Intentional Living: Choosing A Life That Matters
Author: John C. Maxwell
John C. Maxwell is a world-renowned motivational speaker and author. He has written at least nineteen books; I have had the pleasure of reading four of them. Those four are The Five Levels Of Leadership, Becoming A Person Of Influence, The 17 Indisputable Laws Of Teamwork, and of course the book that this review is focused on, Intentional Living. Each one was filled with extraordinary content about leadership and people skills. In Intentional Living, Maxwell explains how someone can actually make a positive difference in not just their own life, but in others’ lives as well.
People Want to Hear Stories
Every day, we watch movies, watch TV, read books, etc. just to hear or learn about what good stories are out in the world that day. On top of that, we’re also posting our own stories on social media! We’ve got Snapchat stories, Instagram stories, Facebook statuses, and so on. We scroll through each one looking for the next best story that catches our attention, whether it be a story from someone we know or from a news article like Buzzfeed. Stories are what inspire us to do the great things we do. A lot of famous business owners, like Gary Vaynerchuk (GaryVee,) use stories about their own lives and struggles as a means to motivate and inspire other people. It works wonders. GaryVee has over one million followers on Facebook alone. His story reaches people, and those people love to hear it. I know because I’m one of those people. However, not everyone can tell their story and have an impact like he does. There’s a big difference between his story and that of some Average Joe on the street, and that difference is significance. GaryVee has built multiple million dollar businesses from the ground up. He creates value in almost everything he does and he shows that value every time he shares a story with his followers. In order for someone to create significance in their own story, they are going to need to do a few things that are outside their comfort zone. They are going to need to take action on whatever it is they feel they need to do in order to create that significance. Not just talking the talk, but walking the walk. They need to be intentional.
The Seven Benefits of Intentional Living
- It Prompts Us to Ask Ourselves What is Significant in Our Lives – According to Maxwell, successful people are good in four areas: relationships, equipping, attitude, and leadership. These are the areas we really need to think about when we take ourselves on the journey to significance. We need to ask ourselves questions likes “Whom should I help?” or “How can I help?” Whatever answers come to mind are signs of how you can start doing something bigger.
- It Motivates Us to Take Immediate Action in Areas of Significance – No more procrastinating. There is a big emphasis on that in this section of the book. Very similar to another book I reviewed, Eat That Frog. It encourages you to stop looking at problems and just thinking something should be done about them. It’s time to start taking care of these problems and making them disappear.
- It Challenges Us to Find Creative Ways to Achieve Significance – Instead of asking “Can I?” We start asking “How can I?” We refrain from making poor excuses on why we cannot get certain things done.
- It Energizes Us to Give Our Best Effort to Do Significant Acts – We try harder, Period.
- It Unleashes the Power of Significance Within Us – Zig Ziglar once said, “If you first help others get what they want, they will help you get what you want.” In other words, you can only reap what you sow. If you’re only in it for yourself, you’re more than likely going to fail.
- It Inspires Us to Make Every Day Count – Be productive daily. Work on your mission as often as you can.
- It Encourages Us to Finish Well – Yes, he means finish living. Dying. It allows us to die on good terms with the world. Character matters. People matter. Perspective matters. Attitude matters. Passion matters. Today matters.
Your One Thing
What can you do to make the world better? How can you add significance to your life? How can you help others? Tom Rath, the author of Strengthfinder 2.0, says that every person does something better than the next ten thousand people. I recently took a strengths test from the VIA Institute on Character and found out that my number one strength is “Love of Learning.” I invite everyone to click the link and take the test themselves! My results weren’t too much of a surprise to me of course, but it was nice to have a definitive indicator of sorts to tell me my head is in the right place. After all, I’ve started a blog to share the things I am learning from books every week. That’s my thing. That’s how I have been adding significance into my own life. By continuing to read as much as possible purely for the thrill of learning, and then sharing what I have read with all of you.
Building off of “your one thing,” you must also find your “why.” This is a concept that is written about in many books and spoken about in many videos on business and self-help. I had been working on my “why” for years before I really figured out what it is. Why are you doing (or going to do) the things you are doing to create significance? Assuming you took the strengths test and are using your results, why are you using your number one strength in the way that you are? If you want to make a difference, you need to have that answer. It has to be deeper than the money or the success because that’s all adding to only the ego. My “why” is in helping other people succeed. Forgive me if I sound overly cliché. I don’t mean “succeed” in terms of strictly wealth (as most ideologies of success are.) I mean to help people succeed in the broadest way possible, with whatever they are doing. If you read my review of The 5 Love Languages you would already know the way I express love is by giving gifts. I think this stems almost directly from that part of me.
Here’s a short story for you: About a year or two ago, I was walking back to my car in the parking lot of a Walmart. There was an older lady, maybe 60-65 years old, a few cars before mine loading 50lb bags of mulch into the trunk of her car. As I was walking by her, I heard another man walking in the opposite direction sarcastically say “Man, that looks fun.” I didn’t realize when I first saw her, but she was clearly struggling to get just one bag into her trunk…and she had twelve. So I walked up to her and offered to help her with the bags and she gladly accepted. I loaded the rest of them for her and we were both on our way. It took all of 45 seconds. That’s all it took for me to feel accomplished that day.
I’m not sharing that story looking for any sort of recognition or applause or whatever. I love the satisfaction of knowing I made someone feel good, or that I helped someone. I also have a strong desire to open my own Big Brothers Big Sisters (or something similar), to hopefully help as many children as possible succeed in their own lives.
The Five Essential Values of Adding Value to Others
- To Add Value to Others I Must First Value Myself – Maxwell writes that who we are determines what we see when we look at others. We all see the world differently, through our own lens. When we look at other people, we don’t see them as they are, we seem them as we are. I have heard quite a few different variations of that same statement. Brian Tracy said, “There is a direct relationship between your own level of self-esteem and the health of your own personality. The more you like and respect yourself, the more you like and respect other people. The more you consider yourself to be a valuable and worthwhile person, the more you consider others to be valuable and worthwhile as well. The more you accept yourself just as you are, the more you accept others as they are.” Human behavior analysts have concluded that people with low self-esteem are, more often than not, self-centered and focus mainly on themselves and their personal gain.
- To Add Value to Others I Must Value Others – “One of the greatest diseases is to be nobody to anybody.” Ask people questions. Listen to their answers. Learn about them. Be friendly to strangers. Smile more.
- To Add Value to Others I Must Value What Others Have Done for Me – I could write for days upon days about what other people have done for me in my life. A childhood friend of mine and his family let me live in their home more than once when I wasn’t seeing eye to eye with my own family, just because they are good people. I was never asked for anything in return for them housing me and feeding me for months at a time. When I got my first “big-boy” job, I didn’t have a car and my office was a twenty-five-minute drive from where I was living. Three different coworkers of mine, who did not know me before I started working there, all took turns driving me to and from work for the first two months until I was able to buy myself a car, again, simply because they are good people who are willing to help others in need. I’m going to stop there, but like I said, I could go for a while.
- To Add Value to Others I Must Know and Relate to What Others Value – This kind of branches off number two. Treat people like people. Talk to them and find out what they are interested in. Ask them questions about themselves. Everyone’s favorite topic of discussion is themselves, so talk about them. They will love you for it.
- To Add Value to Others I Must Make Myself More Valuable – If you’re going to add value to others, you need to have something of value to give them. That’s kind of obvious. It means you have to grow continuously as a person. Read books (wink wink,) listen to informational podcasts, take classes, etc. Just keep adding value to yourself so that you are able to give it away.
Here’s another story: Just two or three months ago, my girlfriend and I went to KFC for lunch. We walked inside and there was a group of 3 ahead of us. One of the ladies in the group was filling her cup from the soda fountain and started complaining to the cashier that the soda wasn’t coming out right. She was very unfriendly about it. The cashier couldn’t do anything about the issue at the moment, but the impolite customer kept nagging, telling her the soda tasted wrong and that she needs to fix it right away. My girlfriend and I could see the cashier was getting super stressed out by the situation too and her only other employee was taking her break in a booth in the corner. After about 5 or so minutes, the group left and I asked the cashier how often stuff like that happened. The three of us talked for a few minutes about snobby customers and how some people don’t understand that just because someone is behind the counter doesn’t mean they know how to fix everything in the restaurant immediately. When our food came out, (we ordered the Nashville hot chicken because duh, have you tried it?!) the cashier told us that she gave both my girlfriend and myself an extra piece of chicken for being so friendly and understanding.
Connect with Like-Minded and Like-Valued People
You can’t achieve significance on your own. You need help. You need a team. You can gain success by yourself, sure. The significance is another story. Maxwell refers to his book The 17 Indisputable Laws of Leadership in this section and goes into detail about how you can find people to work with who think like you do. The goal here is to form friendships and partnerships. You are the average of the five people you hang out with the most. Who are your five? Are any of them where you want to be in life? Are any of them like-minded in terms of significance? There are twelve qualities of like-minded and like-valued people given in the book:
- Think of others before themselves.
- Think bigger than themselves.
- Have a contagious passion.
- Have complementary gifts (meaning they have different skill sets that work well together.)
- Connect and provide great support.
- Show a can-do creative spirit about challenges.
- Expand our influence.
- Are activists.
- Are ladder builders, not ladder climbers (aka givers not takers.)
- Are head and shoulders above the crowd (meaning they stand out positively.)
- Provide synergy that gives a high return.
- Make a difference in us.
Five Ways to Seize Opportunities
You have to train yourself to see opportunities when they are presented and take advantage of them immediately. Often times opportunities will disguise themselves as quite the contrary. Maxwell put this list together to help us find, and take action on, as many opportunities as we can:
- Be The First to Help Someone – Think of the last few times you had a crisis or serious problem that you needed help with. Aim for three different recollections. Who was the first person to help you in each scenario? Who was the second person? Third? Odds are, you can’t remember anyone but the first person. That’s the point of number one. Help people. Encourage people. Be the first to help someone when they need it and you will be remembered for it, which can, and often does, pay future dividends in the form of opportunities.
- Take a Risk When the Potential for Significance is High – This part is kind of filled with the cliché of the “high-risk equals high-reward” mindset, which I’m not knocking at all. I fully believe that as well. It’s just not exactly new information. Don’t turn down an opportunity solely because of the risk it carries.
- Do What You Know is Right, Even with No Promise of Return – INTEGRITY. This is huge for me. I know it sounds kind of hypocritical after sharing those two stories before about me helping other people, but this is the first time I have ever told those stories…scouts honor! Do things for people just because you should, because it’s the right thing to do, because they need help, not because you want people to know you helped someone or because they might repay you some day. I recently listened to a podcast where the host interviewed Dr. Phil Zimbardo and they talked about how most people do not do the right thing when they know they should if it doesn’t offer any reward afterward.
- Give to Your Peers at a Time When it Makes a Difference – Again, we’re talking about helping people here. Aside from being the first person to respond to someone’s cry for help, we should be looking for people who may not be asking for it, but do in fact need it. If you see someone who looks like they need assistance and you are able to assist them, why wouldn’t you? Back in 2015, a friend of mine was unemployed and having trouble finding a job. The office where I was working at the time was not actively hiring or looking for help, but knowing he was desperate, I asked my boss if he would bring my friend in for an interview and see what happens. Here we are almost two years later and even though I am no longer with that company, my friend has been promoted and is now one of the top performers in the office.
- Plant Seeds of Intentionality in Children – Self-explanatory, I’m sure, but this one is super important too. Not that the rest of them aren’t, but I think it is vitally important that we teach the next generation how to be intentional. Some of them are going to change the world, and we need to show them how.
I shared some stories about things I’ve done for others in this post, but it was not meant to be boastful in any way. I just want to make firm points that show I am not simply regurgitating what I’ve read without putting any of it to work. My daily life is constructed of materials that I have learned from the books I’ve read. Overall, this is another one to add to your list of must-reads. John C. Maxwell never disappoints.
Have you read this book? What resonated most with you? Let me know!
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