“All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.”
“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.”
Where the tactician fails, the strategist succeeds.
Screenwriters are strategists. A screenplay, or movie script, is an extremely stripped-down version of a story. But like every good story, it has a purpose, or plot, which culminates in one climactic moment, which is the fulfillment of that purpose. Professional screenwriters know that the best way to write a script is to construct a plot by writing backwards from the climax using reverse cause and effect. The climax is the object of the plot and the point on the horizon that the story is moving towards. For example, in the movie Gladiator, the object of the script is that Maximus (Russell Crowe) defeats the Emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) and with his dying words restores Marcus Aurelius’ wishes, calling for Gracchus to be reinstated, the slaves to be freed, and the power of Rome to be restored to the Senate. From this climactic moment, the Gladiator screenwriter asks himself, “What is the cause of this effect?” The writer constructs the entire plot of the movie simply by asking and answering this question over and over again. In the same way, you can work backwards to build your life around a climactic moment for your life.
The reason so many people fail to fulfill their purpose in life, even after they define it, is that they are tacticians, not strategists. Tactical people are concerned with day-to-day tasks and can only focus on the current situation. Tacticians spend their lives putting out proverbial fires, worrying about things that won’t matter 5 days later, let alone 5 years later, and engaging in meaningless battles that will not advance their stories. Tactical people crave constant information and communication, wasting their time with here-today, gone-tomorrow gossip and get-rich-quick schemes for making money. Conversely, a strategic person stays relentlessly concerned with the long-term, sidestepping insignificant conflicts and keeping her sites set on her story’s climax. Strategists see the end before the beginning. These people do not waste valuable time and energy on disruptive people and information when there is nothing to be won. Instead, they spend their lives crafting an entire campaign, which allows them to reach their mountain peaks, and fulfill their purposes in life.
Running errands and answering emails is not a strategy. Being a strategist requires that you work backwards, or from the top of your mountain peak back down, by aligning your purpose in life, first with your core values, and then with your day-to-day activities. Understand: this is the exact opposite of what tacticians do. Tactical people let their to-do lists guide their lives, as if errands and emails will help them fulfill their master plans. These people check off their daily calendars without any thought of the values that are guiding them or the overall goals they are trying to achieve. Trickle forward goal setting does not work. Achieving your goal requires that you work backwards from the climax of your story. Fulfillment of your purpose is the effect and your core values are the cause.
As a strategist, you must first find and name your overall purpose in life. Identify the one thing that makes you come alive and leap on the inside. This overall goal for your life should pull you towards it just by saying its name. Then, you must identify the core values that are guiding your life right now. A core value is a particular trait that you give a lot of importance to, something you perceive as ethically good. Examples of core values that many people have include freedom, security, love, connection, intimacy, health, success, significance, vitality, cheerfulness, productivity, graciousness, contribution, wealth, patience, piety, faith, intelligence, and wisdom. Everyone has their own set of core values. The key is your core values are what got you to where you are today, and they are what will get you to where you want to go tomorrow.
I like to refer to a people’s core values as their singularities. In physics, a singularity is a point of infinite density and infinitesimal volume. Singularities exist at the center of black holes, which are regions of space that have a gravitational field so intense that no matter or radiation can escape. Likewise, the pull of your core values on your entire life is so intense, so massive, that nothing you do can escape its influence. Every thought you have, decision you make, and action you take, is affected by your singularities. Yet, most people go through their entire lives without defining their singularities. Once you define your singularities, you will see why you do what you do. You will also see how you have to change your singularities in order to fulfill your purpose in life. This will help you start achieving your goal immediately. Imagine the astronomical force you would generate towards your purpose of living by aligning all of your singularities with that purpose.
To determine your singularities, make a list of all the things you currently value. Start by writing down all of your strengths. Do you value your freedom? Do you value your security? Do you value your graciousness, your cheerfulness, your intelligence, or your vitality? Focus on the strengths that have helped you accomplish goals in the past, especially goals you are proud of. Which of your positive traits have helped get you to where you are today? Is it your drive to be important, or significant? Is it your desire to contribute something and leave a legacy? Is it your desire to travel more, to have more wealth, or more health?
Also, consider the inspiring traits you see in other people. Which traits do you admire in others? Is there someone at the office that helps you increase happiness and generate confidence? Do you have a friend who constantly influences your motivation and helps you find ways to enjoy life more? What traits does that person have? Write down both the traits you already see in yourself and the traits you desire to see in yourself. These are your singularities and are likely guiding your entire life right now. In my next post, I will discuss how your singularities qualify you for your purpose of living.