I was pointed toward the steady path – good grades, go to college, get a job, work hard, and retire successfully. I followed that path right into a shadow career. Not surprisingly, my dad had modeled it for me.

He was a WWII vet who went to the University of Illinois on the GI Bill, got a job with Sears, worked hard, and retired after 33 years. Successful, yes.

But later, he’d tell me what he wanted to have done was open a hardware store after he’d gotten a few years of experience. But instead, we moved every three to four years as he climbed the corporate ladder for more than 30 years.

This is part two of a 4-part series on living the hero’s journey.

  1. Deep Change
  2. Creating a Life of Fulfillment
  3. Finding Your Calling
  4. Ultralearning

Through the Art of Manliness podcast, I discovered the work of Todd Rose. He’s a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the co-author of the book Dark Horse: Achieving Success Through Fulfillment. I learned that he’d call the path my dad and I followed the standard route.

In the interview and book, Rose describes how we have adopted a covenant of standardization. It has us competing to be the very best, but the same as everyone else.

Standardization Covenant

The standardization covenant is based on the belief that we should: know our career destination before leaving high school, go to college, work hard, maintain our career course no matter what, and finally achieve success.

Within this covenant is embedded the notion of meritocracy. A promise that has been broken. Look at the recent college admission scandal, which has some very wealthy people cheating to gain admission for their children into some of the top colleges. Plus, our history of oppressing, and denying opportunities to women, people of color, people who aren’t wealthy, people who identify as LGBTQ, people of non-binary gender, and the list goes on.

On an individual level, some of the many problems of having bought into this contract are:

  • It often results in doing a lifetime of work that has very little to do with who we are and what we care about.
  • Workers become interchangeable cogs in a corporate machine.
  • Many people become materially successful but miserable and unfulfilled.

Fortunately, some people are fighting to create a world where individuality is recognized, respected, nurtured, and valued.

Unleash Your Unique Talents

Rose also co-founded Populace in 2013. Populace is transforming how we teach, train, and heal in pursuit of honoring each person’s uniqueness to empower us to make a significant contribution.

“And, on the most fundamental level, people want something different.

Money, fame, power. That’s what we’ve been taught to orient our lives around in America. But our research shows that what we really want is something far more personal. Americans are hungry for a world that understands and values them.

A world that is built to nurture and unleash their unique talents.” – Todd Rose, Co-founder of Populace.

The Dark Horse Covenant

Rose and his research team found ordinary people who have followed their individual paths to fulfillment. By studying their choices, he’s been able to map a different way that is available to each of us.

In contrast to the standardization covenant, he calls it the dark horse covenant. Dark horse because they seem to come from out of nowhere to succeed when others may not have noticed them or may have judged them to be failing due to their nonstandard path.

True North

The path of the dark horse requires followers to focus on:

  • Individual fulfillment.
  • Accountability and motivation.
  • Our personal definition of success.

Instead of:

  • Relying on external validation.
  • Following the crowd.
  • Looking at society’s measure of success.

The way of the dark horse is not an easy path. It requires more responsibility and commitment, but the payoff is a life of purpose, contribution, and achievement – fulfillment.

Deep Change Choice

The choice between Standardization and Dark Horse can be a deep change choice. We must choose between the slow, painful death of our individuality or choose the hero’s journey, which holds no guarantees but offers the opportunity for real fulfillment.

Finding Fulfillment

Todd Rose says, “You can be successful by society’s standards without knowing yourself, and what matters, but you can’t live a fulfilling life without knowing yourself.”

He goes on to describe how to get to know yourself and figure out what may bring fulfillment.

  • Learn what motivates you. What gets you up in the morning?

Exercise: Grab your journal or a notebook. Make a list of the things you enjoy doing.

Ask yourself: What do I get out of that? What’s motivating about that? What is it that I enjoy about that? Then, look for the patterns.

When I did it, I found a pattern that included delight and insight; creating AHA moments is what motivates me.

Hit Reply: Let me know what motivates you.

  • Make choices and look for fit. We often hesitate, hold back, or stand on the sidelines and think about possible courses of action. Jump in and do it – learn from your choice. And by knowing what motivates you, you can more accurately judge fit.

We also underestimate the number of choices, options, and paths available. Life is full of secret menus – you’re not limited only to the opportunities that are presented.

You might be saying, but I have rent/mortgage to pay and responsibilities. I can’t take the risk to just jump. When surveying your options, consider the likely, worst-case scenario of each possible choice.

The be creative. You can likely find possible paths and ways to get what you want that won’t leave you deep in debt, without an income, or all alone.

  • Know your strategies. Achievement is not all about talent – it’s about the fit between your individuality and strategy. If you care about doing or learning something and you find it to be complicated – don’t quit. It’s not because you aren’t talented or smart enough. Keep trying strategies until you find the one that works for you. There are many ways to reach your goal.
  • Ignore the destination. Don’t worry about where you’ll be in five or ten years, or some arbitrary point in the future. Don’t worry about climbing to a particular rung on the ladder of success. Instead, maximize the opportunities that are in front of you based upon who you really are. And embrace the twists and turns of life.

As Nelson Mandela said, “I never lose. I either win, or I learn.”

Words I will keep in mind. I had my first bartender job interview and this week I learned I did not get the job. But I will learn from it. I asked the person who interviewed me to go for a drink so that I can get their feedback.

Go Answer the Call