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End Game Analysis: Relationship Principles

This article, and the articles that follow analyze my thoughts on what I am calling my “end game.” You can read more about this concept here.

In the article entitled “Mind the Gap,” I wrote about the importance of having both self and situational awareness when it comes to managing relationships. Since it is difficult to provide explicit guidance across all personalities and situations, a better alternative is to rely upon a set of relationship principles.

The absence of principles is akin to traveling without a map. This approach may be suitable for local exploration, but arguably irresponsible when traveling in unfamiliar territory (at least if you wish to reach a specific destination). Principles allow one to navigate successfully independently of the situation.

Let’s build an initial set by posing the following questions:

Do I feel comfortable with this person?

Is the relationship balanced?

Is the relationship moving forward?

These translate into the following three criterion: comfort, balance, and strength, and are neutral enough where they can be easily applied in both professional and personal contexts. They also follow a natural order (i.e., relationships which make one uncomfortable should probably not move forward by default).

Lastly, since change is ever present, these questions need to be continuously asked. Each assessment should inform whether the relationship is on track or requires recalibration, containment, or termination.


“Heroes inevitably experience at least one very big failure (which Campbell calls an “abyss” or the “belly of the whale” experience) that tests whether they have the resilience to come back and fight smarter and with more determination. If they do, they undergo a change (have a “metamorphosis”) in which they experience the fear that protects them, without losing the aggressiveness that propels them forward.

“[…] I also saw that being a hero is typically not all it’s cracked up to be – they get beat up a lot, and many are attacked, humiliated, or killed even after they triumph. In fact, it’s hard to see the logic for choosing this hero role, if one were to choose. But I could see and relate to how a certain type of person would start and stay on that path.”

Principles, Ray Dalio

Dyson I.

“The more original your idea, the more resistance you will meet.”

James Dyson

Nike Design: The KDIII and the Kobe VI

In a desire to break out of my typical exercise routine, I joined a basketball tournament at the gym where I am a member (Note: It’s always helpful if you know how to play before you join a tournament :-).

Ironically enough, my new sneakers led me to further explore Nike’s web site, where I was surprised to find videos of the industrial designers who work at Nike.  The videos are really interesting because they go into the background behind the shoe, calling attention to the unique design elements that make these shoes truly unique.

Nike Zoom KD III: Leo Chang Discusses the Nike Zoom KD III

Nike Zoom Kobe VI: Eric Avar Discusses the Nike Zoom Kobe VI (The Black Mamba)

Victim of Changes.

In August of 2009, there was a segment on the Today show that told the brief story of a man who had found his life partner only to eventually discover that she was seeking to end his life.  Fortunately, the “hit man” was an undercover police officer and the experience ended void of any tragedy.

While it’s difficult to generalize people’s responses to this story, I imagine most people place immediate blame on the wife and less on the husband.  After all, he is the victim.  But is this an appropriate response?  Remember, he chose to be with this woman and is now faced with trying to understand why he didn’t see the signs that led to this nearly tragic outcome.  At some level, he can be blamed for a situation that may have ended his life.

Let’s explore this concept further by looking at this from two opposite viewpoints:

Viewpoint #1: I am the master of my domain.

The first viewpoint is the belief that you are solely responsible for things that happen to you.  If you take this viewpoint, everything that happens to you is ultimately because of something that you did.  You can no longer claim to be a victim of circumstances, because the circumstance in question is something that you ultimately created.

For example:

If you get hit by a car, you are at fault for being in the path of the oncoming vehicle.
If you are in a career that isn’t going anywhere, you are at fault for making ‘wrong’ decisions that led you there.
If you are trapped in an earthquake, you are at fault for residing in that target location.
If you are in a relationship that isn’t working, you are at fault for participating and not leaving.

Again, if you employ this mindset, you are no longer the victim of circumstances.  You cannot introduce “higher authority” figures into the equation (e.g. “God has a plan ..”) or make similar statements like “There is a reason why this happened …” because these statements are perhaps masking the truth of the event.  Within this viewpoint, you are making decisions about what you do, who you interact with, where you live, etc. and those decisions ultimately result in events and things that impact your life – positively or negatively.

Viewpoint #2: I am a victim of circumstance.

Now let’s take a completely opposite perspective – one where your reliance upon a higher power guides your life path.  “God has a plan” or “I will pray that things will be better” or “That’s life!” are statements that reflect this viewpoint.  In some degree, you are taking responsibility (some if not all) off of your shoulders and accepting that things happen independent of your decisions or actions.

What’s interesting is that these viewpoints can be reversed depending upon the situation at hand.

For example, let’s say that you got a promotion at your job.  Even if you employed this “higher authority” viewpoint for things that generally happen to you, in this particular case you probably equate your recent success with your own abilities and decisions.  After all, you are the one who got promoted – and you wouldn’t have been promoted unless you were doing something right.  In most circumstances, your first response is not “That’s life!”  Instead, it’s one where you have taken charge of your destiny, and because of you, you have ultimately succeeded.

However, if someone close to you died unexpectedly, your first response would be – “Why did this happen?” or “Why did God let this happen?”  Because the situation is beyond one’s control, you cannot rely upon yourself to make immediate sense of the situation.  It’s only later in the grieving process where you may eventually shift your mindset and start to ask “What can I do to prevent this in the future?” (if applicable) or “What can I do to help others deal with an event such as this?”

In essence, your “life mindset” is altered depending upon what happens to you.

While I have taken the perspective of a given person, others’ responses to things that happen to you can sometimes take an opposite view to your own.  For example, if you are in a bad relationship, others may empathize but will ultimately question why you got in the situation in the first place.  If you were recently promoted, others may think of other reasons why you were promoted vs. focusing primarily on your core abilities.  If someone who you knew died in an accident, others may quickly decide that “God has his reasons …” which may be the direct opposite of how you may feel – especially if you played some indirect role in that person’s death (i.e. giving them the car keys, etc.).

Independent of how you look at these “life perspectives”, I think that personality type and life experiences will determine which perspective makes the most sense to you.  I think the lesson here is not to focus exclusively on one particular perspective, but be aware of the extremes and try to live life in the middle.  Of course, this is not easy – especially for someone like myself who believes that my life is driven by my own choices and less on the need for a higher authority.  But it is during times of sheer despair and confidence loss where this “centrist” perspective loses its value and you are forced to seek another viewpoint.

It’s a unique dichotomy that I don’t completely understand.

Altitude Sickness.

In November of 2006, I decided to climb Mt.Rainier.

Given that I have never climbed a mountain, my first and only concern was ensuring that I was physically strong enough to reach the summit.  Thus, over the subsequent six months I practiced climbing stairs in local arenas, walked for miles in the darkness of winter, and eventually walked thirteen miles with a loaded backpack with forty pounds of weight.  In May of 2007, feeling confident in my physical ability, I packed my gear and headed to Seattle, Washington where I was to meet up with other climbers at the Alpine Ascents office.

I arrived fairly early to the planning session, and given the few climbers who were already there, the relative “intimacy” of the environment helped boost my confidence and comfort level.  Interestingly enough, this level of comfort remained fairly static until three new team members arrived fairly late in the session.  In retrospect, the combination of their collective personality along with the seeming “collapse” of the team dynamic led to a rather abrupt decline in self-confidence.

During the van ride to the mountain, I also noticed that I was becoming somewhat withdrawn from the group.  Being consciously aware of this, I took steps to “return” to my original self and was able to gradually interact with other team members without any problems.  However, it was at the first camp (Camp Muir – elevation 10,188 feet) where things started to become much more challenging for me.  Granted, the physical undertaking to climb ten-thousand feet was both physically and mentally draining, but the real struggle involved not my legs or body, but my mind.  Even though I was with approximately ten other climbers, I felt extremely isolated and alone.

It was only after the climb where I reflected why my primary barrier to reaching the summit on Rainier was not physical, but mental.

A person’s mental state is influenced by a wide range of factors – energy level, family history, personal experiences, etc. – but at it’s core is one’s personality.  Everyone knows fundamentally who they are, but exploring the underlying facets through a formal personality test can further expand one’s awareness of their modes of operation and what they can do to bridge connections with others.  A common and fairly reliable test is known as Myers Briggs, or as it is more commonly known – the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

When I first took the MBTI back in 2000, I was amazed with the results – the correlation to my true personality was striking.  At the time, the test told me that I was of personality type “ISTJ“, which can be explained via the following descriptions:

  • Ways of Gaining Energy: Introversion – You focus on your inner world and get energy through reflecting on information, ideas and concepts.
  • Ways of Taking in Information: Sensing – You notice and trust facts, details and present realities.
  • Ways of Making Decisions: Thinking – You make decisions using logical, objective analysis.
  • Ways of Living in the World: Judging – You prefer to be organized and orderly and to make decisions quickly.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I decided to take the MBTI a second time.  This time my results were actually much different – I was now of personality type “INFP” (Introversion, Intuition, Feeling, Perceiving).  Interestingly enough, this change in type felt right.

While there is a free test available online, the benefit of taking the official test is that you are provided with an eighteen-page report that provides in-depth analysis of the key facets of your personality as well as tangible suggestions on how to improve your communication style, ability to manage change and conflict, and ability to make decisions.

Not surprisingly, the introversion element of my personality was a key determinant in my discomfort on Rainier.  Fortunately, I can interact with strangers without any difficulty and engage them in decent conversation, but if I don’t have the ability to (eventually) form any true connections with the people I am with, I am going to start to withdraw.  The fact that I was unable to step away from the group on Rainier to replenish my sense of “self” made it all that much more challenging.

I used to think that my inability to rapidly “connect” with strangers was a deficiency that needed to be overcome.  After much self-reflection and research, I no longer believe this.  To be sure, if I felt this was a genuine barrier that needed to be overcome, then I would take immediate steps to expand my personality “container” to better adapt in these types of situations.  However, it’s important to recognize that all personalities are created equal and trying to “fix” a personality trait because it doesn’t “fit” isn’t necessarily the right thing to do.  A personality isn’t something that needs to be “fixed”.

What is the lesson here?  When faced with new challenges, having inventory of your values, strengths and weaknesses are useful tools, but the true foundation of understanding is a keen awareness of your own personality.  If you take steps to explore your personality through formal or freely available personality tests, explore related literature about your personality type, and integrate the suggestions and information into your mode of operation, you will find that your sense of self will be that much greater and you’ll have an enhanced ability to deal with conflict, make important decisions, and communicate with others who have personality types different from your own.

Departure Board.

If there is one primary source of information in airports and train stations, it’s the “departure board” – the dynamic visual that shows arriving and departing traffic for the entire terminal.

In the past, this information was typically centralized to a single “board” – terminals such as Grand Central and Penn Station are prime examples.  As time went on – and as each terminal expanded to accept greater passenger numbers, this information became decentralized through supplemental video displays.

The primary variable driving change on the board is time.  Airline and rail schedules change fairly often and delays from weather or mechanical problems can result in additional scheduling changes.  Fortunately, the board is designed to quickly communicate these types of changes in an easy-to-understand manner.

I have always been intrigued with these displays – particularly in large transportation hubs – because their operation is so critical to the successful operation of the center.

One of the reasons I thought of this concept was to help me centralize the things I needed to focus on.  I was frustrated with task lists and supplementary artifacts to keep track of this information – I needed my own “departure board”.

Since I find myself in front of my computer screen most of the time, I thought this would be the best place for such a visual.  Using Photoshop, I created an image sized accordingly to my screen resolution which lists my key focus areas – Creativity, Bionic, Mental, etc. (from the REGEN framework).  Beneath each header, I listed the specific tasks that I was working on.  I then made that image my background.

What was once a blank screen is now an information source that helps increase my focus and keeps me moving in a positive direction – which is exactly what a departure board is designed to do.

Using your computer screen’s “real estate” for important information is one approach, but you may find an alternative place for such information.  Think of your life as an airline or rail terminal – where is the best place to keep track of your life?  How frequently should the “board” change?