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Determining the Pieces to Your Life's Puzzle
By Rich Meiss • Friday, February 8, 2008

The People Puzzle Series ll: Preface
A pair of cardinals came to our bird feeders several winters ago, and it was a joy to watch the beautiful birds. But we soon discovered that the male cardinal was not very smart. He would fly to an apple tree near our garage, and peering into the garage window and seeing his own reflection, he would fly full speed at the window, smack into it, fall back somewhat dazed, fly back to the apple tree, only to again fly against the garage window. Watching him day after day, it occurred to me that sometimes as people we are like that cardinal. We smack ourselves into a dead-end window, yet we continue to do the same things over and over, and expect to get different results. I call this the cardinal principle.
This article is about your future, and how you can play a huge part in creating that future. Look at your life right now, and know that if you continue to do the same things in the future, that like the cardinal you are going to continue to get pretty much the same results. So if you are content with your life, continue to live it as you are. If you would like some things to change, however, then strap on your seatbelt and let’s explore the puzzle pieces of life that will help us get different and better results. It takes some “creative dissatisfaction” to get us moving in a different direction.
Are you doing the things in life you always dreamed of?
Do you enjoy your work; does what you do fit with who you are?
Do you know what you do best, and what you really love to do?
Are you aware of how you are smart?
Do you know what you really believe in, and are you living those beliefs?
Is your life meaningful and fulfilling?
Many people have never stopped long enough to even consider the answers to these questions. We go through school, get a job, find a significant other, maybe have a family, and one day wake up and ask: “Is this all there is?” We become bored with our lives because we never really consciously chose what we wanted to do with our lives. Emerson said it this way: “The mass of men (people) lead lives of quiet desperation.” Too often our decisions were made out of convenience or even ignorance, or we decided something because we wanted to please someone else.
Dick Leider, author of The Power of Purpose, reports on a survey of Centenarians (people who have reached 100 years of age) who were asked: “If you could live your life over again, what would you do differently?” Among the most prominent answers were things like “I’d take more risks” and “I’d spend more time with loved ones.” But a surprising answer that appeared often was this comment: “I’d take more time to reflect on my life and the decisions I was making!”
Thinking is Hard Work
So this article is about reflection. It is about thinking about your life and what you want it to be. It is about understanding who you are and what you value so that you can make better decisions for your life. And that is not easy.
Henry Ford once said: “Thinking is the hardest work you will ever have to do.” And thinking about your life is very hard work. One reason is that we are not really encouraged to do much of that. We think about what to study, what kind of job to get, who we want to spend time with, and so on, but we seldom spend time thinking about who we are, why we are here, and what are the best life decisions to make to fulfill our purpose.
But thinking about ourselves and our lives can also be fun! Think of this as putting together a large puzzle. It takes a lot of concentration and effort, but once the framework for the puzzle is in place, things start to come together rather quickly. And as the pieces fall into place, we feel the satisfaction of accomplishment and completion.
Life’s Puzzle Pieces – Motivation Theory
I was introduced to the concept of motivation and success early in my life, and learned a lot about how to set goals and have good attitudes (the information covered here in chapters six and seven). That information served me well as I started my career and began to make choices for my life. I learned that I could “be anything that I wanted to be” and “do anything that I wanted to do” as long as I had a goal and a positive attitude in working to accomplish it. And because of those good ideas that I applied, I began to realize many of the goals that I set for myself.
One goal remained elusive however, and that was my financial goal. Each year in my early career I set my financial goal quite high, and each year I fell short. Although I was continuing to make progress, I struggled with the reasons why I was not earning as much money as I wrote on my goal sheet. Then I was introduced to another part of the motivation puzzle – that of human values (the information we will cover in chapter five). I learned that while money was important to me, there were other things that I valued more than money. I was not willing to sacrifice my family goals, spiritual goals and social goals for the sake of my financial goals. I began to learn about balance in my goals, and how they must all work together for true success and accomplishment.
These three areas of our study – values, attitudes and goals – make up what is often called the Motivational Theory of achievement. In our Western culture, especially in the last 50 years, many thousands of books and other self-help materials have been published to help individuals tap into their motivational power. And while most of these materials have been helpful, they fell short of their ultimate power because they neglected another very important piece of the whole human puzzle that of our design. An emerging trend in the study of human achievement the past 10 years or so has been Strengths Theory, or what I like to call Design Theory. 
Life’s Puzzle Pieces – Design Theory
Design Theory suggests that we “can’t be anything that we want to be”! The idea is that each of us comes equipped at birth with certain strengths, and these begin to emerge during our childhood experiences.  This design will remain fundamentally the same throughout our life, although it can certainly be strengthened by learning and practice. That which is not our design, however, will never serve us very well. Design Theory says don’t spend a lot of time trying to develop our weaknesses, because those are not things that we were designed to do. Strategic Coach Dan Sullivan has a wonderful way of phrasing this: “If you spend all your time developing your weaknesses, by the end of your life you will have a lot of well-developed weaknesses.” Let’s learn to discover our natural design, and then build on those strengths.
By combining the key elements of Design Theory, which are intelligences, talents and style, with Motivational Theory (values, attitudes and goals), we get a powerful model to understand the nature of human behavior and accomplishment. As I moved into management roles in my career climb, I discovered that there were some tasks for which I was not well-suited. For example, I found myself struggling to be a good delegator and driver of people. As I sought to learn why, I discovered the whole area of behavioral styles (the subject of our article three). I was designed to be a supporter rather than a director, and by learning that, I realized that there would be some management tasks that I would always struggle with and some that I would do more naturally.
And then by learning about the last two pieces of Design Theory, talents and intelligences (the subjects of our articles one and two), I was able to make better decisions about which tasks I was more suited to than others. For example, the investigative talent of research and analysis was not high on my list, and I found it better to let someone else handle those tasks in the workplace. I also discovered that I did not have a natural intelligence for numbers or mechanical things, while I was well suited to most of the tasks involving people.
Of course, fitting the puzzle pieces of our life together is a journey that never ends while we are on this earth. But the happiness and fulfillment that come our way as we fit the pieces together make our journey worth it. 
Avoiding the Roadblocks
As you begin this journey of self-discovery, it is only fair to warn you that like others who have started along this path, you will probably encounter a number of roadblocks. While there are probably a dozen roadblocks or more that could be mentioned, here are the most common.
Roadblock Number 1: 
“I just don’t have time to think about what it is that I really want.”
Have you ever felt this way, or heard others express this thought? Most of us are so busy that it is hard to get off the proverbial spinning wheel to take the time to think about our life. One observer of human nature shared the following statistics: 3% of the people actually think, 7% of the people think that they think, and the other 90% are waiting for a slogan to come along so they don’t have to think! Let’s you and I be among the 3% who really do think, and take some time to examine our lives and what we want them to be.
Roadblock Number 2: 
“I am waiting for ____________ to help me be more successful.”
You fill in the blank. Are we waiting for our parent(s), spouse, significant other,
child(ren), boss or someone else to make us happy and successful? While it is true that we need the help and cooperation of others to live the most productive life, it is also true that no one else can do it for us. Each of us needs to accept the personal responsibility to create our own future. As the old saying goes: “If it’s to be, it’s up to me!”
Roadblock Number 3: 
“You have to be cold and hard and step on people to succeed.”
This seems to be a common belief in our society: that in order to do well, we have to
push others down as we go up.   But life’s great teachers have taught us otherwise. Jesus said that to be the greatest, we must become the servant of many. Popular motivational speaker Zig Ziglar says it this way: “To the extent that you give others what they want and need, will they give you what you want and need.” Let’s create a win-win situation and realize that as we help others we also help ourselves.
Roadblock Number 4: 
“I am too _____________ to make it.”
Again, you fill in the blank. I’m too old or too young. I’m overeducated or undereducated. I’m too Swedish, or too Lutheran, or too Jewish, or too heavy or too skinny. We’ve all got some of those excuses, and maybe some of them are even legitimate. Each of us could probably list some things about our background, the way our parents treated us, the bad break we got in school, etc. And yet at some point we all need to take charge of our own future.
Roadblock Number 5: 
“I have no control over my own personal future.”
Unlike our friends in the animal kingdom, you and I do have choices. Right now, we can choose our own thoughts or attitudes. In his great book, Your Greatest Power, author J. Martin Kohe says that this is the greatest gift human beings have been given, the power to choose their thoughts. The principle of the sower says that if we sow a thought, we reap an attitude. Sow an attitude, and reap a behavior. Sow a behavior, and reap a habit. Sow a habit, and reap a result. Sow lots of results, and you reap YOUR LIFE! Make this the time to take control of your own future by removing these roadblocks and taking the first steps of self-discovery!
Our Inner and Outer Worlds
As you travel this path of self-discovery, consider two great themes that make up most of our life – tasks and people. Many authors and speakers have written about and spoken about these themes in our lives. Topics such as how to get along with others, manage time, develop excellence, sell products, get good grades, manage money, influence and manage others, and more are common as we grow and develop in our lives and careers. And while these are all important, they tend to relate to our outer world. 
The key to relating well with our outer world is first understanding and knowing ourselves, our inner world! This inner world, however, is seldom explored or talked about. It seems it is assumed that we would just “know ourselves”. But human beings do not come with a map of their life’s journey! Unlike our other friends in the animal kingdom, we do not have a built in guidance system that tells us to “go south for the winter” or to “build a dam in the river”. 
Human beings are the only living creatures that are born into a state of disorientation. We do not come with as developed a set of natural instincts as animals. So everything we do and how we relate have to be learned. But getting to know ourselves is rarely taught by our parents, schools, or religious institutions. The learning process is mostly focused on our outer world of tasks and relationships rather than our inner world of self-knowledge.
It is my belief that before an individual can be truly fulfilled and successful in the outer world, he or she must first have a clear understanding of their inner world. My friend and colleague, Sandra Merwin, has a wonderful way of showing this in her excellent book, Real Self. Sandra suggests a model that is made up of three concentric circles. The inner circle asks the question: “Who am I?” The outer two circles ask the questions: “What do I do”, and “How do I relate”? 
A Language for our Inner World
So let’s concentrate on our inner world. And since it is not often talked about or taught, we will be using a language that helps us understand our inner world. One of the unique advantages humans have over the rest of the animal world is our ability to create and use language. Words have a tremendous power to shape our world. And different cultures use words that are more important to their life circumstances. For example, the Eskimos have nearly fifty words for “snow”. Because it is so important to their way of life, they have lots of ways to distinguish elements of this one word. 
For most of us in the Western World, we have lots of ways to talk about “what we do” (our outer world). She’s a computer operator, a salesperson, a mother, a real estate agent, an artist, or a teacher. He’s a mechanic, a barber, a father, an architect, a singer, or a consultant. But we don’t have lots of words that talk about “who we are” (our inner world). So you will be introduced to concepts of our inner world, such as intelligences, values, needs, talents, and goals and attitudes. We will talk about congruence and authenticity and integration and other such words that we don’t often use.
As you work through these ideas, I encourage you to talk about them with others. Get comfortable with the language, and start to use it in your daily conversations. If you are like many others who have begun this journey, you will find tremendous value in gaining knowledge about your inner world. One of the best ways to learn more about the subject is to teach it to others. Share the information with others in your family. Ask them to complete the surveys and questionnaires, and discuss the outcomes together. And as those inner puzzle pieces start to come together, you will find greater success in fulfillment in your task accomplishments and your interpersonal relationships. 
 © Copyright 2008. Meiss Education Institute. All rights reserved.
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