The End of this Blog as You Know It

After 7 years and over 300 posts, I have decided to end Try Reason!  You can continue to follow me at ProfessorDrake.com or Reason for Success

For my Feed subscribers, I will forward you the blog posts from Reason for Success or you can directly subscribe here: Subscribe in a reader.  I hope all of you will continue to find my posts stimulating and inspiring. 

This site will remain in existence for the time being.  I see no reason to delete it and may still use it sometime in the future.


How to screw up on the first day of class

This fall, I volunteered to participate in a pilot of a software package called "Blackboard Collaborate".  This software is designed to facilitate web conferencing and web lecturing for online students.  I decided to use it in my face-to-face class to capture the student questions and my responses, and then provide it to my online students in recorded form.  They were invited to the real-time session as well, but since many of the online students are working, none took me up on the offer. 

So on my first day of class and my first real experience with Blackboard Collaborate, I totally screwed up.  I spent a couple days prior to class testing the program (including finding a bug in the system).  I thought I knew what to do for the first day of class.  When I got to class, I tested my microphone.  It worked.  I started the program and tested the session recording.  It worked.  Everything looked good!  I then proceeded to talk for the entire hour about the course.  What did I forget?  Well apparently, there is a "Talk" button that allows the microphone sounds to be recorded by the Collaborate Session.  While practicing prior to class, I ran into the same issue, but apparently, it didn't sink in. 

Luckily, I caught the problem quickly and I was able to record a second version of my lecture in my office immediately after the class.  I also informed the students about the problem.

Lesson learned:  No matter how many times you test, something will go wrong when it matters. 
Second lesson:  When things go wrong, don't cry about it.  Just apologize and fix it as soon as possible.  Most people will appreciate your honesty.


Introducing Reason for Success

I'm proud to announce my new blog/website Reason for Success -  the premier personal development destination promoting the virtue of productiveness.  In it, we analyze scientific discovers in goal setting and decision making, explore philosophic insights, discuss industry best practices, examine case studies, review hot new books in personal development, and interview successful individuals from all walks of life.  If you have enjoyed my blog posts on goals, productivity, and purpose on Try Reason, I encourage you to check out the new site and follow us on our journey.  

You also can follow along on Facebook and Twitter.


Time Enough for My Friends

In a recent couple of blog posts, Diana Hsieh at Philosophy in Action and I have articulated different takes on a "Central Purpose in Life".

But it got me to thinking about how my values interact on a daily basis.  Let me give you a quick run down of my day:

This morning I woke up at 7 AM.  I let the dog out, made coffee, ate breakfast, fed the kids, took a shower, and then jumped on the computer to start working.  A little after 8 AM, my wife ran to the gym, leaving me in charge of the kids (since it's summer and all).  I kissed her goodbye and went back to my computer until my kids started yelling for me.  With my full attention, I helped my kids with their life threatening dilemma (something about asking the neighbor kids to play which I empathized with before telling them to wait for their mom).  Then, I went back to my work.  When Brenda got back from the gym, I headed to the office.  Around 3 PM, I got a personal message from a good friend about a medical problem he was having.  I dropped everything I was working on and responded to his message.  Relieved to find out that he was okay, I finished my work, went to the gym myself, then headed home.  I ate dinner with the family, played a game of Crazy 8s with my kids, chugged some trains around, then sent the kids to bed.  My youngest, who skipped his nap today, needed extra help calming himself sufficiently to fall asleep.  By 9, I was free, so I jumped back on the computer to do some more work.  

So what was the point of this narrative?  Throughout my day, my central purpose guided my actions while working.  I took time for other important values in my life, my wife, my kids, my friends.  Although I spent the majority of my time working on my central purpose, there was time enough for my friends, my family, my hobbies, and my health.  

The way I see it, a central productive purpose does not preclude other values.  Rather, a central productive purpose makes the other values possible.  It is the work you do, the specific value you are creating and focusing your energies on, that makes all the other values possible to both afford and enjoy.  Certainly, my family is a huge value to me.  But I agree with Rand that it is not my top value. 

But that being said, Diana has a point about some major values that don't integrate.  My family and my career do not.  When I'm doing one, I'm not doing the other.  My wife and my kids cannot help me with my research or my teaching.  And my research and teaching do not help me enjoy my family.  If I decide to return to my hobby of woodworking, that again will have little or no relationship to my CPL.  But as I have discussed before, my hierarchy of values puts my career first, specifically my passion to help others to make better decisions using information technologies.

I also consider that sometimes life requires several jobs just to make ends meet.  Often times these jobs have no relationship to one another other than you can make money doing them.  You may even have a passion you desperately want to pursue, but cannot make enough money doing so.  There is no shame in not having a CPL or being unable to pursue one should you have it.  But if you can integrate your life around a more centralized theme, the potential for success greatly expands.


Central Purpose in Life - Another Look

In a recent podcast at Philosophy in Action, Diana Hsieh questions the role of a central purpose in life (CPL) as articulated by various Objectivists (listen to the Parenting as Central Purpose question).  From her podcast, I only have a partial idea what she find troubling about the concept.  But I hope that by revisiting the idea, I can shed some light on what it is and why its useful.  To the best of my knowledge, Burgess Laughlin was the first Objectivist to write an in-depth article about CPL, while a variety of others including myself have added to it.

In Diana's critique, she finds one quote by Ayn Rand that pertains to this subject:
"Productive work is the central purpose of a rational man’s life, the central value that integrates and determines the hierarchy of all his other values. Reason is the source, the precondition of his productive work—pride is the result."
She then notes that this definition of central purpose should simply be productive work, that an integrating theme to productive work is not necessary, just that productive work in and of itself should be central.  She doesn't see an integrating theme or a singular passion as necessary for happiness.  While I agree with much of what she says, there is second quote on central purpose that drives my understanding of the idea, which seems to differ from her take.   The quote comes from her Playboy interview:

"A central purpose serves to integrate all the other concerns of a man’s life. It establishes the hierarchy, the relative importance, of his values, it saves him from pointless inner conflicts, it permits him to enjoy life on a wide scale and to carry that enjoyment into any area open to his mind; whereas a man without a purpose is lost in chaos. He does not know what his values are. He does not know how to judge. He cannot tell what is or is not important to him, and, therefore, he drifts helplessly at the mercy of any chance stimulus or any whim of the moment. He can enjoy nothing. He spends his life searching for some value which he will never find . . . ." [emphasis mine]

The latter quote does suggest an integrating function to productive work is ideal.  She says "A central purpose..." suggesting that their is a singular purpose that integrates everything else.  This focused purpose to the type of work you do helps create a hierarchy of values and enables you to enjoy life more fully. 

I have written about my search for an integrating purpose to my life and the enjoyment I have received from the resulting career.  It has helped me to resolve inner conflicts and define my hierarchy of values.  For me, defining a CPL is not a moral issue, but a useful tool for actualizing my full potential. I can and do have many interests.  I could potentially pursue a wide variety of projects and enjoy them all.  But when I focus on an integrating idea, when I search for a value-dense purpose, I find greater enjoyment in life in general.

Are you immoral without a CPL? No, but you're missing out. I see a well defined CPL as a tool for achieving a satisfying and enriching career.  It is a tool that helps identify our hierarchy of values.  You shouldn't beat yourself up if you don't have one, but spending some time reflecting on your passions and your purpose can help you to achieve more.

Is a CPL obvious? For some it is, for many it is not. I took me until I was 27 until I discovered my CPL implicitly and until 33 before I could explicitly write it down. It involved identifying and integrating all of the things that had happened in my life and all the jobs I had loved and hated, until I finally saw how they all related.  And it was hard work!  But I know of other people who knew from an early age what they wanted to do (like Ayn Rand).  For them it was obvious.

Can multiple major purposes exist?  Absolutely.  I know of people that have multiple interests and live happy lives.  Is it the best way to live?  I liken it to a business that has multiple lines of business.  The greater the similarities between those lines of business, the greater the synergies that will emerge, which can lead to greater success.  The business owners may indulge in multiple lines of business that have no relationship to one another and enjoy each thoroughly.  They can even create a positive cash-flow in each line of business.  But how easy would it be to run such a business?   If a hierarchy of values is not established, which line of business would get what resources?  Which would get the most attention, money, time, or effort?  With a hierarchy of values, something must be at the top.  That top value is your central purpose.  The more projects and activities that support that highest value, the less conflict and confusion you'll have.  That's not to say you can't enjoy hobbies, your family, your friends, or your own body.  But what is central?  What is most important?  There is a bunch I can say about how other values fit in with the CPL, but I'll save that for another post.

Could you be happy without defining a CPL? Yes.  But the better you can find an integrating purpose, the less inner conflicts you will experience and the better equipped you will be for directing your life.  Again, it's about degrees of enjoyment and does not preclude other values that you can enjoy as well.

Can a CPL change?  Yes, but if it changes often or deeply then it probably was not well defined.  I remember when I was much younger, interviewing for a job in web development.  The interviewer asked how my previous employment in tutoring and teaching related to web development.  She wanted to be sure that web development wasn't some passing whim.  That I had some integrating purpose to my life.  I immediately saw the connection, in both cases, I wanted to facilitate the transfer of knowledge.  In one case through face-to-face classroom instruction and in the other case through electronic medium.  The connection between the two jobs was not vast to me, because I was already starting to identify and integrate my passions.  The interviewer was very impressed with my answer and eventually offered me the job.

Can parenting be a CPL?  As a nanny, yes.  As a stay at home parent who homeschool, maybe, if it is something that consumes the parent's productive efforts.  And even then, the purpose shifts from parenting to education.  Otherwise, no.  A mom who takes a 5 year break from her career to raise her kids, while doing something extremely commendable, is not pursing a central purpose, but rather taking a break from it.  Raising children can become the highest value temporarily, until they are old enough to care for themselves.  But from what I've seen, moms (not the homeschooling variety) tend to be far happier if they can return to working on their CPL after that break.  Any women out there want to correct me on this observation???

Given my understanding of CPL and its value to our lives, I would recommend people attempt to define and live by one.  To me, this is your highest value and the most important concern.  If this value is not carefully defined, it is easy to slip into careers you either don't enjoy or feel indifferent about.  And that, to me is a travesty.


I have big plans. Big Plans, I say!

3 big things in the works this week.

1. An article on privacy - headed to a top journal in my field.  This article has been troubling me for years because I could never find the right hook for it to be really good.  I think I found it.  The first draft was completed this week.  Once I get some preliminary feedback, I'll professionally edit and push the article out.
2. A completely revamped and amp'ed up web dev class is now under way.  I recorded my first two lectures yesterday.
and last, but most exciting...
3. My new business venture has kicked into high gear.  I have a writer, a domain name, a website under development, and the enthusiasm to get this done.  Currently scheduled to go live August 1st.

Stay tuned for more updates.


8 years ago today

8 years ago today, the weather forecast called for rain all day. 

That would have been alright, except I had a extremely special outdoor event planned at the Cafe DeMenil at the DeMenil mansion in St. Louis.  All day we waited and hoped our luck would hold out.  An hour before the event started, we arrived at the mansion. The rain immediately stopped and the sun came out.  The flowers re-opened and the birds came out to sing.  The event went on as scheduled with the most beautiful setting and with our most important friends and family.

On July 3rd, 2004, I married my wife, Brenda.  

Happy Anniversary!  I love you, Brenda!