A fresh young sailor once asked a salty old sea captain, "What do you do when a violent storm from the starboard side blows your ship toward a dangerous reef on your port side?"
"What you do," replied the captain, "is not get yourself into that predicament in the first place."
The old sea captain's sage advice about ships offers us a deeply meaningful allegory about our lives. Like a ship's captain, you can remodel your ship using proven principles, chart a course filled with enjoyable destinations before launch using reliable maps, navigate your way after launch to stay on course and out of predicaments, dock at the ports of your choice, continuously upgrade your ship, and gracefully decommission when your journey ends.
How do you go about drafting the blueprint for a solid ship that will weather the storms and reach its many destinations in one piece? How do you plot a course that will bypass the reefs and make your voyage a joyful adventure? What sort of captain will you have to become to make all these worthy ideals possible?
Prepare to embark on a journey of self-discovery that will form the foundations of what I call your Life Blueprint.
Experiencing Your Ideal Self
In his best selling book SuperSelf, the late millionaire Charles Givens explained how he set about designing his life from scratch and then bringing those designs into reality. He eventually isolated his exact strategies and began teaching them to others in a seminar format. The accumulated feedback from those seminars let him refine and condense his success strategies into the
SuperSelf book and program. The Objectivist Club at University of Central Florida has integrated this program with Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism to become the Ideal Self learning program. As in
SuperSelf, the five components of the Ideal Self program are the Dreams List, Values List, Goals List, Action Plans, and Daily Activities List.
In the field of engineering, a well-defined project clearly identifies and validates all requirements before the construction crew begins to cut any metal. An engineering firm tasked to refurbish a ship would first identify all the requirements and "desirements" the owners and users of that ship expect it to meet. Likewise, according to Givens, your first task in designing your own life is to put in writing everything you want in your life.
If you are like most people, you have floating ideas about how you "wish" your ideal life might be and ought to be. If you want to break away from the shiftless masses and begin "being" that ideal rather than just "wishing" it, your first job will be to create a Dreams List. This crucial list is your conscious act of introspecting and identifying all those floating wishes and then crystallizing them in writing.
The Dreams List offers you a comprehensive set of your own desires in concrete form, objectified for your examination. It is not a list of commitments, only of possibilities that will excite and motivate you to press forward, to do the hard work needed to make the most valuable of your Dreams into reality. It will help to remember the five general categories for Dreams: What you would like to become; What you would like to contribute; What you would like to create; What you would like to own; and Where you would like to travel.
To extract these many ideas from your subconscious, find a quiet place, away from distractions, with pen and paper, and tell yourself: "If I had unlimited time, talent, money, knowledge, self-confidence, and support from my family, here is a list of everything I would like to do with my life." Let the Dreams flow from your mind through your pen to your paper. Prepare to spend an hour or more to allow plenty of time to capture those gushing Dreams in writing.
To illustrate this approach, our young sailor who opened this story could introspect and identify two particular Dreams:
Travel to 50 major seaports around the world.
Create a fulfilling romantic relationship with my ideal woman.
How do you select which of your Dreams to pursue? You need a system by which to evaluate those Dreams and determine which prove their worth in your personal values system. Validation of worthwhile Dreams provides the linchpin in the Life Blueprint exercise. You cannot overestimate the importance of assuring this system of validation aligns with hard reality. To do otherwise would engage you in self-delusion and put your ship in danger of sinking before it even leaves port.
The system for identifying the Dreams that prove worthy of transformation into Goals is the Values List. The Values List lets you "e-value-ate" each Dream for its benefits and detriments. But even the terms "benefit" and "detriment" themselves require definitions. By what standard does one measure a Dream's particular quality as a "benefit" or a "detriment"?
Sadly, although SuperSelf instructs the reader to identify his Values List in writing, it does not offer a methodology for checking that Values List against objective reality. For Givens, the Values List remains an issue of subjective individual preference. Happily, the Ideal Self program deliberately rectifies this shortcoming by employing the Objectivist ethics as the foundation of its values system.
The Objectivist ethics advocates three core Values that arise naturally from man's unique nature as a rational animal. The three supreme and ruling Values for which you must consciously strive in order to sustain and advance your own life are: Reason, your only tool of knowledge; Purpose, your selected forms of happiness; and Self-Esteem, your sense of certainty that you are able to live and worthy of living. Of these three, Reason is the most important Value and the one that makes all others possible. Ayn Rand's book The Virtue of Selfishness supplies a full proof of the tie between these Values and your life. Your local Objectivist Club offers regular events where you can meet others to discuss these Values at length.
Note the mutually supportive relationship between these three Values and your life. If you want to set Goals to achieve a stream of joyful experiences, those emotions serve as the ultimate Purpose of the Goals. However, to bring the Goals to fruition, you must use Reason to set and achieve them and you must have the Self-Esteem needed to believe you have the capacity and worth to accomplish and enjoy the results. You need all three of the Objectivist "supreme and ruling" Values to live the good life on this earth.
To understand these Values allegorically: Self-Esteem would be the design, construction and constant upgrading of your ship; Purpose would be the plotting and sailing of your course; and Reason would be the thinking process you would use to achieve both.
The Value of Purpose serves the crucial role of deriving through introspection a person's most important forms of happiness. Our young sailor's two Dreams leave clues to two of his derivative values:
With your Dreams List committed to paper and your Values List thoroughly proven and explicitly identified, you have solidly grounded the foundations for your Life Blueprint. Your ship's project requirements have become well defined. Now comes the time to set Goals. This exercise corresponds to the commitment of drafting pen to paper to design your ship and plot your course. You will almost certainly have to break each Dream down into smaller, manageable Goals, each of which brings you progressively closer to fulfillment of the Dream.
Goal setting is a science governed by natural laws. As in engineering, you cannot break natural laws; you can only break yourself against them. Five criteria known through Reason set the standards by which to establish a Goal, and they abbreviate SMART: Specific, Measurable,
Action-oriented, Realistic and Time-bounded.
Specific: You must identify the Goal in precise words so that you can know by observation when you have achieved it.
Measurable: You must be able to measure progress toward achieving the Goal.
Action-oriented: The Goal definition must center
on an egoistic action verb and be achievable through your own actions.
Realistic: The Goal must not violate any laws of nature or other constraints that make it impossible to
achieve--including contradictions with other Goals or with the three supreme
and ruling Values.
Time-bounded: The Goal must have a target completion date.
By constructing your written Goals according to the time-proven SMART formula, you maximize your chances for success at achieving them. You also stand a much greater likelihood of enjoying the journey to their fulfillment.
Our young sailor could define clearly two Goals that would put him on the road to achieving his Dreams:
By June 1, 2005, I become a commissioned naval officer.
By October 1, 2004, I define specifically the qualities of my ideal woman.
So now, you have set some Goals. How do you achieve them? Any worthwhile Goal requires long-range planning. Such planning demands that you break the Goal down into manageable Activities.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines "activity" as "a process ... that an organism carries on or participates in by virtue of being alive". As a living organism, you must pursue Goals that serve Values that ultimately sustain or advance your life in some way.
In SuperSelf, Charles Givens instructs you to complete one Action Plan for each Goal on your list. In his words, "By the yard, it's hard, but by the inch, it's a cinch." If you remain unsure how to get started toward achieving the Goal, then specify a "learning Activity" as the first Activity on your Action Plan. Ideally, you should be able to complete each Activity in a day. If you identify an Activity that takes longer than a day to complete, break it into smaller Activities that each take a day or less.
You must evaluate each Activity the same way you evaluated each Goal. You must judge whether the Activity is SMART. In this case, however, determining whether an Activity is "Relevant" depends not on
Value, but Virtue. How do you grade each Activity as virtuous or vicious?
In the Objectivist ethics, six Virtues practiced consistently empower you to gain and keep the three supreme and ruling
Values and to achieve your Ideal Self.
To gain and keep Reason, you must practice four Virtues.
You practice Independence by accepting the responsibility of forming your own judgments and of living by the work of your own mind.
You practice Integrity by remaining loyal in action to your rational convictions and values.
You practice Honesty by refusing to fake reality or to pretend that facts are other than what they are.
You practice Justice by objectively judging people's character and conduct, granting to each person that which he earns.
To gain and keep Purpose, you must practice Productiveness, your acquisition of knowledge and shaping of matter to fit your purpose, translating your ideas into physical form and remaking the earth into the image of your values.
To gain and keep Self-Esteem, you must practice Pride, your commitment to achieving your own moral perfection by shaping yourself into the image of your own chosen values.
I call these six Virtues "Excellent Habits of Rational Passion". As you study Objectivism and understand just how profoundly these Virtues keep you grounded to reality, you will learn to appreciate the hard work that Ayn Rand performed over many years to identify these virtues. When practiced consistently, these Virtues will deliver to you enormous Values and help you to live the life of your Dreams.
The first Activity in each Action Plan for our young sailor's Goals could be:
Read official guide to becoming a commissioned naval
Read Dennis Neder's book Being a Man in a Woman's
Daily Activities List
By now, you should have a complete set of valuable Goals and their virtuous Action Plans dedicated to print. Allegorically, you commence "cutting metal" to refurbish your ship or even commence your voyage along your plotted course. Which approach you begin first-Self-Esteem or Purpose-is entirely up to your Reason. This is your ship and your voyage. You are the captain.
Your Daily Activities List serves as your personal calendar, your method for achieving your Goals step by step over time. Once per week, sit down for an hour and review your Goals List and Action Plans. Examine your Daily Activities List for the coming weeks and insert Activities from your Action Plans into your Daily Activities List across those days. Review your Dreams List and add any new Dreams that come to mind. Repeat the previous exercises to evaluate and even realize those Dreams.
If you do not already have a personal calendar or day planner, Franklin Covey makes an excellent one. Visit
http://www.franklincovey.com to learn about their famous day planners. Alternatively, software-based systems like Microsoft Outlook offer exceptional ways to integrate your Daily Activities List seamlessly with your Action Plans and Goals.
As he sails the high seas, our young sailor could schedule time every day to complete the Activities he needs to accomplish his Goals.
The Life Blueprint exercise will greatly amplify your self-awareness over your many remaining years. Weekly appointments with yourself to review and refine your Life Blueprint will expand your vision of the possible. Decades from now, as the sun sets on the voyage called your life, and you head for decommissioning at your final port of call, you can look with great Self-Esteem at the many Goals you accomplished with Purpose using the power of your Reason.
In closing, let me complete the inter-generational dialogue that opened this article.
Our fresh young sailor continued to query the salty old sea captain, "How do you keep yourself out of that predicament I just described-getting caught between a violent storm and a dangerous reef-and stay on a profitable course?"
"How you do that," continued the captain, "is to study and integrate into your being a philosophy for living on earth-Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand."