report book for life

She talked about proving herself. It was pretty clear. She had to prove herself, show herself that she was strong, show everyone else that they were wrong.

So people are vulnerable. They imagine they are inadequate. They have to do something about their psychological defects. I train. You work hard. You have your reasons, I have mine.

I picked at my saba shio and the conversation drifted to what should I do with my life. What an edifice of a question. It is vague and intimidating. It might be a needy plea for respite masquerading as a question, it could simply be a genuine reaching out for sympathy. What to do but nod and assert that you have the same problem.

I went back to the 7 habits to see what Stephen Covey has to say about this.

If there was a report book for “life” we would be graded along 4 dimensions:

  1. Security
  2. This is your self esteem, why you feel good about yourself, your strength or your weakness.

    At one extreme, you can have a deep sense of insecurity, at the other, you have high intrinsic worth, you are confident, you are non-needy. If one day you feel charged and excited to face whatever life has to throw at you, and the next day you walk slumped over and the world seems to be conspiring against you, your security has changed.  What happened to change it?

  3. Guidance
  4. This is the direction you have mapped for yourself in life, the implicit or explicit criteria that governs your decision making.

    Ask yourself if you depend on other people for direction, or if you depend on yourself. This is how much direction you have.

  5. Wisdom
  6. This is your understanding of life, of how all the various pieces fit together. Your principles, your observations, the events that happen to you and your reaction to these events, your wisdom tells you how you should act, and you turn to your wisdom to interpret your actions.

  7. Power
  8. The strength to do what you know you have to do.

    You can be either immobilized or acted upon by other people, or you can be proactive and act according to your own values.

Covey also talks about the different centres that people have around which their life revolves.

  1. Spouse/friend/enemy
  2. There is strong emotional dependence on someone, and one is dependent on their feelings and moods. We become vulnerable to that someone, and if we are hurt by them, we become aggressive in turn to protect ourselves.

  3. Family
  4. Money
  5. This is a common centre. We all want economic security, we need it in order to live. But money itself does not provide wisdom or guidance, it is merely a means to an end. It is possible to make do with a lot less and it is tempting to place money above all else, but lead a miserable existence, which is what I did last year. I have to learn to moderate my savings.

  6. Possessions
  7. Work
  8. You enjoy the power and wisdom that you have in the workplace. Work provides structure to your life (in Covey’s parlance, it gives you guidance). But this is restricted to the workplace. Outside of work, you feel lost.

    This is what irritates me when I tell people I’d rather not be working and they say what would you be doing without work, that’s right, nothing. What’s worse is when I actually feel lost on a weekend or an off day.

  9. Pleasure
  10. Covey warns of undisciplined leisure time spent chasing instant gratification. The path of least resistance wastes a life. Pleasure in moderation can provide relaxation for body and mind and foster relationships, but pleasure by itself does not offer fulfillment. This is a hard concept to wrap my head around. The heuristic we fall back on is that something that hurts is worth getting. If we opt for something easy, it is of no value. So naturally, I recoil from television and movies, because if we value life, we must value time, for that is what life is made up of. But what if the pursuit of pleasure is itself a challenge. Like training, or the game.

    If life isn’t about fun, then what is it about – the achievement of goals that we truly believe in? The words seem to belong to the productivity drive campaign that the government is now exhorting Singapore to undertake. It sounds like an annual performance review. It sounds stifling. But really, I think that’s where it’s at, just that it’s missing unpredictability and adventure. I want that element too. The creative aspect of life, that’s it. I want the thrill of the chase, the pain of failure, both emotional and physical, the novelty of that first salsa lesson, the awkwardness of touch, the exhilaration of a 150kg deadlift, the oneness of a driving rhythm amid energized bodies, I want all that life has to offer.

  11. Church / social organization
  12. Self
  13. Covey says that there is limited, power, guidance, security, wisdom in the self. He talks about improving one’s ability to serve, to contribute in meaningful ways. When we are self-centred, our power to act is limited by our resources  and we do not enjoy the benefits of interdependency.

    I understand where he’s coming from. At work, we depend on other people to get things done. If we only focus on ourselves, no one will help us. Cooperation is a give and take, Covey goes further later in the book to talk about win/win relationships. But to extend this to charity and contributing to community is a step I do not feel compelled to take. It seems counterintuitive to be selfless. Isn’t life all about me. What’s in it for me. Even giving to other people is about me. It makes me feel good. I enjoy helping people if I can. This is where wisdom comes in. How do all the pieces fit. Why do I help my colleagues, but not donate to charity.

  14. Principles:
  15. How then, should we live? Covey’s tells us to live by principles, which are deep, fundamental, classic truths. Our security comes from these unchanging principles, nothing can take them away from us. Sort of like saying it doesn’t matter how we did, so long as we tried our best. Other centres can be taken away, but principles can be depended upon.

    To find out what these principles are, we look back at our lives and see how we’ve grown. We use our experiences to discern these elusive principles. So what are these elusive principles for myself? Please see my manifesto – it still is, and always will be a work in progress.

So this is how it works. We use our principles, keep in mind how all all the centres tug at us, and then make a considered decision.


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