The Power of Story is a long (really long) but worthwhile book about defining your mission and purpose in life.
We recommend picking up a copy (audiobook) and reading and slowly implementing the concepts yourself over time, but here are some notes to serve as a reference once you’ve gone through the book (it’s long, and a lot of the concepts can be lost/forgotten by the time you’re through the book).
The first metaphor is the idea that our lives are stories. It’s an interesting metaphor in and of itself, given that most works of fiction are usually centred around character(s) and their lives. Thinking of life as a metaphor lets us reinterpret what we do – are we writing an epic novel with our daily actions, or will our lives simply be brief short stories without any plot and character development?
The other metaphor that Loehr introduced is that of a cruise missile. For the less-informed, cruise missiles are essentially guided missiles with the capability to course correct towards their targets. In the book, Loehr states that we are all cruise missiles launched at birth, with no destination or target in mind. It is up to us to determine through our mission, our goals and our daily actions whether we determine a trajectory and destination that we are aiming for, or if we’ll simply burn through our fuel and fall to the ground.
The most important concept introduced in The Power of Story (and the main reason we would recommend reading it) is that of the Ultimate Mission. Everyone has an Ultimate Mission.
Take a look at this photo of the Petronas Towers in KL:
Now imagine a plank suspended between the top levels of the towers. What mission, or objective, or purpose, would make you willing to walk across that plank?
That is your ultimate mission. It is the purpose of your life. It’s what you dream about when you go to sleep at night, and it’s what makes you excited to jump out of bed in the morning. Now we are not big fans of this “follow your passion” mumbo-jumbo that people like to throw around nowadays, but having a sense of mission and purpose will help you really focus on what is important in life, by cutting away all the BS that simply doesn’t matter. This alone, will make you magnitudes more productive than you were before.
Truth and Fiction
Another great concept that Loehr introduces is this question:
Is what you’re telling yourself about your life truth, or fiction?
Most people borrow stories and assumptions to apply to their own lives from fiction (literature, television, stories from friends etc). There are common themes to these stories – such as redemption, contamination (where an external forces messes up your life), and conspiracy (victim theory), but none of these themes are truth.
The truth about your life contains both the positive and negative, and is the result of the actions and decisions you make on a daily basis. The fiction that we tell ourselves about our life stories doesn’t come from us – it comes from the media, from religion, from society and from our education systems. None of those ideas were originally ours, they were imparted upon us from somewhere else – and we made the decision to adopt them.
It’s a revealing thought experiment to break down each of the stories that we tell ourselves on a daily basis and trace them back to their origins. It may surprise you (it most certainly surprised me when I did the exercise). For more, check out our series on Sex and Productivity.
BS Detection System
Loehr states that the only person who can call you out for the fiction you’re living is yourself. He calls it your “BS Detection System”. We happen to disagree. Good friends, especially those with an understanding of your mission, goals and objectives can be equally effective in telling you when you’ve strayed from your original intent.
How you talk to yourself shapes your stories, and subsequently your actions and decisions. Thanh wrote about this in a prior newsletter.
Jim Loehr also co-authored The Power of Full Engagement (notes), and a good portion of The Power of Story condenses and summarise that material.
Embedding is Loehr’s way of learning new habits. He outlines a simple system that involves repetition, visualization, and weaving the habit into daily situations. This trifecta of reminders is actually a pretty effective way to formulate new habits and make them stick.
The Story Creation Process
We won’t give away the Story Creation Process in these notes, but will say that it’s a guided step-by-step way to look at your life, your mission and your stories, then to rewrite them, implement them and make them part of your life. Basically, you get to review, change and then rewrite what you want your “destiny” or future to look like.
We’ve talked about a lot of The Power of Story concepts in bits and pieces all over Asian Efficiency – we like the book that much. The most important parts of the book, by far, are the section on discovering and defining your Ultimate Mission (which is something a lot of people talk about but never actually define), and the Story Creation Process.
For those two parts alone, we’d recommend grabbing a copy (audiobook) and having a read through.
Photo by: capelle79
I don’t think your Ultimate Mission needs to be something that big. It has to resonate with yourself, it could well be having a home for your family with enough food on the table. It’s something to help you with priorities in mids of all the chaos of the world. A tool which make you think and so you’ll be strategic at how to get there.
If it’s not for you, simply ignore it. For some this is really helpfull.
For me I discovered that I want to spend more time with my family and reconnect with friends, which ment I had to work less and more strategically to earn enough to provide for us.
I agree with the first commenter that it sounds artificial and contrived. I don’t think everyone has, or wants, or should want, an Ultimate Mission ™.
It’s good to be thoughtful about how one is living one’s life, and to answer any “callings” and such, but the idea that each person should have one great purpose and focus great amounts of energy on it just doesn’t seem realistic or natural to me. We are born, we try to stay alive, we try to figure things out, we try to gather resources/power and/or we try to act according to our ethics, we may or may not try to have children, we may or may not try to have a large effect on the world/society/our village/etc., and then we die.
How many millions of people spend most of their time trying to get a tiny bit of food or water or care for their desperately ill relatives, etc., and that takes up their whole day, their whole lives even – and how many “fail” at these basic challenges each day, and die? What was their Ultimate Mission? To be an astronaut, to be CEO of Pepsi, to have a yoga studio?
—I’m sorry, I sound nasty here, but I don’t mean to sound like a jerk. It’s just so frustrating to me when some people say this mission/purpose stuff is THE answer to everything, and that it is something it could take a while to grasp, as if one is not very smart or mature if one does not personally resonate with the concept.
It’s my view that this grand purpose / Ultimate Mission ™ stuff is an idea that works for some people, but it’s not the answer to the meaning of life for everybody.
How is redemption not “truth”?
Loehr explains it as borrowing a story of redemption and adapting it to our own lives, versus actually living a story of redemption.
I can’t say that it’s one I personally identify with – I guess (and I may be completely wrong here), redemption is more of an American or Judeo-Christian concept.
I can definitely identify with having borrowed themes from fiction and stories to explain the events of my life however. What Loehr is saying is that sometimes those borrowed themes are true, and sometimes they are just rationalisations that we tell ourselves to make us feel better.
Wow the way you displayed that quote is ultra badass design how did you think of that?
Do people really follow this advice? I ask because I’ve read quite a few books on the subject of self improvement. So many of them seem to be wrapped up in this idea of “greatness” or “purpose”. Do real people really follow those ideals? It seems so artificial and contrived to me.
Davo – I understand where you are coming from because I felt the same way for a long time. This idea of “mission in life” and “purpose” took me a while to grasp. Even though I would hear it all the time from others and read it in many personal development books, it wasn’t until recently when I understood it. This book really helped me find that.
Admittedly, most people you meet will not have an idea what their “purpose” is. You’ll rarely find these people which makes it very hard to grasp what this concept is. The more people you meet who do have it, the more you will understand it but hopefully this book can help others find their mission.