Purity of Intention

13 January

Photo by Inggrid Koe on Unsplash

Understanding why we do what we do leads to a more fulfilling and satisfying life. That’s an assumption I start with. If you disagree with it probably you won’t agree with what follows in this blog.

Imagine a fictional but very realistic newly promoted manager. Let’s call her Jane. Jane was a brilliant engineer. She had great soft skills. Everybody loved her. When her manager left she was the ideal candidate to take the vacant place.

Now, two months into the new role, Jane is exhausted and stressed. She didn’t realize how unprepared she was for this job. And she thinks about quitting it to be an individual contributor again.

If she decides so, she can do it, broadly speaking, for two different reasons. We can think of them as motivation toward something or from something:
— becoming an IC because it’s aligned with her career aspirations and values and that’s what she genuinely desires
— quitting a management job because it’s too difficult or stressful

While there is nothing inherently better about one type of job or another, there is a big difference in how the decision is made.

When we face a choice like this it may be a good opportunity to reflect on what is that we truly want. Jane’s challenges as a new manager are natural. It’s natural to feel stressed in a role that requires a mindset and skills she didn’t develop yet. But something difficult can be desirable, at the same time.

Purity of intention is knowing one’s real intention behind an action or decision. Purity of intention is about understanding one’s needs and values and then aligning choices and actions with them, even when it means going through difficulties.

Opposite of purity of intention usually are:
— avoidance
— or reactiveness
— or self-deception
— or rationalization

It’s not always easy to realize what is the real intention. In Jane’s case, she can reflect on what would make her love her current job. Maybe she will be less stressed if the team will pick up the ball more consistently. If so perhaps it’s better to focus first on learning how to have difficult conversations and hold people accountable, before quitting the job.

Another avenue to explore is to think about what made her accept this offer. Was it because she liked to have more influence and impact? Or she liked the salary increase or her new title? Or perhaps she was afraid to let the team down by saying no and didn’t really want the job in the first place?

Mythologist Joseph Campbell once told a poignant story of a samurai

who had the duty to avenge the murder of his overlord. And he actually, after some time, found and cornered the man who had murdered his overlord. And he was about to deal with him with his samurai sword, when this man in the corner, in the passion of terror, spat in his face. And the samurai sheathed the sword and walked away. Why did he do that? Because he was made angry, and if he had killed that man then, it would have been a personal act, of another kind of act, that’s not what he had come to do.

That samurai did had a purity of intention. It was not about killing in general, but about killing for the right purpose. Make your decisions for the right purpose.

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