How To Create Your Own Personal Strategic Plan (a.k.a. Personal Development Plan)

May 1, 2017 • 9 minute read • by Saeed

Companies have strategic plans so why not you?

No matter the technique, any strategic planning process is about getting from Point A to Point B. You do this by first defining Point A (identifying where you are now) and then defining Point B (identifying where you want to be in the future). Then you develop strategies that will be your road map from one point to the next. What follows below is a classic organizational strategic planning technique adapted for personal development.

You’re welcome.

Now, let’s get started. Write down the headings I use below and follow the instructions under each category. Let’s do this.

  1. Vision: the “what”

Your vision statement is your north star – a mental picture of what your future self may look like. As the sun does to a flower, your vision statement should pull you towards your optimal desired future state. It should be inspirational and focused on what you want to achieve over time.

Ikea’s vision is to offer a wide range of well-designed, functional home furnishing products at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them.

Amazon’s vision is to be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online.

  1. Mission: the “why”

Your mission statement should provide a top-level answer to the essential question: Why do I exist?

Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.

Having a personal mission statement brings clarity and purpose to your life. Employees often can’t remember the company’s mission statement. That’s because they’re usually all-things-to-all-people word salads. A mission statement should be a concise statement of What you do, Who you do it for , and How you do it. Too hard to write or remember? Try creating a mantra or adopt a favorite quote that guides your personal and professional life.

  1. Goals: the “where to”

A goal is a specific target, a destination, an end result or something to be desired. It is a major step in achieving your vision. Ideally, each goal should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound (a.k.a S.M.A.R.T.).  You could have one or several goals to achieve your vision: lose weight, gain weight, whatever. A charity might want to increase donations by 20% in one year, or maybe increase community engagement through social media by 10% the next. You get the idea. But remember The Law of Diminishing Returns: The more goals you set, the less likely you are to achieve them. One goal distracts from another, leaving you less likely to accomplish anything. In goal setting, quality, not quantity is what counts.

Finally, take your resources into account as well as those things that might facilitate the achievement of your goals or be a barrier to realizing them.

  1. Strategies: the “how”

This is where the fun begins. Each goal should have 1-3 strategies. This is what you will do to reach your goal.  Be sure to separate the things that must absolutely be done this year, from the things that would be nice to have, but aren’t urgent. Save those for years two and three. For now, just think what concrete action or set of actions needs to be taken tomorrow, to reach your goal?

Our hypothetical charity might create celebrity partnerships to support their programs or invest in optimizing the website to increase online giving. What about you?

  1. Key performance indicators and targets: the “how much”

Key performance indicators (KPIs) are used to measure your progress towards your goals. You may have heard the famous management axiom “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.” Your metrics will ultimately let you know whether or not your strategic plan was effective.

The target is the number you need to reach to achieve your goal. In the examples above, the target is directly integrated into the goal statement: 20% for the increase in donations, 10% for the growth in community engagement.

Let’s look at some examples of personal and professional goals with associated KPIs:

Personal Goals & KPIs:

Goal 1 – Read more: KPI 1 –   # of non-work related books I read each month.

Goal 2 – Exercise more. KPI 2 –  # of times I go jogging each week.

Goal 3 – Play more: KPI 3 –  # of fun things I do every day.

Professional Goals & KPIs:

Goal 1 – Read more: KPI 1 –  # of work related articles I read each week.

Goal 2 – Improve typing skills: KPI 2 –  # of typing classes I attend each month.

Goal 3 – Improve public speaking skills: KPI 3 –  # of presentations conducted each year.

  1. Self-Assessment: the “let’s get real” 

No strategic planning process would be worth its salt without a good Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats  (a.k.a S.W.O.T.) assessment. The first two are usually internal and the second two are usually external.

Printable-SWOT-Analysis-Templates-for-DownloadDraw a grid like the one you see on the left and in the individual quadrants write your:

  • Strengths: the (internal) attributes you possess that will help advance your plan.
  • Weaknesses: the (internal) attributes you possess that will hinder your plan.
  • Opportunities: the (external) conditions that may advance your plan.
  • Threats: the (external) conditions that may hinder your plan.

Strategic inquiry – Now ask:

  • How can I Use each Strength?
  • How can I Stop each Weakness?
  • How can I Exploit each Opportunity?
  • How can I Defend against each Threat?
  1. Putting it all together “the personal strategic plan”

If you did all of the above, you’ve managed to complete a personal assessment, develop a vision for the future, craft goals and related strategies to move towards that future in a systematic way, and establish metrics for your progress. Bravo! Those are all the essential elements of a strategic plan and therefore essential elements of your personal development plan. Now, comes the hard part.

The devil in any plan is always in the execution.

Good luck.

©2017 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

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Last thing, if you liked this post, consider checking out my other most recent post on how to be successful when you are new on the job.



How To Crush It In The First 90 Days!

April 26, 2017 • 6 minute read • by Saeed

“…there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”Donald Rumsfeld

This is about your first 90 days. The most crucial period on your new job.

Your first 90 days on the job are the most crucial because what you do in the first 90 days can have a potential long term effect on your overall experience at the company.  That’s according to Harvard Business School professor Michael D. Watkins who in his 2013 book, The First 90 Days, outlined how these transition times are critical to ultimate success on the job.

If you’ve been on the job but you’re unhappy, think back to your first 90 days. If you are in your first 90 days, this is your chance to chart a course for one of success.

In brief, you have 90 days to prove that you were worth the trouble the hiring department went through to get you in your new seat. That’s true if it’s a new job and it’s also true if you’re promoted into a higher position at the same job. For this post, we are going to assume that the employer has done their bit in on-boarding you to make sure you have what you need to be successful. Now let’s get to work.

Time is not your friend

But focus and attention is. You need to hit the ground running and figure out what’s what quick. You need to know your strengths and weaknesses. What worked in your last job may not work in this one. You may need to acquire new skills, so acquire them. You may need to build new alliances, so build them. You may need to learn new content. So learn it. You need to know what you know and know what you don’t know. Most importantly, you need to be ready for the things you don’t know you don’t know.

What do you need to know?

In short, everything. But you need to prioritize and focus on what’s important. The tendency is to focus on the technical job skills and not enough on politics. It’s understandable to want to gain mastery over the core components of your new job. But it’s relationships and politics that often take us off track. To start, put together a learning plan. Figure out what’s a top priority and what can wait. Use the Eisenhower Decision Matrix.  to figure out what’s important and what’s urgent. Do you know the biggest challenges your department or organization is facing? Why is your department or company facing these challenges? Do you know where the opportunities are? How can you find out? Do you know who the key players are; internally and externally?


How well do you need to know it?

Here is the thing: You fail because you fail to learn and  you learn by directing your attention towards what you want to learn. It’s not about intelligence. It’s about attention. Like sunlight going through a magnifying glass you have to focus your attention. On what? The essentials. What matters most. What keeps you moving forward or better yet what propels you.  If you put your attention on the wrong things, you’ll always be playing catch up. You’ll create head winds for yourself instead of putting the wind at your back. If you just engage in a flurry of activity and change for change’s sake, you’ll blunder and stymie your progress. If you must fail, then fail fast and fail forward. Learn quickly from your mistakes and press on. Your ideas got you hired. The quality of your execution keeps you hired.  

Momentum, Momentum, Momentum

They say in real estate it’s all about location. In the first 90 days, it’s all about momentum. Here is the wind analogy again: Your job is to get wind in your sails, not tears. Tears hold you back. Wind keeps you moving and even accelerates your journey. Wind =Wins. You need early wins to propel you. To get them, you need to adjust to the culture, adjust to your boss  and get in alignment with where the business is going. Don’t work against the grain. Don’t sail on sand. You need to root out misalignment (in yourself and in others) and address it. If you feel resistance (in yourself and in others), look for the release valve. Be a problem solver. Be a facilitator. Create value. Grease your own runway.

Get To Know the PPL

Unless you are a monk in a cave, work is about relationships. Know what motivates each member of your team. If you have A players, do everything to keep them and get them on your side. They’ll propel you the most. Take time to listen instead of showing off your knowledge and skills. Build credibility before visibility. Be positive.  Be collaborative. Be assertive. And if you’re in a position of power, recognize that direct authority is never enough and never sustainable. You have to build buy-in. You have to build coalitions. Don’t just focus “vertically” on managers above you—also create “horizontal” alliances. Remember, of all the people in the room, 50% will support you; 20% never will, and the other 30% are ‘swing voters.’ Where will you spend your time?

Why 90 days?

It’s a quarter, which is a recognized time frame in the business world. Companies often track how they’re doing based on how much progress they make each quarter. In presidential politics, the fixation with the first 100 days traces its history back to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who passed 15 major pieces of legislation during the era of the Great Depression. Presidents have been trying to manage that impossible standard and the expectations surrounding it ever since.

The First 90 Days Are Your Architectural Blueprint

Your first 90 days are when opinions and impressions are formed about you. If you’re late every morning, you’ll be labeled accordingly; if you make mistakes you may be thought of as careless going forward. Reputations, once built, can be tough to break. Be on your best game so you can create the best impressions early and build off of them for the rest of your time. Be mindful that you don’t over-promise and under-deliver.

Harsh Beginning May Mean a Harsh Ending

And if you do all this and still have a harsh startup, don’t just ignore the writing that may be on the wall. You should absolutely try to right the wrongs, give the benefit of doubt, and try to make it work. But also know and be ready for how long that should take and when you should take action if you don’t see improvement in your experience. Statistics tell the story: 20 percent of employee turnover happens in the first 90 days of employment.  That means that one of every five people who start a new job today are likely to have left that job within just three months. And that, may be a good thing.

Invest in your first 90 days. It will pay you back in dividends.

Good luck.

Tethered to Technology: Smartphone Stress and Digital Anxiety

April 18, 2017 • 5 minute read • by Saeed

I was recently on a trip to Marrakech. The last time I was there was 20 years ago. My sister asked me what had changed? The only change I could see was a Smartphone in every Moroccan hand and heads constantly buried in them.

We’ve developed an insatiable appetite for new digital media. Facebook, Apple, Google and a host of other Silicon Valley behemoths are all too happy to supply a constant stream of new apps and devices to feed our obsession.

Apple has sold over a billion iPhones since its launch in 2007 and Google now claims to process over 40,000 search queries every second worldwide. That’s 3.5 billion searches per day or 1.2 trillion searches per year. At last count, Facebook had over 1.7 billion monthly active users. That’s larger than the population of India (1.252 billion) or China (1.357 billion).

The New Normal

For millennials, the on-the-go connectivity is simply the way life has always been.

Their phones have always been smart.

The Internet has always been on.

Content has always been on a constant stream.

They’ve likely never waited in line at the bank, rarely waited for letters to arrive by mail, and seldom had their musical choices limited to the radio or what can fit on a mass-marketed CD.

They’ve always been able to choose humane, green, fair trade, organic, and employee owned. Their shopping has always been aligned with their core values and facilitated online.

For the rest of us, this is the new normal and our digital life is here to stay. Technology has ingrained and ingratiated itself into our daily lives. So, it’s reasonable to wonder about its real world impact.

An Assault on Focus

If technology has eroded your ability to focus, you are not alone. If your mind is constantly wandering, wanting to get on the internet, scanning ahead, or needing to check in with your virtual world every few seconds, you are not alone. And you are not alone if you want to do just about anything except focus your attention on one thing for a long period of time.

Technology has not only changed the way we communicate and socialize, it’s changed our brains. The nature of brain neuroplasticity is that it is responsive to the new stimulations caused by technology. Technology changes the way we think, act, learn, make choices and interact with each another. It has added convenience, yes. But it has also increased our dependency and is chipping away daily at our ability to concentrate.

Connection Anxiety

Smartphones alone bring an unprecedented level of convenience but also codependence to our lives. Instead of separation anxiety, we have developed ‘connection’ anxiety. Smartphones tether us to our colleagues, bosses, friends, and relatives.

A recent study showed that when used for work-related communications they disturb our ability to psychologically disengage from the stress of the job. This makes us vulnerable to work-related exhaustion. Increased productivity because we stay connected to work in the evening hours is achieved at the cost of our mental health. In another study, researchers found that heavy Smartphone users they separated from their phones showed increased anxiety after only 10 minutes and that anxiety continued to increase across the hour long study.

The Emoji Society

In the 21st century, our real and virtual worlds overlap. They comingle, cohabitate, and collide in a digital world that uses 21st century tools to mediate our interaction.  But what are the consequences of having tools that are always on and that blur the boundaries between virtual and real friends or personal and professional communication?

Instead of face-to-face communication, what are the consequences when we send photos, video, or other multimedia representations of our self, to convey friendliness, build intimacy, or express strong emotions?

The average American sends 96 emojis per day! What happens when emojis take over our communication and when our sentences are reduced to 140 characters to fit into an online text box?

Technology will continue to redefine how we interact with our digital ecosystem. But at what cost? I  would love to hear what you think. Let me know by sounding off in the comments below.

  1. Is the new technology isolating people or augmenting existing social relationships?
  2. Is it enhancing or deteriorating the state of our interpersonal communication?

How Do I Live a Good Life?

April 16, 2017 • 5 minute read • by Saeed

“The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination.”Carl Rogers, American psychologist and one of the founders of the humanistic approach to psychology.

Johnny Depp likes to tell the story of when he met Marlon Brando before the filming of the 1994 romantic comedy-drama Don Juan DeMarco. Over dinner at Brando’s house, Depp began to recite the prologue to the William Saroyan play ‘The Time of Your Life,’ which he considered a road map for how one should live life. Halfway through, Brando finished the soliloquy for him verbatim. Depp then pulled out a dog-eared version which he’d carried around in his wallet for years to show him. At this point Brando got up to show Depp his own framed copy which he had also carried around for years in his wallet.

Go here to hear Depp telling the story. In the meantime, below is the prologue that guided the lives of two of the finest thesps the silver screen has seen. Enjoy!

The Time of Your Life (prologue) –  by William Saroyan

“In the time of your life, live — so that in that good time there shall be no ugliness or death for yourself or for any life your life touches.

Seek goodness everywhere, and when it is found, bring it out of its hiding-place and let it be free and unashamed.

Place in matter and in flesh the least of values, for these are the things that hold death and must pass away.

Discover in all things that which shines and is beyond corruption. Encourage virtue in whatever heart it may have been driven into secrecy and sorrow by the shame and terror of the world.

Ignore the obvious, for it is unworthy of the clear eye and the kindly heart.

Be the inferior of no man, nor of any man be the superior. Remember that every man is a variation of yourself. No man’s guilt is not yours, nor is any man’s innocence a thing apart.

Despise evil and ungodliness, but not men of ungodliness or evil. These, understand.

Have no shame in being kindly and gentle, but if the time comes in the time of your life to kill, kill and have no regret.

In the time of your life, live — so that in that in that wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it.”

Citation. Prologue from the play in three acts. Copyright ©1939 by William Saroyan.

The Upward Spiral, Karma, and the Science of Gratitude

April 14, 2017 • 3 minute read • by Saeed

Stop searching for life’s big kahuna burger to make you happy.  As I made the case in my previous post, success in life is measured in increments.

In Upward Spiral, UCLA neuroscientist Alex Korb writes about how happiness and depression aren’t as hardwired as you may think. Little things you do habitually can create an upward spiral of positive feelings in the brain.

There’s science to prove it.

The benefits of gratitude start with the dopamine system, because feeling grateful activates the brain stem region that produces dopamine.

Gratitude toward others increases activity in social dopamine circuits, which makes social interactions more enjoyable.

Everything is interconnected:

Gratitude improves sleep.

Sleep reduces pain.

Reduced pain improves your mood.

Improved mood reduces anxiety, which improves focus and planning.

Focus and planning help with decision making.

Decision making further reduces anxiety and improves enjoyment.

Enjoyment gives you more to be grateful for, which keeps that loop of the upward spiral going.

Enjoyment also makes it more likely you’ll exercise and be social, which, in turn, will make you happier.

To a Buddhist, Karma is the law of causation and is dependent on the interconnectedness of phenomena. Karma does not deal with any notion of justice. Karma states that all the actions a person undertakes have consequences.

If you recognize these simple truths, you will have uncovered the key secret to a good life backed by ancient wisdom and scientific research.

Start today. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. It’s simple (though not always easy).

What do you have to lose?

What do you have to gain?


Life is a Game of Inches

April 11, 2017 • 10 minute read • by Saeed

“Little strokes fell great oaks.”Benjamin Franklin

Life (insert success, innovation, change etc.) is not a moon shot. There are no silver bullets, overnight success stories, lottery bonanzas, and sudden epiphanies that lead to big bang solutions. You can’t leap frog your way into the CEO chair. You can’t just quit the job you hate to be your own boss tomorrow.


Does it ever happen? Yes, of course it does. But those are the one-offs. The aberrations. The deviations from the norm. Look beyond the gloss and the hype and you’ll discover that most overnight success stories were years in the making. If you want to be an overnight success, you have to be an everyday hustler.

In “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell famously posited that it takes 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” to become world-class in any field. That’s about 10 years to you and me. Deliberate practice, in turn, requires patience and above all self-discipline. It is not a lack of luck but a lack of self-discipline that makes success elusive for so many.

To make matters worse, stress and chronic dissatisfaction with jobs (insert relationships, finances, fitness etc.)  become the flames of urgency that stoke your false belief that everything has to happen right now. With no concrete goal or system in place to move the ball forward, you are left frustrated and unhappy.

I’ve obsessed over and studied the back stories of hundreds of successful people. Here’s the deeper insight into how they level up that almost no one talks about: success is about doing the work. It is about action and action is about  implementation, follow-through, and completion. You get there, not in one giant leap of faith, but in one small step at a time. That is the difference between winning and losing.

Success is about inches not yards

In the movie Any Given Sunday, a once-great (American) football team that is now plagued with injuries and internal dissension, is struggling to make the playoffs. The coach, played by Al Pacino, has to give a speech (must watch) to his players that will motivate them to put aside their differences and work together as a team.

Pacino starts with expressing that he is overwhelmed by the situation. At first, he appears a broken man similar to his players. Then, he changes gradually to a sage who offers words of profound wisdom and a solution for how to win in life and in the game.

“You know when you get old in life things get taken from you.

That’s, that’s part of life.

But, you only learn that when you start losing stuff.

You find out that life is just a game of inches.

So is football.

Because in either game life or football the margin for error is so small.

I mean one half step too late or to early you don’t quite make it.

One half second too slow or too fast and you don’t quite catch it.

The inches we need are everywhere around us.
They are in ever break of the game
every minute, every second.”

Winston Churchill said that a speech is poetry without form or rhyme. This is one of the greatest inspirational speeches ever captured on celluloid. It is regularly used in courses about public speaking, rhetoric, coaching, and teamwork. Even if you don’t like American football, you will love this speech because it’s really about life. It is about how you execute on a plan. How you reach a goal. It is about how life battles aren’t won with a huge step or a big achievement. It is about how you progress and continually improve “inch by inch” with small steps and tasks done with full effort.

Kaizen – Cultivating a mindset of discipline

One approach to continuous and incremental improvement originated in Japan and is called kaizen. The word translates to mean change (kai) for the good (zen). Kaizen is more philosophy than tool, more mindset than mechanism. It is responsible for the success of lean Japanese manufacturing but you can gain the benefits of kaisen at the personal, team, and organizational level. Much of the focus of kaisen is on reducing waste while increasing efficiency. The genius of kaizen is that it recognizes that improvement is not a destination, it is a process. It is a 4-step circular process usually executed in a systematic manner with some variation of these elements: assess, plan, implement and evaluate (another version is plan, do, check, act). 


Kaizen is about instilling discipline where previously there was none. It’s about showing up and doing the work in a systematic manner, one step, one hour, one task, and one improvement at a time. Like sunlight through a magnifying glass, laser focused discipline applied in a systematic manner towards an objective or a goal has magical power.


All achievement follows deliberate and disciplined action.

Kaizen strives to even out the uneven nature of improvement. It is an antidote to the adrenaline fueled panic that you get when you realize your life is passing you by, your business is failing, or your team is falling apart. It is the counterbalance to those moments where you decide that you are going to tackle xyz once and for all, forever and for good only to have your fiery ambition extinguished within a matter of days or at the first setback you experience.

Focusing on big goals far into the distant future may inspire awe and wonderment at first. It may even give you a boost of motivation. But inevitably it leads to stupefaction, paralysis and inaction. Motivation is easy to find but hard to maintain. You’ll soon start looking for shortcuts and excuses for why you can’t make it to the gym or start that new blog or fill in the blank. To find success, you have to find a permanent way to get off that rollercoaster. You have to embrace the philosophy of small, gradual, incremental, and disciplined continuous improvement. The path to change is through sustained action. By breaking down big, audacious goals into small, discrete tasks, kaizen encourages that action. Live for the small wins rather than the big windfalls.

As Pacino says:

“If I am going to have any life anymore, it is because I am still willing to fight and die for that inch. Because that’s  what LIVING is. The six inches in front of your face.”

The Wisdom of the Little Tramp

April 10, 2017 • 5 minute read • by Charlie Chaplin

In a career spanning more than 75 years, Charlie Chaplin is considered by many to be one of the greatest actors of all time. Beyond acting, Chaplin was a humanist who believed ardently in the power of laughter and tears as an antidote to hatred and terror.

The iconic actor of the silent film era was also a deeply reflective man. Few people know just how insightful and intelligent he really was was. Even though he passed away almost 50 years ago, he continues to inspire. His movies were great but one of his greatest works is a poem he penned which offers his unique perceptive of life and self-love.

Charlie Chaplin – as I began to love myself

As I began to love myself I found that anguish and emotional suffering are only warning signs that I was living against my own truth. Today, I know, this is “AUTHENTICITY”.

As I began to love myself I understood how much it can offend somebody if I try to force my desires on this person, even though I knew the time was not right and the person was not ready for it, and even though this person was me. Today I call it “RESPECT”.

As I began to love myself I stopped craving for a different life, and I could see that everything that surrounded me was inviting me to grow. Today I call it “MATURITY”.

As I began to love myself I understood that at any circumstance, I am in the right place at the right time, and everything happens at the exactly right moment. So I could be calm. Today I call it “SELF-CONFIDENCE”.

As I began to love myself I quit stealing my own time, and I stopped designing huge projects for the future. Today, I only do what brings me joy and happiness, things I love to do and that make my heart cheer, and I do them in my own way and in my own rhythm. Today I call it “SIMPLICITY”.

As I began to love myself I freed myself of anything that is no good for my health – food, people, things, situations, and everything that drew me down and away from myself. At first I called this attitude a healthy egoism. Today I know it is “LOVE OF ONESELF”.

As I began to love myself I quit trying to always be right, and ever since I was wrong less of the time. Today I discovered that is “MODESTY”.

As I began to love myself I refused to go on living in the past and worrying about the future. Now, I only live for the moment, where everything is happening. Today I live each day, day by day, and I call it “FULFILLMENT”.

As I began to love myself I recognized that my mind can disturb me and it can make me sick. But as I connected it to my heart, my mind became a valuable ally. Today I call this connection “WISDOM OF THE HEART”.

We no longer need to fear arguments, confrontations or any kind of problems with ourselves or others. Even stars collide, and out of their crashing new worlds are born. Today I know “THAT IS LIFE”!

Charlie Chaplin

Happiness is the Wrong Pursuit!


March 29, 2017 • 9 minute read • by Saeed

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” — Mark Twain

When you wake up in the morning, do you throw the covers off raring to go or do you pull them over your head and hide from the day as long as you can?

Are you engaged in your work and life?

You know What you do and you know How you do it but do you know Why?

In his famous TED talk and book titled Start with Why, Simon Sinek defines the Why really well.

Most leaders and companies focus on What.

But inspired leaders think, act, and communicate with Why.

The Why is your purpose, your cause, your reason to exist.

  • Why does your organization exist?
  • Why do you get out of bed in the morning?
  • Why should anyone care?

Sinek says: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

To make his case, he points to Steve Jobs.

He says, “If Apple were like everyone else,” they would say,  “We make great computers, they’re beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly. Want to buy one?”

But instead Apple says: “Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?”

Jobs challenged the status quo. Jobs was a different kind of thinker. He also studied and was influenced by the principles of Zen aesthetics found in the art of the traditional Japanese garden and Japanese minimalism.

In Japanese, the term ikigai translates roughly to “a reason for being.”

Let’s break that down: iki, refers to life, and kai, roughly means “the realization of what one expects and hopes for.”

Ikigai is the singular force behind your life, and as seen in the image below, it combines four areas: 1) what you love, 2) what you’re good at, 3) what you can be paid for, and 4) what the world needs.


Your purpose is found in the space where these four elements meet. It is in this ‘sweet spot’ where you provide the most value to the world and where life gives the most meaning.

Though it can be illusive and hard to discover, everyone (and everything) has a purpose and “a reason for being.” But once you discover it, you can achieve the satisfaction and fulfillment that gives meaning to life. The pursuit of meaning, not happiness, is what makes life worth living.

Defining your ikigai does not have to be complicated but it is also not simply about following your passions. Getting there requires reflection, experimentation, and patience. Take a moment to contemplate it.

  • What do you love?
  • What are you great at doing?
  • What does the world need?
  • What can you make a living doing?

What is your ikigai? Why do you exist?

If you know the Why, you will figure out the What and the How.

Jobs used to say, “I’ve looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself if today were the last day of my life would I do what I am about to do today, and whenever the answer has been ‘No’ too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

The average person spends over 90,000 hours at work over their lifetime.

What are you doing today?


 Ikigai watercolor by the Paper Seahorse – for Creativity and Mindfulness.

Killing Us Softly: The Deadly Impact of Work-Related Stress

February 3, 2015 • 8 minute read • by Saeed

“It is not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.”

-Hans Selye-

The nature of work is changing at a whirlwind pace and stress related illness is a serious menace for people in the work force.

Not only have hours worked per week been steadily on the rise for decades, but the ‘always on’ connectivity and rapid development of new technology seems to be irreversibly driving the trend towards obliterating what thinly veiled boundaries remain. A recent Pew survey found that 35 percent of adults say the Internet, email and mobile phones have increased their hours worked. For office workers, the number rises to 47 percent.

This is the new normal: our digital life is here to stay.

Meanwhile, there is a wealth of scientific data on work-related stress, its causes and effects, and on some of the mechanisms underpinning the relationships among these. More general research is not needed. Numerous studies, for example, show that job stress is far and away the major source of stress-related illness for American adults. What is needed however, is for this research to be translated into policy and practice, and the effectiveness of the practice to be evaluated. What is required is a better understanding of the more specific questions about particular aspects of the overall stress process and its underpinning mechanisms.

Work vs. Life

The concept of a work-leisure dichotomy first surfaced in the mid-1800s while the more modern expression ‘work–life balance,’ was first used in the United Kingdom in the late 1970s and in the United States in the mid 1980s.

Despite progress in implementing so called ‘work-life balance’ programs, stress-related illness remains a serious concern and health risk in the workplace. In recent studies, The American Institute of Stress found that 80% of workers feel stress on the job but only 20% cited the juggling of work/personal lives as the reason for their stress. The majority cited workload (46%) and people issues (28%) as the source of their stress.

For U.S. workers, the 40-hour, five-day work week became the standard in 1938. Ever since, Americans have been steadily increasing their work hours. Nearly half of U.S. workers today say they routinely put in more than 50 hours on the job each week, often without overtime pay. In fact, U.S. workers put in more hours on the job than the labor force of any other industrial nation, including Germany, the number one economy in Europe and Japan, where death from overwork has a name:karōshi.

The first case of karōshi was reported in 1969 with the stroke-related death of a 29-year-old Japanese worker. It became a full-fledged phenomenon in the 1980s when several high-ranking business execs who were still in their prime suddenly keeled over without any previous sign of illness.

Encouraged by always-on gadgets, so-called “work martyrs” on both sides of the Atlantic give hundreds of hours in free labor to their employers every year – working through nights, weekends, and vacations (and in the case of parents, their children’s most precious years).

More Work ≠ More Productivity

The irony is that more work does not lead to more productivity. Research that attempts to quantify the relationship between hours worked and productivity has found that employee output falls sharply after a 50-hour work-week, and falls off a cliff after 55 hours—so much so that someone who puts in 70 hours produces nothing more with those extra 15 hours, according to a study published last year by John Pencavel of Stanford University. Longer hours have also been connected to absenteeism and employee turnover, which cost companies hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

Stress is a highly personalized phenomenon and can vary widely even in identical situations for different reasons. One survey showed that having to complete paper work was more stressful for many police officers than the dangers associated with pursuing criminals.

The severity of job stress depends on the magnitude of the demands that are being made and the individual’s sense of control or decision-making latitude he or she has in dealing with them. Scientific studies based on this model confirm that workers who perceive they are subjected to high demands but have little control are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease, hypertension and other disorders.

It appears then that coping is really an attempt to establish perceived control and that employers would do well to involve their workers in greater levels of decision making and autonomy. Not surprisingly, when they do, productivity levels increase.

Towards More Progressive Workplace Policy

Meanwhile, workplace policies are taking a schizophrenic turn. On the one hand, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s 2013 decision not to allow employees to work from home seemed regressive to many, while on the other, the world’s second richest man Carlos Slim more recently suggested that workers should shift to a three-day work week (with the caveat that we would put in 11-hour work days and stay on the job until age 70 or 75).

Surprisingly, a 2008 survey of workers by the Families and Work Institute found that 46% of those offered the option of a compressed week declined it most of the time.

The strategic argument for the management of work-related stress is that work stress is a current and future health and safety issue, and, as such, should be dealt with in the same logical and systematic way as other health and safety issues. That is, the management of stress at work is and should be a serious policy consideration.

It has famously been said that Europeans ‘work to live’ while Americans ‘live to work.’ However, even in comparatively laid back Europe, things may be changing to keep pace with international markets. It appears that in addition to our cultural exports of such value as the Kardashians, we are also exporting our die hard work ethic. What we need is a recalibration of that ethic whose limits placed on professional hours worked and personal hours sacrificed seem to know no bounds.

Meanwhile, the Taiwanese media recently cited a case of karōshi of an engineer who was reported to have been working 16-19 hour days.

These cases should be a wake-up call that the cure for our overworked culture will not be settled inside the laboratory but rather inside the Board rooms of America’s most influential companies who must establish progressive policy and common practice while developing consensus that the balance of American life is tilted dangerously, but not productively, in favor of work.

Good luck.

©2014 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

I Crashed My Motorcycle and Learned 5 Profound Life Lessons

January 28, 2015 • 5 minute read • by Saeed

“Every crisis offers you extra desired power.” ~ Unknown.

First off, I am okay. Thanks for asking. Every motorcycle rider expects to crash. What I don’t expect is to have my faith in humanity restored as a result of it.

Here is how it happened.

My crash set off a series of encounters with bystanders, the police, a tow truck driver, a motorcycle mechanic and the young father I met on the bus ride home that would each reinforce valuable and profound lessons.

My Kawasaki W650 (affectionately named Wilma by my son) is a rare and beautiful machine. You can see that in the picture above. I polish mine daily with unicorn fur. I was headed back from a business meeting volunteering for a nonprofit whose work I liked when the accident happened.

Three car lengths ahead someone slammed on their brakes causing a chain reaction to the rear. Because the W650 does not come equipped with anti-lock brakes, when I slammed on mine, I locked up the front wheel and laid down the bike. It helped me avoid hitting the car directly in front but I sacrificed my bike in the process. None of the vehicles in the accident made contact with each other but in an instant I was on the ground with a heap of metal on top of me.

Lesson #1: People are basically good…

I don’t know how many people rushed to my aid but it was many. Someone lifted the bike off of me and someone else pushed it to the side of the road. Everyone asked if I was okay. The best was an elderly man (Tom) and his wife who were in the car behind me when the accident happened. They pulled over to offer me a ride to the hospital and would not leave until they were 100% sure I was okay. I was basically okay. Road rash and limp but basically okay.

Thanks Tom. You and your wife are two of the kindest souls I’ve ever met.

Lesson #2: Judge people by their inside, not their outside…

Eventually a cop showed up as they often do to accident scenes where injuries are involved. I am weary of cops. Maybe it’s the cause-less rebel in me but I am. He talked to the lady driving the car in the front who slammed on her brakes. He found out she was on meds. What could I do? He eventually left and I was glad he did. I called AAA and waited feeling sullen about my beautiful machine that was now a mangled mess of metal. The scene started to clear out of other people too when I spotted the cop coming back. I thought, here we go. He’s going to hassle me. It turns out he was a motorcycle enthusiast and he just wanted to keep me company while I waited for my tow. We started talking about bikes and he told me about the Harley he rode to Mexico in his younger days. I loved his stories. The journalist trapped inside of me suddenly shifted the conversation.

“Officer,” I said, “may I ask you something?”

“Sure,” he replied.

“As a police officer, how do you feel about the police shootings and protests that have dominated the headlines this year?”

In the next few moments of conversation, Mark, an African American cop born and raised in Oakland, opened my eyes to race relations and the reality of community policing in the United States in a way I could not have imagined. It’s not a black and white issue.

Thank you Mark. Much respect to you and your profession.

Lesson #3: Optimism trumps adversity…

The tow truck driver was a surly and easy going man in his 30s but he looked much older. Another motorcycle enthusiast, at first he tried to fix my bike. Having failed, he mounted it on the truck with the help of the police officer. On the ride to the only mechanic shop I could find open, I learned he had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and told he had three months to live. Nearly 15 years later, he is healthy and vibrant. In asking what got him through the ordeal, he replied: “I’ve always had a positive outlook on life.” I asked about his personal life (journalist again). He told me about his agoraphobic girlfriend. I imagined adversity but I was wrong.

“We are very happy together,” he said. “We plan to move to Iceland.” That took me by surprise.

“Why Iceland,” I asked.

“Because there was only one murder there last year,” he replied.

“What will you do for a living?” I asked, to which he confidently replied: “I am a tow truck driver — cars are everywhere. Wherever I go, I can get a job.”

After dropping me off at the motorcycle shop he offered to wait to take me home but I declined out of consideration for his time. I reached into my pocket and took out what cash I had left to offer him a tip and he declined out of consideration for my loss.

“You’ll need it for the ride home,” he said.

Thanks Bobby. Your resilience and optimism still inspire me. I wonder where you are now.

Lesson #4: Do what you love, love what you do…

My regular mechanic shop was closed. I love my shop and I refuse to take my bike anywhere else. The X factor with the two gentlemen who own the shop is that one of them is a former economist and the other a physicist. They’re both PhDs.They traded their life in academia for doing what they love and for what makes them happy — turning wrenches on bikes. I’ve been taking my bike there for years and never thought I’d go anywhere else. But today, the only shop I could find open was in the middle of the crack infested neighborhood in San Francisco called the Tenderloin.

The shop owner greeted me when we arrived and he immediately recognized my bike with a sense of affection.

“I have two of these myself,” he said. I was delighted. He knows how to work on my bike, I thought.

After a quick inspection, we got into a conversation. He was a refugee from Vietnam. He spent his initial years in a refugee camp in the Philippines separated from his family. When he finally made it to the US, he started life as a janitor in a motorcycle dealership before learning how to work on bikes. He saved money, was reunited with his family and after 30 years of hard work, he retired as the head mechanic of the dealership. In 2008, when the global economy melted down, he was laid off. He decided to risk everything and put all his savings into the motorcycle repair shop.

“I am not rich,” he said, “but I am happy.”

Eventually, Adam fixed my bike with a part off his own bike because the part was too rare to find even online.

Thank you Adam. You are the best mechanic ever. And you don’t even have a PhD.

Lesson #5: Help others and you will help yourself…

I left the shop with the intention to Uber my way home but decided to take the bus instead because surge pricing was in effect.

My cell battery was drained by now from use so there was nothing to distract me except the view out the window. We came to the next station and the doors swung open. A young man and woman pushing a baby stroller boarded and sat next to me. Once again, my inner journalist emerged.

I discovered that Anton and his girlfriend were not married. Their daughter was ten months old and he had a two year old son from another relationship. His ex girlfriend would not let him see his son. Anton told me that he never saw his own father and he did not want this to happen to his son.

I told Anton about community resources available through nonprofits I had volunteered for that could give him support and put him on the track to re-establishing a relationship with his son. I gave him the names and numbers of a couple of attorneys I knew who did pro bono work for the community. I got to my station and before hopping off Anton said to me: “I know there is a reason why God put me on the bus with you today.”

I got off the bus feeling a sense of renewed purpose and fulfillment for having been able to help another human being, albeit in a small way.

Thank you Anton. I think there is a reason why we met too.

A final Word…

It may sound mushy but my day left me feeling that life is mysterious and wonderful. I was aghast at how my disaster could become so inspiring. It was a beautiful day. That I walked away from a motorcycle accident is something in and of itself. That my faith in humanity was restored as a result, feels like a small miracle. I am sure that these encounters have a deeper meaning than I even realize now. There are angels everywhere if you care to see them. It is good to be reminded that sometimes you need to slow down, embrace the kindness of strangers, suspend assumptions and judgments, do the work you love, and open your mind, heart and eyes to the everyday magic that is all around you.

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

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©2017 — All Content and Photography by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.