Self-improvement initiatives or, if you prefer, self-fulfillment or self-actualization initiatives, are best viewed as an on-going journey, not as an ultimate destination. Many authors of books about that process invoke the map or road map metaphor, and rightly so, because it implies and (yes) enables all manner of appropriate dimensions of internal as well as external exploration and discovery. This seems to be what Robert Steven Kaplan has in mind when observing, "I have come to believe that the key to achieving your aspirations lies not in `being a success' but rather in [begin italics] working to reach your unique potential [end italics]. This requires you to create your own definition of success rather than accept a definition created by others...This approach takes courage and hard work. It does not yield easy answers or get you to a final destination. It is, instead, a multistage, lifelong effort. It involves developing a different mind-set and a new set of work habits."
At this point in my brief commentary, I want to express appreciation of Kaplan's previous book, What to Ask the Person in the Mirror. Its title it refers to anyone who seeks both knowledge and wisdom that will improve quality of life as well as standard of living. What Kaplan offers in abundance is assistance with framing questions that can help to achieve those worthy objectives. Those who read the book will be much better prepared to ask them; better yet, they will be much better prepared to obtain the right answers to them. In this book, as its subtitle suggests, he offers "a road map for reaching your potential," one that is accompanied by a wealth of information, insights, and counsel as well as self-diagnostic exercises to help his readers determine what they are really meant to be and to do. As Oscar Wilde so wisely advised, "Be yourself. Every one else is taken." But as Darrell Royal once observed, "Potential" means "you ain't done it yet."
These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye, also listed to indicate the scope of Kaplan's coverage.
o Who Defines Your Success? (Pages 18-22)
o Five Suggested Rules of the Road (24-30)
o Assessing Your Strengths and Weaknesses (31-37)
o You Don't Have to Be Good at Everything (56-57)
o The Pursuit of Passion, and, Understanding Your Passions (63-66)
o The Power of Narrative: Three Steps (85-97)
o Being at Your Best (102-105)
o Dealing with a Painful Setback, and, Dealing with Injustice (126-129)
o A Star Wants to Realize His Potential (138-142)
o The Power of an Ownership Mind-Set (149-150)
Note: Our lives tend to be the result of our decisions. There is also great power in taking personal ownership of accountability for those decisions.
o Values, Boundaries, and Your Philosophy, and, Character and Leadership (156-162)
o Try Building Your Relationship Muscles (173-175)
o Creating Supportive Relationships (181-182)
o This Book: It's About You (196-198)
o Next Steps (201-203)
While reading and then re-reading this book, I was again reminded of many of the observations shared by other authors in their books, notably Rick Warren in The Purpose Driven Life, Bill George in True North, James O'Toole's Creating the Good Life, Randy Pausch in The Last Lecture, and Clayton Christensen in How Will You Measure Your Life? However different they and their works may be from Kaplan and his, all of them -- they and he -- stress the importance of continuous self-improvement to serve purposes and to achieve goals worthy of our very best efforts. For the title of this review, I chose a paraphrase of Whitman's line in "Song of Myself" because it correctly suggests almost unlimited potentialities for personal growth and professional development. Robert Steven Kaplan wrote this book to help each of us to fulfill as many of them as we can.
When concluding his book, he observes, "If you follow your own path, I don't know how much money you will accumulate, how much stature you will achieve, or how many titles you will garner. But if you're true to your convictions and principles, I know you're far more likely to feel like a big success. In the end, that feeling will make all the difference."
on 21 January 2015
As someone who was fortunate enough to have been taught by Robert Kaplan at Harvard, I can say this book comes close to one-on-one with Robert: it's by far the best book to define what you want out of life. Robert is a master of teaching self-reflection, getting people to zoom out and understand their motivations, situation and future possibilities. Many books of this kind are heavy on BS and generalistic advice, but not this one. Kaplan's approach is straightforward, candid and concrete.
Personally, I've used Robert's teachings and the book a couple of times to re-align my goals and ambitions with great success. I've also recommended it almost a dozen times to friends who felt stuck or confused with their careers or lives and everyone who had the grit to work through it (the book is a short read, but requires some serious soul-searching, thinking and writing to do it properly), had incredible epiphanies which re-set their ambitions, priorities and helped them find the best place for them in work and life.