Emails on purpose

Correspondence with an old friend, triggered by a post i came across on Tony Tjan’s Harvard Business blog:

Dear R–

When i read this i thought of you and me. It’s off some website for venture capitalists, of all things, but the five questions made a lot of sense to me:

These five questions, when asked in the order presented, form an effective diagnostic tool that can provide better guidance to mentees, employees, or generally anyone with whom you are playing the role of a counsellor. Additionally, they can serve as a self-diagnosis of one’s own capabilities and opportunities.

Here are the questions:

1. What is it that you really want to be and do?
2. What are you doing really well that is helping you get there?
3. What are you not doing well that is preventing you from getting there?
4. What will you do differently tomorrow to meet those challenges?
5. How can I help / where do you need the most help?

I hope this morning’s cafe is suitably stocked with beans and babes.

Dear Groggy,
Lots to think about there. Symptom: I’m avoiding thinking about [it]. Hmm, no, not entirely true. That’s what I come to the cafe for. Enlightenment.

I think things are exactly the way they should be. You and I and the world are just as they should be according to everything that’s happened up to this minute. The issue (for me) is change. How to change?

Case in point: I read the five questions first trying to figure what I want to do, be, etc. Struggling. “Gee is that what I really want? Is that going to work? A painter? Do I still, deep down, want to be a drummer in a rock band…?” I can probably do fine without being a drummer at all. But then, what to get passionate about? …

A few minutes later I reread [the questions]. This time I plugged in my life as it is. All my “problems,” difficulties, and weaknesses…. Substitute the first question with “Who is it that you really are?” Then the rest of the questions answer themselves. The first thing that came to mind after that was something that a self-help guru said. I paraphrase: It’s no more difficult to do it the right way than it is to do it the wrong way.

Okay — change the answer to the first question. My impulse, no, need, is to answer with that magical something that will be passionate and wonderful and drive me for the rest of my long and wonderful life. (Which is kind of a cop-out, when you think about it. If something drives me [then] I don’t have to drive myself.) But hey, didn’t we just [make a mutual bet] based on the premise that working hard drives your ass (once you get going), and the inspiration follows. When asked if he only wrote when in the mood or if he really had to work at it, Somerset Maugham responded that he only wrote when inspired. “Fortunately,” he added, “inspiration strikes me at exactly nine a.m. every morning.”)

So the thing is, then, to choose. Chocolate or vanilla? Vanilla or chocolate? It doesn’t really matter. Choose one and go with it. I think choosing = changing. Kinda like my grandma telling me to put a smile on my face. Some work to get it on, but once there it’s awfully hard to ignore. Passion.


Whew — holy tangled web, Batman! I can relate, though; boy, can i relate. For me it all stems from the first question, What is it that you really want to be and do? Once that’s answered, the rest of the questions are just practicalities.

But that first one’s a problematic bastard. First off, it presupposes that there is something you “really want to be and do” — a premise that would not stand up to much historical scrutiny, methinks. It’s a notion that would have arisen along with the Enlightenment and the age of the individual, and individual purpose.

Counter to that, though, is the loose, Zennish notion that we, all of us, already know what we really want to be and do, because it’s built into our bodies. It’s all those things we really get into, where time disappears for us, that we do not because we’re supposed to but for fun, for compulsion, for … just for the doing. (For me, sometimes it’s playing the frame drum; i can go for hours, just lost in it. Sometimes it’s proofreading other people’s writing, which i can get deliciously obsessive about.)

Trouble is, few of those things slot into the professional categories we automatically invoke when thinking of being and doing: We immediately lapse into “job mode,” and then are stymied. The question becomes What job would you like to do?, with the subtext “happily and every day for the rest of your life.” Then suddenly we don’t know anymore. We might be sitting in a puddle making mud pies, perfectly content. Then someone asks the question, and we think, “This is ridiculous. I can’t sit around making mud pies forever. What do i really want to be and do?” Bingo — disconnect! Welcome to the age of bone-deep anxiety and confusion.


Author: Greg Blee

Poster to my own blog, and others.

One thought on “Emails on purpose”

  1. What a fab post. Time fades away when I’m in story mode – when I am focused on recording an experience through words and images, trying to build the story in my mind as I go. It always comes back to storytelling for me.

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