I often find that life teaches me the same lesson across multiple areas of my life at the same time. All I have to do is sit back and notice what it’s trying to tell me (and take some notes).
That is happening right now with the idea that “Everything is a season.” It’s not a new idea by any means. It’s captured by old sayings like “This too shall pass” and Bible verses like “There is a time for everything.”
But there’s a few interesting implications of this idea for our modern lives.
I’ve begun to realize that the concept of “personal productivity” is just a season in people’s lives. It is a temporary phase that we each pass through on our way to other things.
Productivity as we know it is largely an entry-level concept. It caters to people just beginning their careers, starting their first professional jobs, or moving to new roles that demand a higher level of personal output.
The reason productivity is just a phase is that it is relatively low leverage. “Leverage” refers to the ability to do more with less, such as using a lever to lift a boulder that you’d never be able to lift on your own strength.
You do need to reach a certain level of proficiency in your personal productivity. But once you do, you can go beyond it to greater sources of leverage. And you must, if you want to accomplish more while working less.
What are those other sources of leverage? There are many options.
One tremendous source of leverage is the ability to work with and manage others.
Whether by hiring them, collaborating with them, outsourcing or delegating to them, coaching or advising them, or investing in them. The results that two or more people can produce together will always be far more than even the most productive person can do on their own.
Another source of leverage is content.
By “content,” I mean any tangible piece of knowledge that can spread and have an impact without you having to be there personally. Content produces leverage by creating value independently of your time and attention. Not only can it be distributed anywhere in the world via the Internet, but it can reach an almost unlimited number of people in parallel, at any time of the day or night, almost for free.
I think of every blog post, tweet, YouTube video, and podcast episode as a little evangelist going out into the world on my behalf to spread my message. How big of a salesforce would it take to replicate that kind of reach? How many years would I have to work on my own to reach even 1% of those people?
Another source of leverage is personal growth. This one might be harder to see.
Leverage at its heart is about tapping new sources of power. Especially sources of power that are hidden, underappreciated, or difficult to access.
That power can reside in other people, in institutions, in culture, in art, in social networks, in buildings and physical infrastructure, and in civil society.
But there is one source of power that is accessible to everyone: the inherent power flowing through the human body, heart, mind, and, for lack of a better term, soul.
I don’t know how to explain it, but there is a river of pure energy flowing through each human being. It is the energy we tap into through yoga, therapy, journaling, dreaming, psychedelics, and other healing practices.
If you’re not into metaphysics, think of it as the potential energy stored in your nervous system. Not just the electric impulses firing through your nerves, but the potential for action that a human nervous system holds.
I recently came across a framework that sheds light on how we tap into this source of power.
It’s from Michael Beckwith, the Founder of Agape International Spiritual Center, a trans-denominational religious community headquartered in Los Angeles.
Beckwith’s model describes 4 stages that people move through in their journey of personal growth and empowerment.
In the first stage, life is happening “To me,” as in, I have no control and am at the mercy of the actions of others. This is known as victimhood, and is often dominated by blaming others, a feeling of lack of control, and fear.
In the second stage, life happens “By me.” You start gaining access to your inner powers and become the doer in your life, in control of your thoughts and feelings and directing them to achieve your goals. You take responsibility for your life and gain tools for influencing others and the world.
The transition from stage 1 to stage 2 is an incredibly powerful one. It is the focus of most of my work so far, giving people the skills and tools to set goals, make plans, collect knowledge, and execute effectively.
Stage 2 is also where “productivity” tends to top out. It is the limit of what you can do if YOU have to be the one doing it. As long as you and your capabilities are the bottleneck, what you can achieve will always be limited. And you will always have to be there yourself making sure everything goes as planned.
At some point, stage 2 gets tiresome. You achieve a certain level of success and security, but start to wonder “Is that it?”. You start to look up from the demands of everyday life and gaze toward the horizon. Maybe you start to hunger for something transcendent, something beyond yourself.
One of my students recently wrote to me and described it beautifully:
“At some point in life, you look around and convince yourself that you’re not great. You haven’t done this, and this, and this that you said you would do or had the opportunity to do. You’re not where you thought you’d be in some aspect of your life.
At this point, there is a fork in the road. You either continue on trying to fill a void with external measures that can never be filled or satisfied, or you veer off and start to look inward for the answers. It usually takes something traumatic and/or life-altering, or you meet someone who guides you, to open your heart and your inner eyes to the truth.
The more you look deep inside yourself and can touch that goodness, the more you connect and touch others. I understood. You have to put on your air mask first, and then help those on the plane around you. You will be unable to help others if you, yourself, cannot breathe.”
The shift I’m most interested in these days is from stage 2 to 3. From “Things happening by me” to things happening “through me.” More succinctly, from “doing” to “being.” This is a much more difficult transition than the previous one, because in many ways it requires the opposite approach.
In stage 3, you let go of the illusion of control and power. You surrender the need to manage every little thing. You start to sense that you are part of a greater whole – a channel for some greater force or will or idea that wants to emerge through you.
It’s a scary experience, because that greater force doesn’t play around. It nudges you in certain directions, pushing and pulling you toward the path of least resistance. And if you continue to resist, those nudges sometimes turn into shoves.
This is the transition I am in the midst of now. In the last year I became a father and a homeowner and an employer. Suddenly, I have the responsibility for the welfare of multiple people resting on my shoulders. I have decisions to make that will impact other people’s lives. Not to mention, I have half the free time, energy, and sleep as before.
I’m having to learn how to be committed to an outcome, even when I’m not directly responsible for its execution. How to let others make mistakes that I wouldn’t have made, so eventually they can have breakthroughs that I wouldn’t have had. The ways that I add value and receive validation have completely changed – from always trying to be the smartest person in the room, to doing everything I can to make sure I’m not.
I have no experience of the fourth stage, but I’ve heard others try to describe it. Things no longer happen “through” you, they happen as you, because there is no distinction between you and them. Ideas of separation lose their power. The absurdity, paradox, and hilariousness of life move front and center. The greater force takes the driver’s seat of your life, and you give it up willingly.
I’m told that in that fourth, infinite place you feel that you are one with everything and everyone. Your ego and identity dissolve. Not into nothingness, but into unity. Every religion and spiritual path has tried to describe this place of annihilation and unity. But every language has failed to capture it.
It is these third and fourth stages that represent the frontier of personal growth. You have to put your intellect and reason aside to tread this path. The usual approach of goals, objectives, and problem-solving no longer work. Trying to fix or solve the challenges you find here will only prolong them.
The way forward is to accept, transcend, and even learn to love the blockages you find within yourself. Because any problem you see on the outside is just a part of yourself that you haven’t yet learned to love. There are no problems in the world. We are the ones who create the problems.
The price you pay to be part of something greater than yourself is you give up control over what that bigger thing is. You submit yourself to the will of the universe (or god, or destiny, or entropy) and trust that you will find your place within it.
Productivity is a phase, but it is also the gateway to the transcendent.
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