“Each man should frame life so that at some future hour fact and his dreaming meet.” – Victor Hugo
This is the first in a series of posts about how to leverage The 7 Systems of Influence to become a better author. If you want to start from the beginning or find links to all the posts in this series, go here.
Highly influential people have a clear and compelling vision of what they want to do. You might call this vision a purpose, mission, calling, or dream.
In 1999, as a young college student, I got a job as a web designer for a small Utah-based startup called MyComputer.com. Over the next five months I saw the company grow from twenty employees to sixty, and as I watched the founders, who were only a year or two older than I was, I thought “I could do that.” I lasted just five months before I quit to start my own business. The vision of entrepreneurial success was too alluring and powerful for me to resist.
In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen R. Covey taught, “All things are created twice,” first in your mind (i.e., vision), and then in real life. We create visions, or imaginary futures, thousands of times each day, most of the time without knowing it. Whether you’re doing something as simple as reaching for the toothpaste, or working out to become a bodybuilding champion, you are acting on a vision that has already played out in your mind.
The mind is the limit. As long as the mind can envision the fact that you can do something, you can do it, as long as you really believe it 100 percent. – Arnold Schwarzenegger
Our visions come in many forms. You may have a vision that is broad with a long term focus (e.g., “I want to have a meaningful and fulfilling life.”) and another that is narrow and oriented towards the short term (e.g., “I want my kid to take out the trash today.”). A vision can relate to roles you have (e.g., “I want to be a better spouse, parent, friend, leader, employer, employee, etc.”) or different areas of your life such as the social, intellectual, emotional, spiritual, or professional. Your vision will always be directed by your values like honesty, service, humility, and growth.
Of course, you’re here because you have a vision that you’re going to publish a book. In order to reach your destination, you need to know where you are right now and what it means to arrive. And before that, you need to truly know who you are.
VISION, PART 1: DEFINE YOUR CORE IDENTITY
If only it were that easy.
Big dreams can be enticing, and they are within your reach, but only if you know who you are and who you want to be. This is your “Core Identity,” and it’s based on the roles you fill, and values you live up to while acting in those roles.
Once you know what your Core Identity is, it will guide you as you plan and write a book that aligns with who you truly are as well as who you’re working to become. It will help you know what to do as well as what distractions to avoid, leading to more influence and impact.
Use the six steps below to discover, refine, and live your Core Identity. Then you will be prepared to weave it into your book.
STEP 1: DEFINE YOUR CORE VALUES
Which character traits are most important to you in yourself? In others? List as many as you can on a piece of paper, in a Google doc, or wherever is convenient. Write down at least 20. Hints: Integrity, empathy, honesty, accountability, loyalty, compassion, passion, fun, humility, ownership, kindness, love, growth mindset, fairness, forgiveness, generosity, perseverance, optimism, reliability, self-discipline.
Once you have a big list, circle the ten that are most important for you to find in yourself.
Next, draw a square around ten that you value most in others.
If you have more than five traits with both circles and squares around them, rank them by how important they are to you and select the top five. These are your Core Values.
STEP 2: DEFINE YOUR CORE ROLES
A role is something or someone that you are. I am a husband, father, son, brother, and friend. Roles are nouns, not adjectives, therefore it would be correct to say you are a marketer or author, but if you say you’re a “savvy marketer” or a “skilled author” you’re taking it too far. We want to focus on your roles, not the quality of your performance within that role.
Which roles do you have? List as many as you can (at least 20). Hints: author, entrepreneur, wife, husband, son, daughter, friend, neighbor, leader, follower, teacher, student, employee, employer, coworker, programmer, sneakerhead, triathlete, artist, reader, writer, vegan, coach, dog owner.
Once your list is large enough, circle the five roles that are most important to you.
Next, number them 1 through 5, from most important to least important.
These are your Core Roles.
When you combine your Core Roles with your Core Values you get your Core Identity.
Your Core Identity is everything, which is why it’s the focus of the stories we tell. At the end of the movie Saving Private Ryan the title character, now an old man, visits a military cemetery where the bodies of his comrades lie, and pleadingly asks his wife, “Tell me I’m a good man.”
“Man,” is the role. “Good,” is the value.
This story may be fiction, but knowing and living your Core Identity will give you real power.
Note: If you do this exercise with your entire life as the context, your top five roles may not include anything professional. For example, my top roles in life are husband, father, son, brother, and friend, but for this exercise you may prefer to restrict it to your professional roles like author and entrepreneur.
STEP 3: ELIMINATE THE GAP BETWEEN DREAM & REALITY
Many people struggle to find their Core Identity because they assume if they’re not living it perfectly, it’s not who they really are. In reality, who you are sincerely trying to become says at least as much about who you really are as who you are today.
While you’re working on your book the thought will come to you, “Who am I to tell anyone how to do something better?” Remember that you’re not doing this because you’re a perfect example of what you preach, or because you’ve arrived at your final destination, but because you’ve found a map of how to get there and you’re inviting others to join you on the journey. It’s ok if you’re not there yet, as long as you’re working on it.
To work towards your ideal Core Identity, measure the gap between where you are and where you want to be, and then create plans on how to shrink those gaps.
Create a matrix like the one below and fill in your Core Values down the left, and your Core Roles across the top.
Next, score yourself on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the best—how well are you living each value, for each role? For example, if one of your roles is “author” and one of your values is “honest,” you might score your performance in this area somewhere between a 6 and an 8 if you feel like you’re doing pretty well, but you know there’s room for improvement.
Finally, add up the five numbers in each column to find your aggregate “Role Score.”
Pro tip: After you’ve finished your self-evaluation, enroll someone who knows you well, and whom you trust to be frank with you, to score you, without first seeing how you scored yourself. Then discuss the discrepancies and similarities between your two sets of scores with them.
STEP 4: ACT
Can you change who you are? Yes. I challenge you to write on a post-it note, “I am an author.” You weren’t an author, and now you are. Becoming an author is not something that happens to you, it’s a choice. When you chose to declare “I am an author,” you changed your identity.
Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. – C.S. Lewis
However, there are voices that will try to undermine your new identity and make you doubt that it’s real. Action, the kind that helps who you are catch up with who you want to be, will quiet the doubt.
To act, choose your role with the lowest Role Score from above.
Write that role in the box on the left, below. Then write each of your top five values, one per line. Finally, write down one action you can take to improve the score you gave yourself above.
Pro tip: You’re more likely to do these if your actions are fast and simple. To get started, think of small actions you can complete within the next few minutes, or no later than the end of today.
Once you’ve completed the actions for this one role, add more actions. Repeat this exercise for your other Core Roles. Work them into a regular schedule, like these examples:
- Kevin – “Each week I print out a sheet of paper with my role/value combinations and an action for each one, then I try to check them all off during the week. I find that a lot of ideas for what to work on come while I’m working on my book.”
- Darla – “I made it part of my morning routine every weekday. Each morning before I start working on my book I focus on one of my core roles and come up with five actions for that day.”
- Stephanie – “I choose a different role each week, depending on where I feel like I need to improve the most. I list out the values and actions, and if I complete them then I add new ones and check those off. I start with five, but I might complete twenty in a week.”
STEP 5: READ IT DAILY
Your Core Identity will serve you in your role as an author and thought leader only to the extent you remember it. Only when it’s memorized will it become so internalized that it impacts every decision you make, large and small, including the content of your book.
To memorize your Core Identity, put your Core Values and Core Roles where you will see them every day. You might design a graphic to use as a home screen for your phone, or you could create a one-page document for each, and put “I Am” above your Core Values, and “Who Am I?” above your Core Roles, then print them out and put them on a bulletin board or stick them to the wall. They can be as simple as this:
Do what works for you, but read your Core Values and Core Roles every single day.
Include them as part of a morning ritual.
Say them out loud.
Rehearse them until they’re ingrained, then keep doing it.
The point isn’t only to have them in front of your eyes, but in your mind and heart.
STEP 6: ANALYZE & REFINE
If you leave this step out, you’re missing at least half the value of this exercise.
Make an appointment to revisit this process one month from now. Create the appointment right now, in your calendar software or whatever you use to schedule events.
There’s no guesswork here, there’s no maybe. As you take action, reviewing this worksheet monthly (or more often if that works best for you), your Core Identity will solidify and become powerful. It will provide you with a strong sense of who you are, who you want to be, and clarity to make the right choices as you encounter obstacles and opportunities. Follow these steps and you will find your Core Identity, and it will improve your writing, making it more authentic, more you.
VISION, PART 2: DEFINE YOUR BOOK VISION
With your Core Identity clear, let’s turn our attention to The Big Dream at hand—your published book, your thought leadership system, and your vision of the future.
STEP 1: IMAGINE THE IDEAL
Write down one or more words that describe the ideal version of yourself within your Core Role as an author. Hint: Try words like exceptional, awesome, successful, happy, recognized, and influential.
STEP 2: DREAM BIG
Next, imagine that two years from now, at least a year after you’ve published your book and implemented your thought leadership system, I ask you how your past two years have been, and you say “It’s been incredible! I can’t believe everything that has happened!”
Whatever events would need to transpire for you to react like this are your dreams. Write them down in the past tense, as though they had already happened.
Pro tip: As long as you’re dreaming, dream big. To dream big, focus on ends rather than means, like “I made $500K doing speaking gigs that also helped me grow my business,” or “My business grew 330% last year.” Whatever your answer is, that’s your real dream, so avoid saying “I sold a million copies of my book!” because the book is only a step to get you to your real destination.
STEP 3: PRIORITIZE
Prioritize your dreams. If you wrote down more than one, what is The Big Dream? Perhaps it’s to quadruple the size of your business, quintuple your salary, or launch a new business. Write it down.
We’ll take the work you’ve done here to clarify your vision and turn it into action when we get to System 5: Action.
PONDER, ACT, & ASK
Think about what you have learned from System 1: Vision, and consider what you can do with it. Answer the questions below:
- What are the most meaningful things I learned in this section?
- What will I do as a result of what I learned in this section?
- What questions do I have? (feel free to ask them in the comments below)
SYSTEM 1: VISION — ADDITIONAL RESOURCES
- Start With Why by Simon Sinek
- Insight by Tasha Eurich
- How Will You Measure Your Life by Clayton Christensen
- The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz
- As a Man Thinketh by James Allen
- Acres of Diamonds by Russell Conwell
- Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl
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