14. Set an Intention

This essay is part of my 42 Deep Thoughts project.

I was in a deep funk several years ago. I had just gotten a new manager who had no interest in managing people, only tasks. He had zero interest in getting any context on where I was professionally, what I had achieved thus far, and where I wanted to be. When he joined the team I was siloed in a project that was going nowhere, and I wasn’t going anywhere right along with it.

By the end of that year I was offered a promotion, and had a job offer in hand. This is how I did that.

I strongly believe that when you take control over what you can control in your life, you will gain the ability to control things you didn’t think you could affect.

When life feels out of control I clean my home. If the mess seems too much, I pick one area. This always helps me re-gain control over the rest of my life. I even did this as a teenager.

In this instance, my home was already clean, so I chose another area that I could gain control over. I focused on my health.

Apple Fitness is a wonderful product. It costs the same as a gym, but you can share your membership with your whole family, and it’s in your living-room, so you don’t have to go anywhere. All you need is a yoga mat.

One of my favorite yoga sessions is one of the very first. It focuses on your back health, and it feels like maintenance that should be done daily.

At the beginning of the session the instructor, Jessica, says to set an intention. So I did.

“I strive to excel at everything I do.”

This is the intention I set. Feeling like I didn’t have agency over my professional life, I realized that this was something I could control. The quality of the outcome of the work I provide.

All too often “we go with the flow.” It’s easy to do the things you need to do as they come to your proverbial inbox. That’s the easy way.

By setting an intention we take a step back, we can see our actions, and focus our actions intentionally.

I’m no stranger to intention. In Judaism, everything is done with intention — kavanah. If you do not do a commandment with intention, it’s as if you didn’t even do it. Before you eat anything, you make a blessing. Before you do most things you make a blessing. This ensures that throughout your day you have to stop and think about everything you do. There’s a beauty in this.

By setting my intention on excelling at everything, I ended up changing everything.

I found a better solution to the dead-end project I was working on, a solution that required little code and less maintenance. Then I was free to spearhead a project that transitioned the company’s proprietary core technology onto a less expensive, more performant, and more flexible platform.

Excelling also meant, for me, to excel at my craft. I found a better way to master those dreaded algorithms which are asked during every coding interview these days.

By the end of the year I had a job offer at a dream company, and my manager offered me the promotion I had been seeking.

This was due to my intention, and it permeated everything I was doing. My intention transformed the way I saw myself. I knew myself as someone who was capable of excellence, but the intention helped me actualize that capability. I focused my actions through this very powerful lens of intention, and that prism infused my life with a spectrum, a depth.

There is a flip-side to this. There are stories we tell ourselves that are destructive: we focus on them, and they can become inadvertent intentions. “Nobody likes me.” “I’m not good at that.” “I can’t.” “I won’t.”

These lenses are powerful too, but in a destructive way. The language we use influences the ways we think, and behave. That language can pollute.

There are things that are out of our control. You cannot will yourself to be taller. Nor can you simply wish your bank account balance to increase. If you’re reading this, you’re likely human, and can’t will yourself to being a fish. You can change how you perceive the past, but you cannot change what happened.

However, there is more within your control than you’d believe. I could not change how my manager thought. But I could change my own behavior, and through that, I dramatically changed my situation.

I achieved this by focusing my behavior through the lens of intention. Specifically the intention to excel.

About the photo: Taken from helicopter over Kauai