The Power of Understanding Yourself: The Key to Self-Discovery, Personal Development, and Being the Best You - Dave Mitchell 2019
Core Ideology: The Crush of Juice, Stems, Skins, and Seeds
In victory, you deserve Champagne. In defeat, you need it!
— Napoleon Bonaparte
There are several exciting occasions when you live in wine country. There is the spring release, generally a coordinated weekend when nearly all the wineries in the area make available their new wines for public consumption. This event is repeated in the fall, when it is rather obviously called the fall release. The most exhilarating of all the moments for me, however, is the harvest. Although not a precise point on a calendar, it reflects a moment in time for all winemakers when the grapes are picked in the vineyard, transported to winery, and subjected to the crush. The crush generates the must — a mix of juice with the solid components of the grape like stems, seeds, and skins. It is the raw material from which wine is made.
The crush is an obvious metaphor for distilling one’s core ideology. It occurs after the grapes have been picked and sorted, so many of the inputs have been firmly established. It occurs before the grapes have been converted to wine, and have therefore not yet been linked to the outputs. The crush reflects the first big connection of inputs and outputs. It is the core ideology of winemaking. It is here and in the execution that follows that we will determine if we are indeed aligned.
As we explored in Chapter 3, an understanding of the concept of horizontal alignment in organizational psychology lends itself to self-discovery. We can map our lives out on paper in a manner very similar to the organizational chart at the beginning of that chapter. As adults, we find ourselves existing within a general environment, one that contains financial, relational, cultural components in addition to all manner of individual forces. We have considerations related to our health, geography, living arrangements — all of which are inputs affecting our lives, but not controlling them if we so choose.
In winemaking, we are extracting the best essence of the grape into the bottle of wine. This also means being mindful of those qualities that might detract from alignment. As humans, we are a collection of many characteristics. I happen to think that we are good at our core. But I also know that we all have attributes that can detract from being our best Me. Crush begins a process during which the winemaker makes many decisions about achieving desired outputs. These include identifying just the right number of components that, if applied too often or in too great a ratio, might misalign the wine. And so it is with us. A journey of extracting Me requires awareness of all our qualities, not just those of which we are most proud.
It is helpful to have at least a cursory understanding of cognitive development to truly explore the three most important questions along the path to extracting Me. These questions are:
1. Who am I?
2. Why am I who I am?
3. What can I do to be who I wish to be authentically?
For the purposes of this book, the answers to all these questions are reflected in the cognitive function of the brain. There are those people whose physical characteristics play a large role in how they perceive themselves. That is a different book. As such, for the purposes of answering those three questions, it is helpful to explore our own cognitive development. And the path from birth to adulthood as it relates to our cognitive development generally intersects with the work of psychologist Jean Piaget.
Piaget is most well known for organizing cognitive development into four age-associated stages culminating with the formal operational stage. It is not my intent with this book to explain, endorse, or criticize Piaget’s work. However, there is no doubt that his work provided an early framework for understanding how we think and how that molds our perception of ourselves within the context of a complicated environment. The most important realization for the purposes of our own self-discovery is the realization that our Me begins being formed at the earliest of ages, is most influenced in our youth, and continues to evolve as we age.
Each experience we have in life becomes a smaller element of the entire inventory of life events. It is for this reason — I believe — that it becomes harder for us to change as we age. I imagine our true self as something like concrete. It begins soupy and pliable and hardens over time. It takes great force to break it once it is fully formed. In this way, it is essential that we examine how we hardened to appreciate the shape that we have attained.
I believe we all benefit from examining our childhood. What did we enjoy doing? What types of games did we most often play? What adults served as role models to us and why? What are the earliest memories of recognizing the traits of others that we most wanted to emulate? The answers to these questions offer important clues to how we formed our own core ideology as we entered adulthood. And while these continue to evolve after Piaget’s final stage (postformal thinking), the influence of our environment during childhood remains strong. And if you desire to change that influence for some reason, you must first understand that it exists and why.
As in organizational development, our personal development begins with an understanding of inputs: the general environment within which we exist. Ask yourself these questions about your life. Examine the experiences, relationships, and activities that shaped your cognition. What do those things mean as they relate to how you think, what you prioritize, who you are? As we cobble together a true definition of Me, we must examine all aspects of how Me developed. Let’s do that in a formal way. Here are some questions that you might ask yourself to understand your inputs. Feel free to let any and all these questions lead you down other paths of metacognition. Write your answers down. Repeat this exercise often. Contemplate what it means and how they relate to who you are today. By the way, this is an exercise in deep self-examination, so be prepared for some visceral emotional reactions. It’s all good.
· In what ways did my parents contribute to who I am today? Siblings? Friends?
· What memorable childhood events or experiences have had a lasting impact on me?
· What successes in my past have made me the proudest? Why?
· What failures have I experienced that left a lasting impression? Why?
· What individuals have served as mentors to me and why?
· What characteristics in others are most inspiring to me? Why?
· What characteristics in others irritate me the most? Why?
· What are my happiest memories?
· What are my saddest memories?
· If I could change one thing about my childhood, what would it be? Why?
To stimulate the process here, let me share an example of an individual who had a huge influence to me as a mentor.
My human resources development career began at Marshall Field’s in Chicago. Marshall Field’s was a large, regional upscale department store chain primarily in the Midwest. Working at Marshall Field’s was my first experience in a corporate setting. I began as the training manager at the Old Orchard store in Skokie, Illinois. Within a year, I was promoted to the same role at the flagship store on State Street in downtown Chicago. The boy from little old Greenup, Illinois, population 1,500 was now in an office on the 13th floor in the third-largest city in the United States. There were more people shopping and working in this store than lived in my hometown. I was overwhelmed.
My responsibilities were to ensure all the employees, over 1,000, were properly trained on the point-of-sale system, understood the company policies and procedures, and were prepared to deliver exceptional customer service for which Marshall Field’s was legendary. I still remember taking the train into the city, walking with the multitudes, and making my way to the human resources office for my first day of work. My boss was Susan Wally. Susan Wally changed my life.
Susan Wally was six feet tall before slipping on the four-inch heels that she wore every day. Her hair was fiery red and she wore glasses that would have made Elton John pause. Her fashion sense steered toward neon. She had an easy laugh that came in one size, like everything else about her. Susan was a presence. The irony in all this was that Susan was the Director of Human Resources, typically a role filled by the most conservative, image-conscious professionals. But Susan was certainly not conservative.
I arrived in Susan’s kingdom, and it truly was, with a reputation as a hardworking, compliant, smart, and reliable overachiever. I had shown great promise as a presenter but was careful to stick to the corporate endorsed scripting, timing, and objectives. I was a worker bee. Susan did not place a high value on worker bees. What she wanted was some panache. To say that Susan liked to think outside the box would insinuate that she had any awareness of the existence of boxes and would therefore be inaccurate. Initially, I was petrified of Susan because she wanted things from me that I had never utilized in myself. She wanted me to spread my wings, take chances … let my freak flag fly. “This is State Street, Dave. We don’t comply, we create. We don’t follow them, they follow us.” Susan would say this about the corporate human resources people who were housed only one floor above us in the place we store personnel would call “the ivory tower,” with a hiss.
So, I started to dip my toe in the notion of cutting loose. Initially, this was to win favor with Susan, but very soon I realized I liked going rogue. I became more outspoken. I challenged ideas, approaches, even people. My classes became more fun and, perhaps, a bit more unpredictable. Susan Wally tapped into my inner weirdo and I liked it. To this day, my style as a presenter owes its origins to the influence of Susan Wally. True to form, Susan entered my life like a comet and left it the same way. After being promoted to Director of Human Resources at another store and eventually leaving Marshall Field’s, I lost track of Susan. Many times I have tried to track her down to let her know how much she influenced me, but to no avail. If you are reading this book, Susan, I would love to hear from you.
Susan was instrumental in helping me realize my own form of creativity. She gave me confidence to take chances and provided the work environment I needed to “find my voice.” My educational philosophy of “laugh and learn” was in large part a result of this period in my life. That is what an input looks like when you examine your own life. Take some time now and complete the Inputs section of the Extracting Me Worksheet.
Assessing Your Desired Outputs
Inputs —as they relate to an organization — are only one side of the equation. We also have desired outputs, which are arguably even more important to identifying your individual core ideology, since they represent how you want your life to be measured. In fact, a truly internal locus of control orientation would dictate that it is the outputs, not the inputs that determine the person. Most of our life, experiences as a child — particularly the first three stages of Jean Piaget’s model, which occur before the age of 12 — were dictated to us. As adults, it is essential that we assess the outputs we aspire to in life and confront the likelihood that we possess some cognitive schemas, created in response to experiences in childhood, that run contrary to those desires.
That is the true value of horizontal alignment in both organizational and personal development. How do we connect the life experiences that have shaped us with the life results that we desire? That connection is our core ideology.
Outputs may well be like the ones I listed for a company, with just a bit of reshaping. Profitability becomes financial goals, efficiency becomes simplicity/well-being, and stakeholder satisfaction becomes our personal happiness and the health of our relationships. How do we exist within the environment we are in and experience a life that achieves our desire for a certain level of wealth, simplicity, physical and mental well-being, personal happiness, and relationship health? Of course, you can alter those outputs if you feel your life scoreboard should have different metrics. I think financial, physical, mental, and relationship health combined with personal happiness and spiritual satisfaction is a damn fine existence. It sure works for me.
When I was working in the corporate world, I was not experiencing all my desired outputs. My financial goals were okay, if not stellar, but my life was not simple, my well-being was not properly cared for, my relationships were stretched thin due to the time commitment — and I was not happy. As for spiritual issues, I ignored that completely. So, my scoreboard indicated that I was losing. And just like when an organization realizes that their core ideology is not successfully converting inputs to desired outputs, I needed to change.
First, I needed to determine: What was my desired future state? What was my vision? The reason I entered and stayed in Human Resources was that I liked to teach, develop, coach, and enhance others. With each promotion in my career, I seemed to be doing less of those things and more policy development, litigation defense, and long- term strategic consulting. It’s not that I didn’t like any of that; it just wasn’t where I found my joy. Work had become unfulfilling, sometimes even just plain drudgery. I needed to revisit my core ideology so that I could align myself with my environment and desired outputs. But each day was so filled with activity, so exhausting and busy, that I never seemed to have time to engage in any meaningful self-evaluation.
Had I taken the time to explore my inputs, my general environment, I would have recognized the misalignment. Among the joys of my youth was helping others, presenting, coaching, and teaching. The models and mentors that I had as a child were those caring teachers who took genuine pleasure in helping me understand something new, or a coach that instructed in a manner that revealed their love of improving others. Even at play, I enjoyed constructing new games and experimenting with their effectiveness.
One particular memory from my youth has been deeply imprinted on me and seems like an especially important element of my cognitive development. As it is with many of the best memories of our youth, it revolved around summer vacation. I was fortunate that my best friend, Dennis, lived just up the street from me, not more than a half mile away. Not that any point in a town of 1,500 people is particularly far away, but Dennis’s house being so close meant we spent almost every day together in the summer. Dennis’s mom, Alice, became my surrogate mother. Dennis and I would spend the summer thinking of ways to occupy our time. I never fancied myself a nostalgic person, but I do miss those days of having to figure out what to do. This was the late 1960s/early 1970s, before video games and Internet access. Heck, we only had three television stations. So most of our entertainment revolved around riding our bikes around town or finding ways to play sports: baseball, football, and basketball. When it rained, we were left to our own creative devices to figure out a way to do the latter.
We must have had a dozen ways to play baseball inside on those inclement weather days. Some were as simple as tossing a coin to determine the winners and losers of every game on the schedule for the year. Our greatest resource was the current copy of Street’s and Smith’s Baseball Yearbook. Inside was a treasure trove of player information, statistics, and team schedules. We would diligently follow that schedule, flipping a coin to determine the winner of each game for 24 teams over a 162-game schedule. Considering each game involved two teams and allowing for the playoffs, I calculate that to be just shy of 2,000 coin flips. Imagine that level of monotony in today’s world.
Most of our activities, however, were the result of days’ worth of planning, creating, discussing, and educating. The primary motivation for this was the faint knowledge of Strat-O-Matic baseball. Strat-O-Matic ran ads in Street’s and Smith’s Baseball Yearbook and it was our fantasy. But, just like those Converse Chuck Taylor All Star tennis shoes, it was not a purchase my Dad was keen on. Unfortunately, I had not yet started working either. So, we developed our own baseball card game using index cards and dice. With only the current copy of Street’s and Smith’s Baseball Yearbook, we would produce an index card for each player on each team with a table reflecting six columns and eleven rows. In each of these 66 slots on the table, we would place a symbol for outs, walks, single, double, triple and home run. We would test the results so that the dice rolls (one die for the column, two dice for the row) generate statistics that were reflective of the players’ actual performance. It wasn’t perfect; as I remember one season Sandy Alomar, Sr. won the home run title despite never hitting more than four in a season in his actual career. (It may have something to do with me being a fan of Sandy Alomar.)
The point is, it seems obvious in reflection that I had a love of creating, discussing, and educating. My previous book and most popular seminar, The Power of Understanding People, contains all these elements. It is little wonder why this program became so crucial to my success and happiness. It was in complete alignment with my life inputs and desired outputs. It reflects my core ideology.
But, 20 years after my boyhood environment and before the creation of The Power of Understanding People, I sat in a corporate office — miserable. I was indeed unaware of just how miserable I was, since most people around me were similarly miserable. Maybe that is why misery loves company. It can hide.
Then, it happened.
I can’t say that I am entirely proud of this episode in my career. In fact, it occurred as a direct result of some small amount of insubordination borne out of extreme duress. In retrospect, it was clear that I was in the end stage of a nearly five-year slow burn toward complete meltdown. I had been unhappy for a while. It’s funny how unhappiness can become so prevalent in your life that you don’t even recognize it after a while. It just becomes part of your current state; it certainly isn’t desired, but it is almost invisible. In fact, I think many of us are experiencing a current state in which unhappiness is just part of it. And that makes me sad.
Anyway, it was in the unhappy current state that I sat in one of our weekly leadership meetings. These meetings operated like a sort of briefing for our president as each of us took turns updating our peers and our boss on the developments within our departments and fielding questions from each other. As the meeting stretched on (and on, and on), I became more frustrated with discussion. Finally, the president turned to me with a simple question.
“When are we going to schedule the annual employee opinion survey?” he asked.
“Why bother, we don’t care,” I responded.
Have you ever said something that gets about two feet out of your mouth before your brain has approved its delivery? I swear I could hear the collective “GULP” of each of my peers in impressively choreographed unity. Inside my head, a little voice said, “Oh no. That’s gonna play poorly.”
It is a testament to my boss’s leadership skills that he didn’t respond. I fully expected and deserved it. But Bob merely suggested that we meet on the topic privately. Part of me thought I should bring my personal belongings with me to that meeting. Although I worried that I had gravely overstepped my position with the remark, another part of me recognized just how out of alignment I had become. This was not behavior consistent with me. Something needed to change. I had an epiphany. By the next day, I had the core ideology of the Leadership Difference, Inc. — my company.
The most amazing thing about making a commitment to identifying your core ideology is that it is so easy. It didn’t take me more than an hour to realize what needed to change. So much of my work was spent in pursuits that, at their very essence, were not having a positive effect on others. That was the source of my misalignment. For me to connect my environment — my life — with the outputs that I aspired to have, I needed a simple but radical shift. I wanted to positively impact the life of each person with whom I came in contact, just as those teachers and coaches who had done so for me. And just like that, I had my desired future state: my vision.
But how would I do this? How would I positively affect the life of each person with whom I came in contact? Throughout my career, I always felt the highest levels of self-efficacy when in front of an audience — teaching, laughing, learning. As a child, I loved to create and educate people using fun. I was always something of the class clown. I wanted to share thought-provoking perspectives on life and work through humor. I wanted to laugh and learn! BOOM! My mission: “Laugh and Learn!”
And so, in 1995, at the age of 34, I left an executive position in hospitality and started my own company with those elements of a core ideology. Twenty-three years later, I am still traveling the world delivering those thought-provoking perspectives on life and work through humor. Although my business strategies may change, my core ideology has remained constant — because today, just as then, it is aligned with my environment and my desired outputs. Thus is the power of alignment. However, although my professional core ideology has remained virtually unchanged, my personal core ideology does continually shift ever so subtly. Again, the power of alignment.
Identifying Your Core Ideology
“But what about me?” you may be asking. “How do I identify my core ideology?” Time for some more metacognition. Start by asking yourself the questions posed earlier in this chapter. What gave me joy as a child? Who most impressed me growing up? How did I like to spend my time? Many of the clues to our core ideology can be discovered by reexamining those experiences that positively shaped us.
There are also a few exercises that can help you form your core ideology. I developed one that has been very useful for guiding my own personal core ideology over the years. Let’s work through it.
Below is a list of personal attributes that can become the cornerstone for your core ideology. This is hardly comprehensive, and you can add to the list by searching the Internet (Google “core values”) or supplying your own. The point of this exercise is for you to think about Me. What gives Me joy. What fills Me with a sense of purpose. What aligns Me with my environment.
As life would have it, I am writing this chapter during March Madness and it is likely for this reason that my approach to this list reflects the style of elimination of the NCAA College Basketball Tournament. So, begin by cutting this list of 50 items by half, then by half again. Keep going until you get to 10 attributes that you think best describe you or that drive your aspirations:
· Affection (Love)
· Inner harmony
· Helping others
· Personal development
· Love of country
· Economic security
· Order (stability)
· Solving problems
· Political activism
· Social justice
· Physical appearance
· Physical labor
· Fixing things
· Playing games
As an example, here are the 10 attributes that I selected for me in no particular order:
· Economic security
· Inner harmony
· Social justice
· Helping others
Remember, you can add your own descriptors to the list if you like. You may also want to engage friends and family in this exercise as well, particularly if you are more extraverted. In fact, this can be a very cool exercise to do in a small group. It is important to point out that just because an item doesn’t make your top 10 doesn’t mean it has no impact on you. I believe myself to be a very empathetic person, but empathy is not on my list. That is what makes this exercise deceptively challenging. You must consider what really defines you, not merely what qualities you possess.
Once you have narrowed your list to 10 items, it is likely that all these attributes play a significant role in your core ideology. However, I recommend that you narrow your focus just a little more. So, cut your list to the top five.
This will be hard.
Again, discussing this with loved ones can help you separate your aspirations and attributes from your actions. Actions are more reflective of your ideology than your aspirations — you know, the whole judge-a-man-by-his-deeds-not-his-words thing. For example, I aspire to impact social justice, but my actions — other than the occasional activism march or political post on social media — betrays that priority. Perhaps my core ideology will evolve to elevate this attribute in my future and thus convert aspirations to actions, but my current approach to life suggests that social justice is not among my top five. Sometimes other people can provide feedback about how your actions and aspirations differ. Be openminded; as they say, the truth hurts sometimes.
My top five settled as:
· Family happiness
· Economic security
· Helping others
What are yours? List them in the Outputs section of the Extracting Me Worksheet.
Are you surprised? Have they changed over the course of your life? Mine have. As little as 10 years ago, my longer list would have contained more elements related to achievement and competitiveness. In just the past five years, inner harmony and loyalty would probably have been on the short list. The point is that core ideology is not static. You must evaluate it at regular intervals to ensure that you are horizontally aligned as discussed in the previous chapter. As your life inputs and desired outputs change over time, so, too, will your core ideology. Some items may always help define it — family happiness and helping others have probably always been a part of my core ideology — whereas others will elevate and diminish based on what you are dealing with or what you are aspiring to.
The final two steps to this exercise will require some introspection. Although it can be useful to brainstorm with others, the final definition of your core ideology is a deeply personal undertaking. First, define each of the five attributes that you feel best describe what is important and true about you in your own words. Many of the characteristics appearing in the original list of 50 have different meanings to each person. For example, the word spirituality can mean a completely different thing for me than you.
So, write your definition for each of the five descriptors. The definition should be brief but specific to you. You may find that when you define one of your attributes, you include language from another characteristic that was on your list of 10 but did not make your list of five. That’s perfectly fine.
Here are my definitions:
· Family happiness — To do what I can to promote a family experience that is loving, fulfilling, secure, and free of unnecessary hardship.
· Economic security — To have enough money to live a lifestyle that is comfortable and allows us to experience joy and contentment relative to our material needs.
· Teaching — To facilitate knowledge, awareness, and personal development in others while remaining open to new perspectives and information for myself.
· Freedom — To manage my life, my time and my effort in a manner that reflects my priorities independent of the demands and expectations of others.
· Helping others — To be a positive resource to those around me.
How would you define your five core values? Write these definitions for each core value on your Extracting Me Worksheet.
Once you have written those definitions, you have everything you need to write your own personal core ideology statement. Remember, my professional core ideology was “to positively affect the life of each person with whom I come in contact” using a “laugh and learn” style of teaching. It heartens me to realize how closely that aligns with my core values of teaching and helping others. Considering that ideology has consistently guided my success for the past 23 years, I would say that it has also aligned with my value of economic security and freedom, too. And, considering that my work keeps me on the road around 200 days a year, it probably has contributed to my family’s happiness. (I kid, I kid.)
My personal core ideology would read like this:
To contribute to a loving, happy, and secure family while maintaining my freedom, economically and philosophically, to facilitate knowledge and transfer of learning for the purposes of being a positive and joyful influence on others.
What is your core ideology? Write your core ideology on your Extracting Me Worksheet.
Although the final product may be a simple paragraph, even just a sentence, the importance of articulating your core ideology cannot be overstated. It is what anchors you in life. It is what guides you and your journey. I have noticed that when I am feeling out of sorts or particularly stressed, it is almost always because I have strayed from my core ideology. It is a large part of Me.
Document your core ideology. Print a copy. Put it in a visible place. Refer to it often. Life is a noisy, confusing, and complicated experience within which we can lose our sense of self very easily. Your core ideology is the equivalent of a signpost on a long and isolated hiking trail. Heed it.
One last thought on the concepts of alignment and core ideology. You will note that Figure 3.1 in Chapter 3 included “vertical alignment.” In an organization, vertical alignment refers to each level of the organization, and each process contained within it must be aligned around the core ideology. That means that every policy, procedure, philosophy, behavior, evaluation, and expectation should align with the organizational beliefs. The words on a poster in the employee cafeteria espousing noble values and practices are worthless if they aren’t reflected in the daily operations of the business. There is no credibility in a company that says one thing and does another.
The same is true about us. You have just spent meaningful time in a pursuit of your core ideology. You examined the life experiences that shaped you and the desired future state to which you aspire. You created your map for that journey. All of that is meaningless if your core ideology is not reflected in all aspects of your life. We all know people who behave one way in their professional roles and another in their personal life. For your core ideology to have the desired impact on your life, it must be adopted wholly, not in part. That is the meaning of vertical alignment as it relates to personal development.
We all can struggle or temporarily lose our way and get out of alignment. For me, when I focus too much on my own needs, I can inadvertently betray my core ideology. If I pursue my own impulses without being mindful of the impact it has on the life of another, I am fundamentally misaligned with my core ideology. The result is very similar to a misaligned organization. I do not reach my full potential. Episodes like this will happen, but the more specifically we define our core ideology and take care to remain aligned, the better we become, thus, the importance of both alignment and core ideology. Think of core ideology as the person you both are and continue to aspire to be despite changes in life inputs. Horizontal alignment is identifying that core ideology that connects from where you came to the desired future state (or even current state is you have arrived, so to speak). Vertical alignment is about ensuring that all your behavior, in all parts of your life, aligns with that core ideology. The analogy in the wine world would be that a winemaker will apply a core ideology to the making of his wine that responds to the inputs to achieve the desired outputs. That same core ideology will be applied to every type of wine that the winemaker makes. He does not alter his core ideology for each wine.
When successful winemakers examine the fresh harvest from the vine, they do so through the lens of ideology. They have a clear philosophy for converting the bountiful clusters of fruit during the crush into an amazing expression of the grape. The crush creates the must. It is from this concoction that the wine will be created. Just like the bitter components of the grape — stems and seeds — contribute to the character of the wine, we are shaped by both our good and bitter experiences. The crush begins the execution of that ideology, the input of the process, transforming the incoming grape into a desired final output — an amazing wine. All of their efforts are aligned on that final output. And they do it with their individual panache, their own unique style.