Learning Perspective & Awareness

There are two valuable attributes that I’ve found to be extremely helpful in my search for my passion and purpose. These two attributes are perspective and awareness.

Perspective, I believe, is the easier of the two to learn. It can be learnt by playing within your life on a daily basis. Put another way, strive to do something different daily. In doing so, you’re putting yourself within different situations which can give you new and unique perspectives to your life.

Some examples of daily play to get new perspectives would be as follows. Reading material outside of your normal field of interest. Walking different paths or visiting different places within your local neighborhood to see or encounter things that you might not normally. Whatever your creative method (i.e. writing, drawing, composing, etc), try to create something different daily, no matter how rough or crude it might seem.

Awareness, on the other hand, I’ve found to be much more difficult to learn, primarily because it almost implies a degree of wisdom to recognize what you are seeing. For example, just because you can see something, it doesn’t imply you understand what you’re seeing. And if you can’t understand what you’re seeing then it may as well be invisible to you because the understanding brings the awareness.

The thing to realize though is that there are different forms of understanding. Logical understanding means you are fully cognizant of what you are seeing to the point that you can easily express it verbally to others. Intuitive understanding is much more difficult however. You may feel you know something is important, yet you can’t logically explain why at that point in time. Nevertheless, one must realize that this intuitive awareness is just as important, even if you can’t explain the importance of what you’re seeing.

Awareness I’ve found isn’t so much learnt, as it is fostered or cultivated. To be aware, you must give yourself the time and space to allow it to manifest itself through reflection. If, however, you don’t give yourself time to reflect, to recognize what you’re looking at, even at an intuitive level, then there is less chance for awareness to occur.

Therefore to foster awareness, I’ve found it beneficial to have large periods of reflection. For example, if you have a journal, it’s important to not only give yourself time to write within it but also time to reflect upon it. Look back within it and see if you can see a pattern, connectivity, relationship, or interaction between the different individual events within your life, no matter how superficial they might seem at first. Above all else though, give yourself the time and space away from both input and output to digest what you are absorbing.

In effect, every so often ensure that you unplug from the external signals and noise around you, so that you can fully concentrate on the signals emanating from within you.

Discovering & Proclaiming Your Own Trumania

There’s an awesome scene from The Truman Show that’s a great metaphor for the moment of realization of your life’s passion and purpose. It’s the point in the movie when Truman fully understands who he is within the context of the “world” around him and what he needs to do to be truly happy (unbeknownst to his viewers). Even more poignant is his playful gesture of proclaiming “Trumania”, as though he had just discovered a new world of his own.

What I find interesting about this is how searching for your passion and purpose in life is exactly like searching for a new world. It’s not a single act (i.e. landing on a beach of a new continent) but instead a series of actions that fully map out and define the perimeter or parameters of it (i.e. numerous landings on the coast, numerous ventures up coastal rivers to map the interior of it) until you achieve a moment of realization at seeing the world in full. Yet this world you’re mapping and surveying doesn’t exist on any geographical map but instead exists within yourself, defining your existing world view of who you are within the context of the world around you and what you believe you can do within it.

I can’t tell you how many times I felt like my life was like being adrift on a river and not knowing where I was or where I was going. Even more so, when I looked back at where I had been, at places I had stopped alongside the river, they just seemed like random destinations with no sense of location, purpose, or meaning. I kept wanting to be able to fly high above where I was, so I could see things from a different perspective and get my bearings but I was never able to do this. Now I realize I didn’t need to do so. My journey itself was helping me to discover where I was and where I was going. I just needed the awareness and perspective to understand what I was looking at collectively.

You see the awareness and understanding doesn’t come from just looking at the individual waypoints of your life. It comes from looking at them as a whole and seeing how they relate and interact with one another collectively, no matter how remote and distant they may seem to be. Only then will all of the pieces connect and you’ll finally see the new world you’ve passionately known was there all along.

Cultivating Your Own Vision

There’s an excellent rant post by a former Apple interface designer on Microsoft’s Vision of the Future that entails what a successful vision should be as described below. What I find interesting about it is how it has already been proven true within my own life.

This matters, because visions matter.
Visions give people a direction and inspire people to act,
and a group of inspired people is
the most powerful force in the world.

If you’re a young person setting off to realize a vision,
or an old person setting off to fund one,
I really want it to be something worthwhile.
Something that genuinely improves how we interact.

Bret Victor

You see earlier in my life, I was like everyone else in that I believed that when you set goals, they should be realistic ones. While I still believe this to be true, what I now find more important though is to define a greater vision for your life that makes it worthwhile to live and work through those myriad of goals, thus unifying them in a meaningful way for yourself. Even more importantly, it gives you the persistence and faith to continue working towards your vision even when you aren’t fully sure of how to achieve it yet. Most important of all, I find that when you have a greater vision for your life, suddenly the little things that might have annoyed you before don’t bother you as much. Or while they may still bother you, you find you can get over them easier because your perspective is taken from a long view versus a short one.

For those who’ve played MMO games, you know the same principle applies. When you get excited about a new expansion, it isn’t so much about the individual questing goals that get you excited, as the endgame vision of what you are trying to achieve as a hero. Thus you may encounter boring quests or even extremely challenging ones, yet you persevere and overcome them because of the greater vision of what you hope to achieve (i.e. slay the massive dragon in the final endgame raid dungeon). Really the only thing stopping you or helping you to achieve your vision is your belief in yourself. Once you start cultivating your vision and your belief in yourself, everything changes, as you finally become what you know you truly should be (as eloquently put by Viktor Frankl paraphrasing Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in the video below).

If we treat people as they are,
we make them worse.
If we treat people as they ought to be,
we help them become
what they are capable of becoming.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The Experience Is The Reward

I abhor the concept of gamification. This might sound weird considering I believe we can learn so much from games and I believe that life itself is the greatest game of all. Where the difference comes into play for me is why we play the game in the first place. If you’re playing for the rewards, be they material or social recognition, then you’ve lost the real focus of the game. The experience is the reward, to play and experience the game to its fullest.

If anything, the overuse of gamification within online games today is one of the primary reasons why they do fail. In effect, often the experience of the game is so shallow and meaningless due to poor game design, that game designers often have to add in superficial “rewards” along they way to give players something worth playing for (i.e. a golden carrot), otherwise the game would be completely boring. And if anything, people eventually do see this shallow and meaningless gameplay after playing the game for a while and experiencing the “golden carrot” pattern repetitively, to the point that they see them for what they truly are.

Therefore, it is not the games themselves that we need to learn from and design into our lives but instead we need to learn from the experience of play, as this is the natural process of life itself. A young fox cub chasing a butterfly is learning valuable life skills, as these will be essential in his ability to hunt when he grows up. Play within businesses itself is a crucial element that is so often overlooked and ignored to the point of being forbidden. Yet the ability to experiment and make mistakes in research, be it for a medical company or for a web firm, is how we learn to innovate. Without that ability to play, without giving ourselves permission to be imperfect, we would not be able to survive and evolve as a species.

If anything, what I’ve learnt the most from online games has to deal with social interaction and, more specifically, how to overcome the social limitations and mechanics of the game to work more effectively as a team. Thus if anything, it was how we worked as a social group to come up with creative solutions not designed within the game, so as to be able to play it more effectively. In effect, we played around and tested different social interactive methods and structures until we found ones that worked for us and improved the effectiveness of our group as a whole. This is exactly the same reason why so many of the best raid leaders within WoW weren’t people with MBA’s but instead people like head nurses who worked within ER departments. In effect, just as these people brought their amazing social capabilities and knowledge into the game, so too should we take what we’ve learnt socially from within these games into our lives as well, so as to improve them. A quote from John Thackara’s book In The Bubble below is a perfect example of this.

Online games are an object lesson for academia, Herz says, not because universities need to be making games, but because online games illustrate the learning potential of a network and the social ecology that unlocks that potential.

Among young people who appear demotivated in formal learning situations, learning and teaching occur in a collaborative, highly social way in a game context. Herz continues: “If a gamer doesn’t understand something, there is a continuously updated, distributed knowledge base maintained by a sprawling community of players from whom he can learn. Newbies are schooled by more skilled and experienced players. Far from being every man for himself, multiplayer online games actively foster the formation of teams, clans, guilds, and other self-organizing groups.”

Anytime I have seen something decent come from gamification, it wasn’t about making something game-like but instead about giving people a new perspective on their lives which in turn improves the experience of it. This to me isn’t gamification but great design, particularly from a visual design perspective. For example, I myself am conceptualizing the ability to easily visualize data within a CMS concept I’m currently working on. The benefits of this are obviously dramatic because it would allow people the ability to experience their lives from different visual perspectives, thus empowering them and inspiring them within their journey. Again, this isn’t gamification but instead information design and data visualization as done by the likes of Edward Tufte.