The Latin word actually has two meanings: one is “end” and the other is “finish”.
The definition you select in any given scenario says a lot about who you are.
One definition is ultimate in its mindset. It’s done. It’s the end. Goodbye.
The other definition is goal driven. You’ve reached the finish, achieved the goal. It’s time to celebrate your growth and keep moving forward.
One of them is fatalistic. There’s pending doom that awaits at the end.
The other is idealistic. There’s purpose and meaning and striving for the finish.
This is a very important distinction so we’re gonna come back to it in a second.
But first, the Roman Empire.
Don’t make this the end. Subscribe.
It Began With Janus
In or around 50 BC, PR wunderkind Julius Caesar popularized New Year’s resolutions.
(Editor’s Note: the Babylonians actually started New Year’s resolutions 2,000 years before good ol’ Jules, but I don’t see Shakespeare writing any plays about Babylonia)
Juju created the Roman calendar and, in so doing, established the month of January. He named the month after the god Janus and deemed it to be the first month of the year.
He was emperor, he was allowed to do such things.
The God Janus has two faces, one looking back and another forward. So at the onset of January, in the godly name of Janus, people would reflect on their previous year and set goals for the coming year.
And such is how New Year’s Resolutions were popularized.
It is from those pompous beginnings that we now make commitments each year to tone our abs, shape our butts and be a better whatever.
But then, come March, we forget most of those resolutions. We lose our drive. It ends.
(Editor’s Note: the Babylonians were a lot better)
Let’s face it, life isn’t about toned abs and shapely butts. It’s not about how many zeroes are in your bank account or how much you paid for that thing you’re so proud of owning.
Those are really nice and all, but they are just background props in the play of your life.
Spenser Somers was forced to learn this lesson at an early age. (We’ll get to him shortly).
Your life- and whether or not you’re a great leader - is defined by your meaning and purpose.
You may not know what your purpose is, but I guarantee that you have one.
Everyone has a purpose.
The Purpose of Purpose
When you are confronted with a Sophie’s Choice situation - and trust me, it will happen - you’re going to have to make a decision. Given the option between two things, each of which has negative consequences, your priority in life will be exposed by your decision.
Would you, hypothetically, sacrifice a relationship with your loved ones in order to have a lot of money? Or will you sacrifice money in order to have strong relationships?
Whatever your choice, that’s fine. I’m just saying that you have a choice and it will reveal the true you.
You see, life is not about the “what”.
It’s always about the “why”.
The purpose of life is to have a purpose. That purpose can change as you mature, but there will still be a purpose.
The problem is, most of us aren’t clear about what our purpose is. So instead, we set "goals in January like “toning my abs”.
Listen, I don’t think less of anybody who wants to be more toned and fit. Heck, I’ve tried for decades to have washboard abs and never got beyond a one-pack.
But toned and fit is a “what”. It’s not a “why”.
The problem with humanity is that we so easily get caught up in the “what” of things that we quickly ignore the “why”.
“What” is easy to define. “Why” can be hard.
Understanding your “why” takes you out of your comfort zone.
Understanding your “why” requires self-perception. It requires owning up to your weaknesses and delving deep into your internal motivations.
Take the person who says their purpose is to make money. Do they think that money will make them feel more loved? Smarter? More respected?
There’s a “why” hidden there somewhere.
And this brings us right back to the finis of our resolutions.
The Finis of our Resolutions
If your resolutions are a series of “what’s” without an understanding of “why”, you will most likely fall within the 54% of people who fail to meet their goals.
“Toned abs”, for instance, are a “what”.
“Living a healthy life and modeling to my kids how to feel good about yourself, physically and mentally” - now that’s a “why”. That goal has meaning and purpose.
Herein lies the difference in the two definitions of finis and the entire reason I started writing this damn piece in the first place.
The person that defines the ‘finis’ as “the end” is usually the one that focuses solely on the “what”. More times than not, they fail.
But the person that defines ‘finis’ as “finish”, is more often focused on the “why”. They understand the purpose of their life and goals are merely achievements in a greater journey.
Finis or finis?
Which one are you?
As we embark on a new year, it’s time to find the Janus in you. Look into the past and toward the future.
Do you understand your purpose?
What is the purpose for you? For your work? For your company?
What is the foundation from which you will make your decisions as you walk down the road of life?
What is your why?
As the philosopher-with-the-most-difficult-last-name, Friedrich Nietzsche famously said, “He who has a why to live for, can bear with any how.”
Maybe it’s worth a few minutes to review the goals and resolutions you’ve created and determine if they are a series of “what’s” or if you’ve defined a grander purpose.
Without meaning, you are dragging yourself to an inevitable end.
But with meaning, you strive for a goal. You celebrate achievement. You grow.
It’s not the end. Subscribe for more.
I mentioned Spenser Somers up above. You don’t know him.
Spencer died from cancer in 1990. He was 18 years old.
Spenser’s purpose in life changed as he battled the disease. Below is an excerpt from his high school graduation speech that I’ve kept by my bedside for 30 years.
I hope it means as much to you as it does to me...
I guess I used to think that life is like a long highway. I was just cruising along in what I thought at the time to be an endless road. I, however, got stuck with a faulty engine, and it forced me to stop cruising and to pull over onto the shoulder and start walking.
And it was once I started walking that I began to see all the beauty that was only a colorful blur before.
And once I began to walk, the wind didn’t blow through my hair ‘cause I didn’t have any, and instead of music there were the songs of the birds and the crickets to be heard.
But once I started to walk and once I took off my shades I began to see things clearly for the first time.
I began to see that success should not be measured by grades or dollar signs, but by how often you laugh and by how many people you can make smile in a day.
I began to see that once you are at peace with God, peace with your fellow man comes, as well as peace with yourself.
And I began to see that our earthly highway not only has plenty of detours and potholes, but it isn’t nearly as long as I once thought.
Very timely, as I am taking a course on OKRs, while creating them for a new client and myself. Your descriptors mirror what I am relearning. Prof G also spoke to Janus today. I am still pissed at Janus - Funds that is - for losing money when I invested in them many years back.
Great post, Jeff - and a timely reminder to strive for what truly matters.