Build Your Personal Owner’s Manual
Release Date: 06/14/2021
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What kind of human are you, and how do you know? Who were you MADE to be, and what kind of life were you MADE to live? These can feel like big, daunting questions. Maybe you’ve actually been seeking better answers to those questions but feel like you’ve reached a dead end. Or maybe to some of you, they don’t feel like particularly useful questions or even very interesting.
Whatever camp you’re in, in this episode I hope to make a convincing case for the value of building your personal owner’s manual, and I’ll give you the tools to do it.
Ray pushed back from his desk and leaned back in his chair. He closed his eyes, rubbed them with the palm of his hands, and slowly opened them again. The lights of the city glowed and blinked beyond the floor-to-ceiling glass of his corner office on the 42nd floor. He glanced at his watch. 11:30. He knew he was tired, but seeing how late it was made the tiredness sink into his bones. A half-eaten poor excuse for a cobb salad sat wilted on the desk to his right, a dollop of dressing dangling off the edge of the plastic to-go container and threatening to leap onto the affidavit beneath it.
His phone screen lit up. “Love you. Miss you” said the first part of the text from his wife. “Lasagna’s in the fridge. Oh, almost forgot--Blake scored a goal tonight.”
3 weeks of late nights and working weekends. And this wasn’t the first time--not by a long stretch. It seemed like every client was now a “big client” whose case demanded this kind of TLC.
Ray let out a long, slow sigh. Then, with a ferocity that startled him, he sat up and slammed his fist onto the pile of papers in front of him. Poised over his desk, his fist throbbing from the impact, out of the corner of his eye Ray saw the dollop of dressing make good on its threat and land on the affidavit.
Something had to change.
Tanya dug her paddle into the water to guide her kayak through the last of the rapids. As the river widened, the water slowed and flattened, and the roar of the rapids subsided, she peered back over her shoulder to see how her friends were faring. Two more kayaks trailed behind her, and the whoops and hollers of their occupants were all Tanya needed to know that her friends were doing just fine. She turned back around to face downriver, rested her paddle across the bow, and allowed her kayak to drift with the current. Canyon walls towered over her, and in an instant the late afternoon sun dropped below the rim of the canyon and put Tanya in deep, cool shadow. She closed her eyes and drank in the stillness.
Or at least, she tried to. Usually, these moments were blissfully peaceful for Tanya. But this moment was different. She was aware again of a nagging restlessness--something that had popped up a few times before in moments of stillness on this trip--on the drive out, and around the campfire. It confused her, because up until this moment, she’d always been able to count on river trips to tamp down the restlessness that plagued her back in the real world, where she was dutifully applying her chemistry degree in a hospital lab. But now the restlessness had tracked her down and invaded her river sanctuary.
In that moment, a deep sadness crept into Tanya’s heart with the knowledge that the river was no longer a reliable refuge. And a new, even more troubling sensation made itself known: desperation. If not the river, then where could she go or what could she do to find relief from the restlessness?
Her eyes popped open and widened. The familiar lines and shadows and contours of the river and the canyon now took on a strangely foreign feel. She blinked, and her eyes welled up. Something had to change.
Their Story = A Familiar Story
On the one hand, Ray’s and Tanya’s stories are fictitious. On the other hand, though, they’re not really, are they? They’re representative of thousands upon thousands of other people’s stories of stuckness, confusion, and quiet despair. Stories of stuckness, confusion, and despair occurring beneath a veneer of outward “okayness” and a semblance of success. Maybe you found YOURSELF in one of these stories somehow.
Why a Personal Owner’s Manual?
In my personal experience and my work with my clients, I’ve learned that without fail, an inadequate understanding of the kind of human we are, who we were made to be, and the life we were made to live is substantially complicit in creating stuckness, confusion, and despair in our lives.
And more often than not, it’s unnecessary stuckness, confusion, and despair--a predicament that can be resolved by updating our personal owner’s manual.
I say “updating” our personal owner’s manual, BTW, because for most of us, it’s not truly that we lack an owner’s manual altogether. It’s just that it’s jammed way back in our mental glovebox--not easily accessible, neglected, pages bent, some pages missing, and others incomplete. Relegated to a place of irrelevance and relative uselessness in our hearts and minds. It’s been assembled through a hodge-podge of life experiences and vague lessons- learned--but very little of it is useful and actionable in a conscious, intentional, purposeful way day-to-day.
As a result, we are more passive than active, more reactive than proactive, more unconscious than conscious, and more likely to find ourselves in Ray’s or Tanya’s situation in one way or another. And if we do find ourselves there, less likely to know what to do about it. We may reach for the old owner’s manual stuffed way back in our mental glovebox, but its contents aren’t adequate to the task of helping us know how to deploy ourselves more effectively in order to get a better result.
Even with a decent personal owner’s manual, we find ourselves in unknown territory often, of course--for at least two reasons: 1) Life is uncertain and much of it is simply out of our control, and 2) with the help of a useful personal owner’s manual, sometimes we intentionally choose to deploy ourselves in new and unfamiliar environments in the pursuit of something we want. For example, if I want to become a published writer because the contents of my owner’s manual point me in that direction, then I’ll have to put myself in new situations and encounter new challenges in order to become one.
The Benefits of a Personal Owner’s Manual
Here are three key benefits of having a useful personal owner’s manual:
- First, you understand yourself better. Which means that you can intentionally design your life around the kind of human you are vs. who you’re not and what you’re especially good at vs. what you’re not. You learn to see yourself as a certain kind of human suited better for certain environments and pursuits than the many others available. Which allows you to focus time and energy where you’ll get the best bang-for-buck. For example, if I was a car, I might be a late-70s Toyota Land Cruiser. I won’t get anywhere very fast, but if you need me to climb a windy, solitary, rutted mountain road, I’m your guy. By comparison, if you wanted me to go toe to toe with a ferrari on a race track...well, technically I’d be able to drive the course, but I’m not going to break any records or give the Ferrari any actual competition, and I might burn up my engine if I pushed it.
- Another benefit of a useful personal owner’s manual is that you enjoy yourself more. Meaning, you literally learn to enjoy YOU more, AND you deploy yourself in the world in ways that are more consistently enjoyable and rewarding and less often unproductive and unfulfilling. To use the previous analogy, I’ve come to enjoy that I’m a vintage Land Cruiser rather than wish that I was a Ferrari. And I spend as much solitary time as possible on the less-traveled roads in life, enjoying the scenery and slowly connecting more dots of meaning together as I go. Imagine if I mistakenly believed I was a Ferrari and tried to perform like one in life? Or knew that I was a Land Cruiser but wanted to be a Ferrari--and tried to perform like a Ferrari anyway? It’s just a matter of time before the wheels come off or the motor burns up.
- And finally, you live the life that you were uniquely made to live. You find YOUR path amidst the almost infinite array of options available. This is a big one, because it benefits not only you but the rest of us, too. You get a life filled with more meaning, purpose, and contentment, and we get the very best that you have to offer in the world. And since you’re the One and Only You--there only ever has been and only ever will be one person just like you--then you’ve got a difference to make in the world that only you can make.
There’s one more big reason that a personal owner’s manual is so incredibly helpful in our day and age, and I’ll unpack it more in the next episode. Tune in to learn why the “global fish pond crisis” is wreaking so much havoc so easily on so many of us in the modern world.
Okay, but what actually IS a personal owner’s manual, and how do you create one? Let’s dig into that.
What’s in a Personal Owner’s Manual?
I use a simple three-part structure for creating a personal owner’s manual. And it even alliterates, which is handy. The three parts are Nature, Nurture, and Now. Let’s look at each part more closely.
Nature is simply what you came into the world with--your “default settings,” so to speak. In my experience, surprisingly few of us have a good sense, at least in any quantifiable or actionable way, of what our default settings are. I focus primarily on two of our default settings in creating the Nature part of our owner’s manual: personality and natural abilities. And two assessments create the foundation for understanding our personality and natural abilities.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is an awesome tool for gaining deeper insight into the personality style we were born with. It describes your personality in four different areas and according to one of 16 different possible personality profiles. (My Myers-Briggs profile is INFP, BTW--which may not surprise you if you know something about Myers-Briggs already and consider what I do for a living.)
Think of your personality as prescription eyeglasses through which you view everyone and everything in the world. The prescription is unique to you, and though others may have the same 4-letter Myers-Briggs profile, no one else expresses that profile in exactly the same way as you. Every personality style has its own set of inherent strengths and weaknesses. And when you’re more aware of what those are, you can design your life to play to your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. You can understand your relationships with others better and identify specific ways to improve them--especially in the areas of normal and natural differences between you and others that so often create problems but when identified can become sources of strength. I see this transformation from conflict around normal and natural differences to more powerful partnerships because of the differences regularly in my own life and in my clients’ experience. It’s one of the things I love most about deepening our understanding of our default settings in the area of personality.
The Highlands Ability Battery is an amazing tool for gaining deeper insight into the abilities that you were born with--as opposed to skills acquired along the way. It gives you objective data about how well and how quickly you solve problems, how you learn, how far into the future you naturally project, how well you are able to order your thoughts and share them with others, among many other things. Taken together, the results give you a compass for navigating the road ahead even more intelligently, enjoyably, and productively--prioritizing those things that play to your natural abilities rather than work against them.
You can get started on the Nature part of your personal owner’s manual right now, if you want. Go to MBTIionline.com to take a self-guided version of Myers-Briggs for just $50 and about an hour of your time. You’ll need someone to administer the Highlands Ability Battery for you. I can do that for you, or you can go to highlandsco.com to connect with someone.
With your innate personality and natural abilities better in hand, you’ve got a really solid foundation of understanding about the kind of human that you are. Land Cruiser? Ferrari? Interplanetary space vehicle? Whatever you discover, it sure will be good to know because then you can choose ideal rather than adverse operating conditions for the human that you are more often. And that means you’re well on your way to enjoying yourself more and living the life you were made to live.
In the fictitious cases of Ray and Tanya, the Nature part of their personal owner’s manual would help them understand the professional paths they’re especially well-suited to--as opposed to the ones they’re currently on that are causing problems--and how to manage their energy more effectively, among other things. But Nature isn’t the whole story, and adding the next part of the personal owner’s manual would help Ray and Tanya begin to make better sense of why and how they’ve arrived where we found them.
The next part of the personal owner’s manual is Nurture. Basically, this is your Story--from as early as you can remember up until the present day. And it’s distinct from Nature--things that you had no ability to influence--because even though things have happened to you that you had no ability to control, you have also been a conscious, active participant in your Story, writing it even as you lived it and living it even as you wrote it.
The goal of the Nurture part of the personal owner’s manual is to understand and redeem as much of your past as possible for present and future benefit. It’s a remarkable if not understandable part of the human condition that we so often live in relative ignorance of the impact of our Story on the person we’ve become and spend a lot of time trying to escape the especially painful parts. But I think that doing this is very much like cutting off our nose to spite our face. Because as you may have heard me say before, I believe that our Stories and our Purpose in the world are inseparable. If our Story holds clues to our unique Purpose in the world, then knowing them intimately and mining them for as much meaning as possible is an extremely useful undertaking.
For example, in episode 003, How to Turn Your Imperfections Into Superpowers: The Key to Unlocking Your Unique Purpose, I share how after many years I was able to accept the Anxiety-ridden chapter of my Story. In turn, this acceptance led to greater enjoyment of the man that I am today, a genuine sense of pride in the battle that I’ve waged all these years--as opposed to a chronic sense of shame and inadequacy. And it also led to this podcast and the creation of the Graveyard Group masterminds--unique ways that I express my Nature and my Nurture as a coach. These things wouldn’t have come into existence without this revisitation of my Story.
In the cases of Ray and Tanya, developing the Nurture part of their personal owner’s manual would help them each understand better the forces and choices in their Stories that led them to the moments where we found them. And with greater insight, they would increase their perception of the options available to them based upon the clues that their Stories provided as to their unique Purposes in life--options to leave behind, adapt, or embrace parts of their Stories that they’d long neglected or resisted.
In your case, developing the Nurture part of your personal owner’s manual can begin in earnest right now. First, on the mental and emotional levels, begin with a decision to view your story as a goldmine of untapped insight into who you are, how you became who you are, and how clues from your past shine light on the Path that lies ahead of you.
Next, on a more tactical level, begin to review your life in 10-year increments--without judgment, with as much honesty and courage as you can muster, and engaging curiosity and objectivity as your guides. Write down the significant events from each decade and how they impacted you. Don’t rush this process. Let it be a process that’s initiated and kept open in your heart and mind--a new way of engaging with your Story in a progressively revelatory way. Gradually, as meaning from the past is brought forward into your present, you become an even more skilled author of the chapter you’re writing right now.
Clinical psychologist, author, cultural lightning rod, and Jordan Peterson created a very reasonably-priced online tool called Self Authoring, “a series of online writing programs that collectively help you explore your past, present and future.” I haven’t used it yet, but I plan to, and there’s huge benefit in using a pre-fab resource to overcome the inertia of starting out on your own into the murky past.
The third and final part of your personal owner’s manual is Now. Now equals values, interests, experience, opportunities, and obligations. It’s like emptying your pockets out onto a table in front of you to see what you’ve got on hand. Only these things aren’t just loose change or car keys. Instead, they’re current realities that will shape how you deploy what you’ve discovered in the Nature and Nurture phases of your personal owner’s manual update. Values, for example, might influence whether you shoot for that partner position at your firm, in light of the fact that an even higher value than professional success is making memories with your family. This could be part of Ray’s predicament--an internal values war. Interests are those things that just naturally call to you or pique your curiosity. What do your interests tell you about how to deploy your Nature and Nurture even more enjoyably and productively in the future? Your Experience is the sum of the knowledge and skills you’ve acquired over the years. In what ways has your experience especially prepared you for certain kinds of things more than others? Opportunities are both those that have presented themselves to you and those that you have created. They’re the proverbial birds-in-hand. And Obligations are those outstanding commitments that impact how and when you’re able to operationalize what you discovered in your consideration of Nature and Nurture. Sometimes, Obligations that first look like obstacles can, in fact, to quote Ryan Holiday of The Daily Stoic, become the way.
So that’s a quick and dirty description of the personal owner’s manual and how to begin updating yours right now. It’s simple, on the one hand, but it’s not easy. Bear in mind that it’s as much a mindset as it is an actual process, an attitude of self-discovery that opens up new veins of Insight that can be converted into Action to yield Transformation.
You Need a Partner
You can certainly make a lot of progress on your personal owner’s manual flying solo. But it’s my conviction that we all need one or two trusted, confidential, skilled partners to help this work realize its potential in our lives. All three parts of the personal owner’s manual need an external, more objective perspective to be seen for what they really are. And the magical moment when potential becomes reality is the moment we decide to apply real-world Action to our Insights. Without external support, we’re more likely to stop at Insight than we are to move on to Action. If we know all about the car we own because we’ve read the manual from cover to cover but never actually take it for a spin, our knowledge is of nearly no value whatsoever.
Once you’ve determined that updating your personal owner’s manual is useful and have begun that process, you’ve embarked on a strategic adventure of self-discovery that will make a difference now, can last a lifetime, and will help you know with confidence that you gave it all you had while you were still above ground and breathing. It will help you understand yourself better, enjoy yourself more, and live the life you were made to live.
Remember, you ARE going to die. But you’re not dead yet. So get after it!
Let’s Build Yours Together
If you’re turned on to the idea of updating your personal owner’s manual, then connect with me to learn more about working together 1-1 or something new I’m creating, called the Personal Owner’s Manual Academy. The Academy will take you through the three-part Nature / Nurture / Now process with the support of a small group of your peers and my input as your confidential guide.
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If You Liked This Episode, I Think These Will be Useful to You, Too
- Ep. 003 | How to Turn Your Imperfections Into Superpowers: The Key to Unlocking Your Unique Purpose
- Ep. 016 | The Question That Changes Everything: The Go-to Tool for Living the Life You Were Made to Live
- Ep. 019 | The Cockpit is Yours: From Passenger to Pilot
- Ep. 025 | The Contentment Conundrum: Cracking the Code
Additional Resources & References
- The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials Into Triumph (Ryan Holiday)
- Jordan Peterson YouTube Playlist: This is a compilation of short Jordan Peterson clips on various topics that I found really useful.