Having an Intention vs Needing a Strategy

November 9, 2015

Intentions are essential, strategy is not.

Most of us go through life thinking we need to have a good strategy. We worry about things like what career to choose, when to get married, how many kids to have and how we’re going to lead next week’s business meeting. It’s almost entirely unnecessary.

What we really need is intention.

Without intention we have no larger picture of what we’re actually trying to accomplish and how we want our life to look. An intention isn’t a detailed plan of how, it’s a statement of purpose, a mental anchor that returns you to the reason you started.

I don’t know if he actually said this, but there’s a wonderful quote attributed to John Lennon about that famous question we ask kids.

When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’.

They told me I didn’t understand the assignment.

I told them they didn’t understand life.

John’s teachers were asking him about his life strategy. What do you want to be when you grow up? A fireman? A doctor? A basketball player? Everyone is looking to see if kids have a strategy for life, but what if we asked them about their intention?

What if instead of asking kids what they wanted to be when they grew up, we asked them questions like “what do you want people to remember you for”? Not because we want them to focus on legacy, but because we want them to think about their intention for living.

My family and friends thought for years that my greatest love was music. I toured the country, worked with a manager and did everything I could to “make it” in music. But music wasn’t my intention, it was my strategy. My intention was to live a life that’s inspirational, free and creative. I wanted a life that I could pour my whole self into, and that’s why I chose music as a career, until I didn’t.

Today I’m not striving for success in music the way I once did, because I’ve changed my strategy, yet my intention is still the same. Today my strategy looks like writing, starting small creative projects and hosting events and festivals with my wife.

I spend a lot of time thinking about my intention, and very little time thinking about strategy. I trust that the right strategy will arise in the moment, and it always does. I’ve led over a hundred workshops this way. I start with an intention for the evening, then let the exercises and strategy come out of what the group needs in that moment.

To most people, letting go of constant planning and the need for strategy is stressful, because it feels like rock climbing without a rope. Learning to trust that you have the skills and the wisdom to think on your feet isn’t easy, but it’s worth the risk, and anyone can do it.

The reason many people fail is they don’t understand that it’s a leap of faith. To access the power you have to think on your feet, you must face the fear of feeling unprepared.

You must leap before you see the net, trusting that it will appear when you need it.


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