need to go to business school for my MBA, then I’ll come back and do x, y, and z, after that I’ll finally be a partner and be able to enjoy my life.” We chart out these paths because they provide us with a sense of certainty in our lives, a false sense of certainty, I’ll add – but it still helps many of us sleep better at night.

 

Our tendency to become laser focused on the end-goal and our clearly defined paths to get there can lead to the following negative outcomes:

 

  1. Stress: When we think about our vision it’s easy to stress out. “I don’t know my vision or my purpose.” “I know what I want to do but I don’t have a clue on where to start.” “So and so is so lucky she knows exactly what she wants to be.” “What if this is the wrong vision for me, can you remind me what yours is?”
  2. Rigidity…and also stress: We get so hooked on the end result that we don’t leave any room for “life” to happen…and “life” certainly happens (by life, I mean new circumstances such as falling in love, having a baby or getting fired, fresh perspectives like an epiphany that shifts your world view, or detours along the way such as a unique opportunity to travel or experience something new) When we are rigid in our approach, “life” happening can cause massive amounts of stress and dissatisfaction regarding our current situation because its not part of the path we set and we didn’t plan for it to happen.
  3. Tuning out…and also stress: Being laser focused on the end result can also remove you from the present moment. Rather than being able to enjoy things as they are happening, you are focused on calculating the distance to your end goal and all you see is a gap (i.e. your vision is to make 10 million dollars, you just made your first million but all your thinking about is the 9 million more you need to make.)

 

It’s twisted, because the whole reason we create a vision for ourselves is so that we can ultimately feel satisfaction with our lives and be happy. Critical components to happiness are less stress, the ability to deal with change and adversity as it comes, and being fully present in each moment we experience. Given that logic, it doesn’t quite make sense to deprive yourself of such things to on the road to happiness.

 

So what should we do?

 

I am not suggesting that we stop thinking about our purpose and our visions for our lives and just wander around aimlessly. I am suggesting however, that we rethink how we define our visions and path to get there. Rethinking our vision/path can free us from a rigid, myopic focus on the end goal and open us up to an adaptive, fluid approach that still takes us to our ultimate destination but allows for some flexibility and joy along the way.

 

Here are two simple tweaks you can make that will have a massive impact on the road to reach your vision.

 

  • Forget your role, focus on your contribution: as I mentioned, when we set a vision for ourselves, it can often come in the form of a role (i.e. I want to be a doctor, a college professor, or a personal coach). The challenge with focusing on roles is that to a degree, those things can be out of your control – financial situations, decisions from others, and general life circumstances can all impact your access to a specific role. Your contribution however, is something that you control 100%, all of the time. Contribution is focused around the outcome rather than the role – its saying “I want to heal people” rather than saying “I want to be a doctor.” When you focus on contribution rather than role, new doors open up. Suddenly, you don’t need to wait to finish school, residency, or have 5 years of experience to start living out your purpose. Suddenly, you don’t need someone else to tell you “yes, we approve that you can do this with your life now”

 

    • This same line of thinking also applies to visions that have a unit of measurement connected to them (i.e. I want to make 5 million dollars) Instead of thinking about the 5 million dollars, think about what it would mean to you to have $5m. Would you be able to travel the world? Would you be able to contribute philanthropically? If these are your goals, you don’t need $5m to get started. Typically, these units of measurement have a deeper intention behind them and once again, when you get to the core of what that is, a whole new world will open for you.

 

 

  • Allow room for life to happen:  I can’t stress this enough. We tend to see our existence and personal experience as the center of the universe and forget that there is a dynamic and interconnected world of people and circumstances out there that we have no control over. It’s impossible to try to control everything that happens and when we do, we stress ourselves out and waste time and energy fighting against this force of the universe. When we are rigid, we can close off to some amazing other opportunities – “Yeah, I wish I could have volunteered with that organization in Delhi but I have to study for my GMAT if I am going to get into business school by the fall” <– (There is nothing inherently wrong with that but in many cases, when I probe, its part of a precisely defined 12-year plan that has every year mapped out and accounted for.) For me, while I believe in ambition and planning, I also believe that there is a deeper intelligence at play and things happen for a reason – whether it feels like a good thing or bad thing. That’s why I like to leave a bit of room for serendipity and for an alternate route to my end goal.

 

    • Pro Tip: when you focus on contribution rather than role, it becomes much easier to allow room for life to happen. When you focus on contribution, everything you do, every place you are, and everyone you meet can become an opportunity for you to make a connection, add a tool to your toolkit, or get an experience under your belt that can support your vision.

 

 

By making these tweaks, my hope is that:

 

  • You no longer have to stress about knowing exactly what you want to be. You can instead focus on who you want to be – a subtle but powerful shift. When you focus on who you want to be, rather than what, you never have to wait for someone’s permission to start being that person – you can start RFN
  • You get excited about life’s curveballs and welcome them with open arms rather than fight vehemently against your current circumstance. This leaves you with energy to step into new situations with full force and a positive attitude, when you do that, things just start to manifest for you
  • You are more present, happier, and ultimately more productive! Your journey no longer feels like a chore, it becomes enriched, exciting, and joyful. The journey is no longer something you have to do, it’s something you get to do

 

I know some folks may read this post and say “That’s absolute bullshit, if you want to be the best, you need to be laser focused on the end result and not waste time on anything that doesn’t get you there.” Just yesterday I saw a post from an Instagram influencer where the caption read something like “Turn your blinders on to everything but your end goal.”

 

Maybe that approach works for you and if so, by all means continue – but this is why my perspective has shifted.

 

For the last 8 years, I’d consider myself a pretty purpose-driven individual. For me, my passion has been sharing health, well-being, and encouragement to others. To achieve this, I set a vision. I thought that I would need to be a well-known health and fitness coach if I was going to have any impact on people’s lives. So I got certified as personal trainer and yoga instructor and set out on my way. I started off by creating a small personal training company in college with a close friend, which we tried to scale to a web based business and failed. I was close to graduating college and had nothing to show for it – I felt ashamed and lost, what was I going to do now?

 

When received my offer from Deloitte Consulting, I was honestly not too pumped about it. I felt like this would take precious time away from my end goal but I took the job anyway thanks to some advice from a few good mentors. At first, my perspective didn’t really change, I wasn’t really happy because I wasn’t doing what I was “meant” to be doing. Consulting wasn’t my purpose, so how was I supposed to live it out at a place like Deloitte? I felt like I had to put my vision on hold. My thinking during that time constantly revolved around an “exit strategy” – what was the best way I could leave and get back on track.

 

Over time, I started to realize that it wasn’t that I couldn’t live out my vision at Deloitte, it’s that I wasn’t. I had been so focused on the role that I thought I needed to have to live out my vision that I became blind to the other paths. As this perspective shifted, I started to realize that there was an entire pool of people within my company who were looking to go deeper in their health and well-being but didn’t have the time or the resources. All of a sudden, doors began to open – I started leading group workouts and meditation sessions for colleagues inside and outside of the office. I got to use my consulting experience of public speaking and building presentations to deliver health and fitness concepts to a much broader audience in a more compelling way and most recently, I’ve been granted the opportunity to travel the world for 6 months collecting and sharing tips on health and well-being. It’s been at Deloitte, not even as a full time personal trainer, that I have been able to make the biggest impact on people’s health and well-being so far in my life.

 

Before I shifted my perspective, I rarely considered things outside my defined path and when I did, I couldn’t really enjoy them. For the last couple of years however, I’ve opened myself to the serendipity of life and am able to look at challenges and opportunities as productive detours that have the potential to take me beyond what I would have imagined on my own.

 

So to close, again, this doesn’t mean don’t set goals and forget your ambitions. No, being a lazy bum and sitting and waiting for things to happen wont do anything for you. Instead, stay productive but be open to detours along the way, cultivate a sense of faith that there is a deeper reason for your current circumstance, and allow yourself the time and space to explore what that may be.

 

 

Matt

 

P.S. If there are any challenges you’ve run into or any tips or tricks you employ when thinking about your vision, I’d love to hear your perspective.

 

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Eat Your Colors!

colorful food

Seriously though, I’m of the belief that if you lined up all of your meals in a day, side by side, it should look like some sort of effed up rainbow.

 

Why?

You need your micronutrients!

 

What are those?

Most of you are probably familiar with macronutrients (proteins, carbs, fats, fiber) as they are the essential building blocks of every meal. You’ve also probably heard the expression “if it fits your macros, eat it” which is pretty much saying to worry less about caloric content and more about the presence of key macronutrients in your meals.

 

Micronutrients however, such as vitamins and minerals, don’t get as much attention but also support critical functions in the body and brain. There are a ton of different micronutrients that our bodies need and many of them are hiding in various naturally colorful foods – not skittles though, sorry…

 

Today, our typical meals don’t have as much biodiversity as they used to, so we need to be intentional about getting a variety of colors on our plates and into our bodies.

 

Take a classic summer meal – a brown hotdog in a white bun…while it may fill you up (and fit your macros) it’s empty of micronutrients. If you don’t add some color to that plate, you will be depriving your body of essential support.

 

Whether your life is full of bliss or full of battles, micronutrients matter. Maintaining poor nutrition habits and neglecting the importance of micronutrients is like going into battle with no armor or heading to a party hungover and on no sleep…it’s going to hold you back.

 

For my “healthy” eaters:

I have a lot of friends that “eat healthy” but every meal they eat consists of chicken, brown rice, and broccoli. They eat it every day because its consistent, rich in macronutrients, and keeps them lean. While that is a healthy meal in and of itself, it only contains 3 colors! By eating that for every meal, other than being boring and miserable (trust me…I’ve done it), you miss out on so many essential micronutrients that support optimal human performance. Next time you are doing your Sunday meal prep, I encourage you to intentionally add a few new colors (yellow, red, orange, blue, and purple) into the mix.

 

For my picky eaters:

The problem with being a picky eater is that it’s a vicious cycle. Your body is extremely adaptable, which can be good or bad – it can adapt to love healthy nutrient-rich foods or it can adapt to love sugar and artificial flavoring, it all depends on which “wolf” you feed. For example, I remember in high school I loved drinking Coke. I would come home from school, eat an Ellio’s pizza and crush a can of Coke. I would often drink 3 cans a day. When I stopped drinking soda, I stopped cold turkey. I switched to only drinking sugarless beverages such as water, black coffee, and tea. I remember trying a coke ~2 years later thinking it would be a nice treat…instead, it tasted like brown sludge. Disgusting.

 

What happens is that when you purposefully change your eating behavior, your sensitivity to certain foods (salt, sugar, etc.) starts to change. Over time, my body began to adapt to healthy eating behaviors and I am now much better off for it. Remember, you literally become what you eat so my perspective here is “fake it till you make it” – put some good food into your body consistently for 2 weeks and watch as you begin to acquire a taste for it.

 

Eating healthy doesn’t need to be a chore. Food is meant to be enjoyed and your relationship with food is a very important one, so get creative!

 

The internet has fueled creative (healthy) dishes like you wouldn’t believe. Today, if you have a food you’d like to cook with, simply google the food item (such as broccoli) and add some other things you love into the search (i.e. Asian broccoli with coconut and ginger recipe.) Even if you don’t find exactly what you’re looking for, scroll through the pages and I guarantee you will find a few interesting recipes. You can even include search terms like “quick” or “simple” into the search bar if you’re strapped for time. Finally, If you want to take your creativity to the next level, IBM’s program Chef Watson uses artificial intelligence to find flavors that work well together – you can literally look in your fridge, type in a few ingredients that you have on hand and Chef Watson will spit out a recipe that you can try.

 

For those of you too busy to cook:

That’s another post for another day but my quick recommendation here are to:

  • Go out and pay the bit of extra money for some healthy/diverse foods – think of it as health insurance…
  • Find a meal prep service near you. They are popping up all over the place and if you do the math, most packages (NJ/NY is what I’ve searched) come out to be $9-12 which is pretty reasonable…relatively (delicious, colorful, healthy meals here in Ecuador are $1-$5)
  • Supplement your diet with quality vitamins and minerals (again, another post for another day)

 

Just eat your colors, Fam.

 

❤ Matt

 

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Everyone’s got a plan until they get punched in the face…learn to roll with the punches

ocean meditation

I’ll start with an excerpt from my second blog post ever, as I was heading into the first day of my sabbatical…

 

— So, there you have it – that’s my general plan for the next 6 months – but as Mr. Mike Tyson would say…“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face (or…the fathe).”And I am sure there are a few left hooks waiting around a few corners for me – so stay tuned! —

 

Well, the other day I took my first hook and boy was it a doozie… BUT, like everything in life, there is a lesson to be learned from it.

 

To fully appreciate this post, I encourage you to take 5 minutes and read my second post (if you haven’t already). Basically, I thought I had the next 6 months of my life all figured out. I spent almost a year prepping for this adventure – making sure I had the timing lined up, deciding how I wanted to spend my time, researching and interviewing multiple organizations to find the right spot, and once decided, spending a good bit of time working with their owners to design an experience that we were both excited about. I was ready for 6 months of surf, yoga, and some good work in Nicaragua.

 

But sometimes God has a different plan for us…

 

For those of you who don’t know, Nicaragua is currently going through a challenging time politically. The people of Nicaragua want change. Their current president, Daniel Ortega, is essentially acting as a dictator and the people are tired of it. They want him and his wife (the Vice President) out of office and are demanding a fair democracy (I am oversimplifying the situation very much because this isn’t meant to be a post about the current political situation in Nica.) What you need to know is that since 4/19/2018, there have been over 100 deaths and just as many disappearances. The Nicaraguan government has ordered a shoot to kill policy on protesters (many of whom are peacefully protesting) and the situation has become extremely delicate. While life at the beach is still peaceful, the situation has become too uncertain and I had to leave Nica, about 5 months earlier than expected…

 

When I first discovered that I would need to cut my trip short, I felt like my world was turned upside down. This wasn’t part of the plan, this was supposed to be a once in a lifetime opportunity. My immediate reaction was:

  • “I can’t believe this is happening to me”
  • “This isn’t fair”
  • “What am I going to do?”

Fortunately, writing this blog has been a great way to keep myself accountable to practice what I preach, so I grabbed my board and hit the water for some meditation. As I sat in the water, caught a few waves, and started to breathe, I had a couple of revelations that completely changed my perspective – and ultimately, the outcome of this situation:

 

  • First off, how dare I take the situation in Nicaragua and make it about me. This is about the people of Nicaragua and the change they need (and deserve) as a country. Despite what this means for my sabbatical, I am glad that Nicaragua is pushing for change and I hope and pray that it can happen more peacefully, without a full blown revolution.
  • Second, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” There isn’t much I can do to change the situation in Nicaragua, that will need to run its course. What I can change, is how I respond to it. Rather than freak out, get upset, and call it quits. I can stay calm, focus, and make moves to keep my sabbatical alive and well.
  • Finally, when I look back at my life, in every situation where things get rough and it feels as though hope is lost, there is always something bigger at play.
    • When I tried to scale my personal training company and failed I thought all of the effort was for nothing – but It was that failure which led me to Deloitte where I have so many opportunities to grow and develop – meeting lifelong friends and mentors along the way.
    • When I  was turned away after making it to the final round interview for Product Manager at Facebook, I felt terrible. I had poured my heart into the interview process and they just said “no.” In hindsight, it’s clear that the job would have been a terrible fit for me. I only became attached to the image of the job title and what I thought that would mean. If I had gotten the job, I would have had to move to San Fran and miss all the time I’ve been able to spend with my 2 beautiful nieces AND this 6 month sabbatical would have never been an option.
    • Thinking back to my “dark ages”, it would be easy to beat myself up over that phase of my life, but it’s my past that has made me who I am today and has given me a story to share with others. I believe that our lives are our message to the world and I am proud that I’ve now been able to share mine in settings such as church, juvenile detention programs, and everyday conversations to inspire and encourage others.

 

When I came out of the water, I felt brand new – I was full of gratitude for my fresh new perspective. It was time to get to work. I got on the computer and hit the phones and sure enough, it soon became clear that life doesn’t happen to us, it happens for us… as long as we let it.

 

I ended up getting connected with another Surf and Yoga wellness retreat in Ecuador, my mom’s motherland! This retreat incorporates all of the elements that I had in Nicaragua and also provides opportunities for structured Spanish lessons and mixed martial arts training. I’m not saying either spot is better or worse, I am just  grateful that the biggest trade-off is a Nicaragua beach sunset vs. an Ecuador beach sunset.

 

While I am excited for Ecuador, the transition is still bittersweet. The location, the work, and the people I met in Nicaragua have been amazing and I’m sad that we need to cut our time short. For now however, I am keeping my sails open to the winds of change (that’s nautical speak, bruh) and I truly believe that the best chapters of this journey have yet to be written. I’m stoked to see what’s in store.

 

The moral of this story is simply that shit happens… and when you’re in the shit, it’s easy to become laser focused on the shit and miss the bigger picture (for those of you who are offended by my analogy, think of it as missing the forest for the trees.) Sometimes, the bigger picture is quick and easy to identify, you miss your flight but meet the love of your life on the next plane. Sometimes, the bigger picture doesn’t emerge for a long time, it could be years. That’s why you gotta have some faith. Faith that everything is going to be okay, faith that this too shall pass, faith that in the end it will be worth it, faith that no matter what you may be going through God doesn’t give anyone a challenge that they can’t handle. Faith has made all of the difference in my life and without it, I definitely wouldn’t be where/who I am today.

 

The last thing I need to add is that for this to work, you have learn to surrender and go with the flow. If something hits you out of left field and it sucks, acknowledge it but then breathe, stretch, shake, and let it go. Take my example of missing your flight…you missed it because your Uber driver took a wrong turn on the way to the airport. You now have a choice – you can continue to fume, write a nasty letter to Uber, and post about that “a-hole” on social media…OR you can breathe, accept it, and move on. If you take the former route (the route of resistance), its highly doubtful that you will meet that love of your life because you won’t be open to receiving – you will be too busy writing that Facebook rant. If you learn to use your energy to flow with the intelligence of the universe instead of waste your energy trying to resist it, you will be amazed to see how things start to fall into place.

 

I’ve included a fun little African proverb below – it does a good job articulating the “bigger picture” if you have an extra minute, take a look.

 

Cheers Fam!

Matt

 

P.S. If you have stories for how this has shown up in your life, I’d love to hear it! Feel free to message me or comment below and as always, if you enjoyed this post, feel free to share it via Facebook or LinkedIn 🙂

 

Proverb:

The story is told of a African King who had a close friend with whom he grew up.

 

The friend had a habit of looking at every situation that ever occurred in his life (positive or negative) and remarking, “This is good!”

 

One day the king and his friend were out on a hunting expedition. The friend would load and prepare the guns for the king. The friend had apparently done something wrong in preparing one of the guns, for after taking the gun from his friend, the king fired it and his thumb was blown off.

 

Examining the situation, the friend remarked as usual, “This is good!” To which the king replied – “No, this is not good!” and proceeded to send his friend to jail.

 

About a year later, the king was hunting in an area that he should have known to stay clear of. Cannibals captured him and took him to their village. They tied his hands, stacked some wood, set up a stake, and bound him to the stake. As they came near to set fire to the wood, they noticed that the king was missing a thumb. Being superstitious, they never ate anyone who was less than whole. So untying the king, they sent him on his way.

 

As he returned home, he was reminded of the event that had taken his thumb and felt remorse for his treatment of his friend. He went immediately to the jail to speak with his friend. “You were right,” he said, “it was good that my thumb was blown off.” And he proceeded to tell the friend all that had just happened.

 

“And so, I am very sorry for sending you to jail for so long. It was bad for me to do this.” “No,” his friend replied, “This was good!” “What do you mean, ‘This was good’? How could it be good that I sent my friend to jail for a year?” “If I had not been in jail, I would have been with you, and they would have ate ME instead”