S. Pavlina wrote this book, “Personal Development for Smart People,” in the same field as 7 Habits, which I reviewed earlier. The 7 Habits has a somewhat paternal tone, which I think puts off some readers. I like Steve Pavlina’s “Personal Development for Smart People” because it is written much more from the perspective of a young professional in the Internet age. It is not filled with managerial and parental anecdotes, though it does more than flirt with mysticism. I imagine that will put off a different set of readers.
Like Covey, Pavlina tries to capture some of the essential principles that produce a well lived life. The three he settles on are Love, Truth and Power. He explains each, and explains how they relate and combine to produce other important virtues.
His conception of Truth is a little strange – it borders on truthiness at times. Essentially, truth is the alignment of statements and actions with Reality (!?) and the methods of probing reality are vaguely scientific. But for things that can not be probed through empirical means, then Pavlina is perfectly happy to just be pragmatic about which ideas are “true” and which are not. “You shall know them by their fruits,” I take it. True ideas produce good results. For some more metaphysical propositions, that leads to a pretty relativistic conception of Truth. I suppose that doesn’t bother me much, but it might bother some people.
Pavlina takes Love as very broadly defined, and I’m fine with that. He relates love and connectedness in an interesting way.
Power is closely related to responsibility. I think that’s right on the money. Taking responsibility is not the same as being at fault. I think that there is a funny trick of language going on. We say “I am responsible for this situation,” and that means “I am at fault for this situation.”
I wish that there were a better way to say “I am responsible to this situation.” What I mean by that phrase is not that I am at fault, but that my responses to the situation are entirely my choice. I am not at fault for the earthquake (though if I am unprepared, I am at fault for that). I am responsible for all my actions in response to the earthquake. Only when a person is responsible to every aspect of their life (a proactive response-ability) can they hope to have any power in their own life.
My favorite part so far is his perspective on goals. This gave me a minor paradigm shift that was worth ten bucks. Covey and Pavlina both talk about the importance of goal setting. Pavlina makes an excellent point that I had never considered: the metric by which a goal is evaluated is not just whether achieving it would be good. There are lots of things that would be nice to do or have some day, but that are not necessarily good goals. For instance, I would not mind being a millionaire someday, but it is not a good goal for me because it does not excite a deep passion for me.
The litmus test for a good goal is: how does having that goal make you feel and behave right now? Goals are really most important in the immediate present. Being a millionaire would be nice, but I have no hunger for it. The possibility does not excite or motivate me. I am not pumped about it. I just don’t care that much. So it’s not an effective goal.
Finding a good goal that does excite a upwelling of passion is actually harder than it sounds.