From Ethics & Philosophy to Daily Engagement & Application
How I’m learning to become an active learner and engager in molding my life
My Background: Academia & Education
My background in Ethics & Philosophy (alongside Comparative Religion, Comparative Literature and History) does not lend itself to action. Rather, it lends itself to holding one’s chin and nodding slowly whilst debating centuries old thoughts of dead white guys. If you’re feeling frisky, you may even delve in to modern philosophies (only a few centuries old) and, if you really want to shake your tail-feather, there’s always post-modern thought. Oh, you naughty vixen!
Regardless, these are primarily cerebral pursuits filled with logical statements, thought experiments and the triumphant dismembering of another’s theoretical framework. Ah, such fun! In essence, with the potential exception of the Ancient Greek philosophers and some Eastern thought traditions, the closest one side-saddles action (or acting based on one’s knowledge) in the modern age is through discourse, wild hand gesticulations, and throwing a dry eraser at the guy toting the merits of Solipsism — I mean, C’MON, really? Apologies, I digress.
The point is: those who study Philosophy and Ethics often (not always) live in the theoretical world; the theories do not always translate to living daily life and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. It’s not often, for example, that we come across someone who adopts Kantian ethics (because oh good grief) or applies the theories of the Stoics , despite extolling its virtues. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m sure there are plenty of people who study Philosophy or Ethics that are able to apply their understanding directly to their daily life consistently. I was just never one of them. I was pleased as a kitten with a ball of yarn to simply play with concepts (and occasionally claw the life out of a theory). That was my comfort zone; to speak not from experience or action, but smugly by pontificating on this theory or that — at a safe distance from engaging in actual life.
My Challenge: Application
It was only after meeting some very successful entrepreneurs, who graciously agreed to mentor me and my husband after extensive pleading, that I realised the fundamental errors of my way: when attempting to progress your life, theories that remain in the realm of the theoretical (whilst potentially fascinating) are bloody useless. My mentors, with patient curiosity and love, questioned me in ways that I didn’t expect. In my hubris, after engaging with a plethora of philosophical ideas that convinced me of my intellectual superiority, I can only imagine how cute my mentors thought it was to systematically challenge everything I knew through a handful of basic questions. They humbled me by helping me to realise that (1) I was sleep-walking through life without even identifying my ideal vision of how I wanted to live and (2) that my current mentality and actions were not leading me to how I wanted to live.
“If you choose the path, you don’t get to choose your outcome. Perhaps you should identify the outcome you seek first and then find the appropriate paths that will lead you there.”
As my mentors sagely noted, I was going about things a bit ass-backwards. “Of all the things that you are pursuing right now, including being the Head of Ethics & Philosophy at a school, which will lead you to your ideal lifestyle?” Bing. Bang. Pow. Whamo! “And who exactly are you learning from? Do they live the kind of life that you would want to lead (e.g. freedom, finances, marriage, friendships, etc)? If it’s your parents or friends, who you should of course love and respect, do they live your vision of an ideal life in such a way that they should be advising you on decisions? BLAMO!
Over the course of 6–8 months, my husband and I reflected carefully on these questions. We dream built our life in exquisite detail and evaluated all of our decisions alongside the outcome we desperately wanted to actualise. More importantly, we made a commitment to consciously choose our mentors, to choose our outcome and to put lessons in to practice (to the best of our ability); the hell with theory, we were embracing a growth-mindset in all its pain and glory.
Daily Engagement & Application:
It seems that the biggest battle in changing the trajectory of life is to remember that you even decided to do so! The day to day activities of life, in their chaos and mediocrity, make it very easy to simply compartmentalise all those well-meaning aspirations. Recognising this, we made a conscious effort to engage.
Step 1: We created a repository of carefully selected books, podcasts, audios and aspirational leaders in industry. From John C Maxwell to Brene Brown to Andy Frisella, to name a few, we fortified our ability to self-reflect and develop a growth mind-set with clarity and honesty. From Dale Carnegie and Napoleon Hill to David Allen and Darren Hardy, we surrounded ourselves with strategies to become better; better with time, better with productivity, better with each other, and better with finances. We decided to fight the daily negativity of life and people by surrounding ourselves with those who successfully changed their life.
Step 2: We carefully crafted our daily habits. For us, this meant the following:
- Daily 30 minutes reading — and not the news! Rather, material from our repository of mentorship. To be conscious of what we’re learning, we’ve adopted Ryan Holiday’s advice on taking notes whilst reading; read it here, great stuff!
- Daily 30 minutes audio — this was easily done by converting our car in to a mobile University on our trips to work and our jaunts around town; with great podcasts, this was an absolute delight!
- Daily Communication — this meant communicating directly with our mentors on a daily basis, who encouraged us to ask questions and reflect on our progress. If you had a direct line to someone who successfully built their life in a manner that you would want to emulate, wouldn’t you want to talk to them everyday? We were fortunate that they took us under their wings with no exepctation of compensation and with only encouragement, patience and love in their hearts. For those less fortunate, there is nothing stopping you from engaging with people you’d like to emulate through social media etc. For example, Andy Frisella regularly engages with his podcast listeners and has a weekly session dedicated to answering questions. Be creative and do something to attract the attention of the mentor you hope to gain — add value to them!
Step 3: We track our daily habits like addicts— you can’t really gauge progress without tracking it. We use Habitshare in order to track our habits and we love the ability to write comments on daily progress. This becomes quite fun and engaging if you have an accountability buddy that you can share your habits with and message each other for support! We also embarked on 90 day challenges to further solidify our positive behaviour. It’s amazing what you will do in order to meet your daily habit goals on a 90 day challenge (especially with an accountability buddy). Suddenly, the chaos and mundanity of life blur in the background as you become laser focused on completing your daily habits. For some fantastic example of such challenges, I encourage you to check out the following Twitter campaigns:
- #100DaysOfCode (here’s a great article on its history too, written by Quincy Larson about Alexander Kallaway’s idea)
Combine tracking habits with a no excuses attitude and excellent mentorship material — you have a winning recipe. As Jim Rohn says,
“We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.”
Step 4: We prioritise our decisions in a very specific manner. My husband’s background is in Economics (he is the only person on this planet that can explain that nonsense to me in a way that makes sense) and I vividly remember him explaining the concept of opportunity cost; it’s not complicated (as it revolves around scarcity and choice) — everytime you say ‘yes’ to something, you are invariably saying ‘no’ to something else. For example, if you say ‘yes’ to attending your friend’s BBQ, you are saying ‘no’ to writing or coding or business networking or (x) for those 2–3 hours. And that’s fine, if you are consciously making that decision with no remorse. As such, before we make any decision, my husband and I will always ask the question: will saying ‘yes’ to (x) opportunity (however mundane it may be) get us closer to our ideal life? That may sound silly, but it’s AMAZING how quickly it clarifies priorities. Indeed, it’s never about the thing itself, or it’s inherent worth; rather, it’s about the implicit time cost and what that will negate from another opportunity.
The truth is, I’m still on my journey. I haven’t reached my ideal life and we are still making daily ‘sacrifices’ in order to achieve it. I am, however, far closer than I was 3 years ago and I’m engaging life, learning and love in a fundamentally different way. These concepts have moved from my head (theoretical and philosophical) to my heart (emotional and humbling) to my feet (getting out there and doing).
If any of this resonated with you, give a girl a slamming high five. It’s always comforting to know when one person’s crazy matches another. Or join me in the Twitterverse!