The celestial emporium

In Chinese traditional culture there is the belief that success requires three conditions: Tian Shi 天时 (right time), Di Li 地利 (right place) and Ren He 人和 (right people). All three of these things, more specifically, the will of heaven (Tian Shi), material resources (Di Li) and the harmony of people (Ren He) must be present and aligned. While it may sound like an ancient way of perceiving the world, most of us make the same assumptions about what is possible, based on what is available. As I teach in my personal leadership workshops, success is about enjoying the process of actualizing a self-owned vision. Instead of waiting for the right time, place and people, there is a formulaic process that each of us can apply to purposefully manifest our desires, rather than adhere to the dreary cliche that success comes only to those who work hard, or worse, the lucky.

Man who keep feet firmly on ground have trouble
putting on pants.

Woody Allen had it right. Eighty percent of success is just showing up. And showing up is about being present to the myriad opportunities around us. When we work hard, we’re too exhausted to show up. We’re blind to the bigger picture of what the will of heaven is making available. While we may be committed to a higher purpose or a noble ideal, achieving it doesn’t necessarily mean hard work, but rather engaging people in our vision of that future, being resourceful and creating a sense of inevitability around an outcome. People always trump wealth and wealth always trumps timing, or as Mencius said, “Tian Shi is inferior to Di Li, Di Li is inferior to Ren He.”

Hard work means we must struggle to get what we want. While everything is available to us, we tend to settle for what we think we deserve. If we work less hard, we believe we’ll receive a proportionally lesser reward. Likewise, we expect that our future will continue to be more of what we already have. So we get up at the crack of dawn, drive long distances, hypnotically pound out dozens of e-mails a day, attend soul-crushing meetings, eat out of a box, come home in the dark and crash in front of the TV. If we’re lucky, we might have energy to go the the gym, to work on our abs.

Believe me, when I’m passionate about something, when I’m really committed to a project, I put in a lot of hours, just ask my wife. I will apply myself well into the night and don’t really recognize weekends or other conventional human schedules, like sitting down for meals. I graze, I pace, I stare out the window, I scribble furiously. But I don’t work hard at any of these things. I am wholly engaged in creating a confluence of Tian Shi, Di Li and Ren He. It’s like hard work, but minus the drudgery, toiling, strain and moil. It’s more like creating a path for the people, wealth and zeitgeist to move the project, vs. me having to move it, which as I know from rich previous experience, sucks in every regard.

So what’s the difference between working hard for success and what I am proposing? One word: joy. Any time you find yourself asking, “Why is this so difficult?” or “Why am I always the only one who…?” it means you’re engaged in a struggle against the people, place or will of heaven. Even when I go for a run, I make a point to enjoy it for it’s own sake and stop expecting to become fit. Fitness is hugely overrated, while competing against yourself in a quest to be great at some physical endeavor, that’s fun. If it hurts, don’t do it. If it moves you, do more of it.

Being a white western male born into an intellectual family and who had the privilege of attending private schools, you could say that Tian Shi, Di Li and Ren He are already somewhat on my side. Yet there are plenty of people like me who are miserable, who toil in obscurity, who wonder why they can’t catch a break. It’s because they’ve been trained in cultural institutions to believe that hard work is equal to success, which is a lie. It’s more like the opposite of success. When you work hard all your life but still aren’t fulfilled, something isn’t right somewhere in the Tian Shi, Di Li, Ren He.

So here’s the formula that’s based on showing up. It’s devoid of jargon, new age mysticism, and it’s free. It begins with an assessment of your values in relation to who you want to Be, what you want to Do and what you want to Have. The name of this formula is Visioneering, a term I thought I had invented back in 2005, but it turns out that Andy Stanley, a pastor in Atlanta Georgia, first wrote a kind of Christian motivational book called Visioneering in 2001. I haven’t read it yet, so I’m still not sure what God’s Plan is for me, but I’m thinking I’ll just live my life, as I don’t want to spoil the ending.

While pastor Stanley beat me to the Visioneering punch, I really like his definition of the term vision as “A clear mental picture of what could be, fueled by the conviction that it should be.” Here’s my introduction to this process:

    1. What is your dream of the good life? When you picture it, what images come to mind? Describe them.

    2. In this image of the good life, how do you define yourself as a human being? What matters most? Choose 5 or so of these values and write them down.

Next step, describe these values in the context of your life.

    3. What would be some consistent behaviors in which you would express each one of these values?

    4. What would be fulfilling as goals that each behavior would help you to pursue?

    5. Define specific milestones in short to mid-term time frame for these goals.

    6. Create some immediate next steps.

    7. Commit to regular review of your results.

The Chinese, in contrast to the westerners to whom I teach this process, are skeptical. They ask, “Where is the Tian Shi, Di Li, Ren He? This is all about me, and I know I am powerless to effect the will of heaven”. Most have been taught to believe that they have no control over these things, and that working hard to educate their kids and take care of their parents is the primary directive around which all else revolves. Happiness is barely relevant. My answer is this: because you as an individual can control the way in which you envision your future, your commitment to that future can influence others (Ren He). By enrolling others in your vision, you benefit from their collective wealth (Di Li), both material and ideas. Through a powerful emergent entity, you achieve a new level of consciousness (Tian Shi) about what is possible.

There’s plentiful evidence for the power of this process in successful people all around us, even if they actualize it in an informal way. Most highly successful people grasp it intuitively and learn it through purposeful action. If you believe that there’s more to life than working hard for success, there’s so much to be discovered by just showing up.

Through seizing the will of Heaven,
Commanding the resources of Earth,
And possessing the relationships of Mankind that lie between,
Nothing is impossible.
— Sun Zi