Sean Johnson

Build an Intentional Life.

In the startup world you often hear about the One Metric That Matters, or OMTM. It’s the one metric that defines the health of your business at its given stage, and the metric your team chooses to focus on above all others.

It serves as a rallying cry for the team. Companies are overflowing with data and can quickly become paralyzed by it.

The OMTM gives your team focus. It helps drown out the noise and work on what really matters.

I wonder if a similar approach would help us in our personal lives.

Donald Miller tells a story about a funeral he went to. So many people wanted to attend the funeral they had to move it to the town’s baseball field. Nearly a thousand people gathered to pay their respects.

But the guy wasn’t famous. He hadn’t built a company or been on television or cured a disease. He never wrote a book. He didn’t even have a website. He lived in a small town in Texas, and nobody’s ever heard of him.

But he invested in people’s lives. He really got to know them. Spent time learning what made them tick. Helped them however he could. Cheered them on when they won, picked them up when they lost, pushed them when they needed pushing, hugged them when they needed lifting up.

His life didn’t scale. He didn’t think in terms of reaching millions of people or changing the world. He did it one person at a time.

Most likely, he didn’t think about what he was doing as anything remarkable. It was just how he was wired. As Miller says, he didn’t want the spotlight. He WAS a spotlight, shining on everyone else, letting them know the best version of themselves.

I was at a wedding this weekend for a friend we’ve known since we moved to Chicago. She and the groom both have small families. But their wedding had over 300 people attend, almost all friends she’s made in the last 5 years.

It’s not because she’s important, or part of the entrepreneurial or city life scene. She’s a hairdresser. But she pours herself out for other people.

She routinely calls us up and says she’ll be in our neighborhood and wants us to go out on a date. She volunteers to dogsit for people on their vacations. She helps people move. She volunteers with homeless organizations and gets to know the people – there were 5 formerly homeless people at the wedding.

A tiny white girl, she moved on her own into a predominantly African American neighborhood widely considered one of the most dangerous in the country, because she wanted to play a part in racial reconciliation. She got to know people. She’d go over to their houses after work and help their kids with homework. She’d make dinner and help out so a mom could go to her second job. Her and her husband are working on building an eco house in the same neighborhood that would let people live there rent free.

The people at the wedding weren’t there because she’s famous or important. The wedding wasn’t elaborate – the reception was in a basement of a community center with no AC and there were almost no decorations.

But when the minister said he could kiss the bride the cheers were the loudest of any wedding I’ve ever been to. When the sound cut off on the PA during the mother father dance, 300 people started singing the words so they could keep dancing.

Every single person there loved her. They loved her because she changed their lives one at a time.

The world I inhabit is full of people trying to make something of themselves. And many of us, if we’re honest, measure our lives using things like our income, or the amount of equity we have, or the square footage of our houses, or how many countries we’ve been to, or the number of followers we have on social media.

And deep down we know, as great as those things may be, they aren’t going to be what makes us happy long term. But we do it anyway, because we don’t know what else to use.

I took a course by Michael Gerber a long time ago, and he asked you to imagine you’re in a room, and it’s your funeral. And a recording comes on, and it’s your voice. And you’re telling the crowd about your life. At the end, he asks what you want that recording to say.

But what if you flipped that on it’s head. What if instead of a room you imagined a baseball field. And instead of a recording of you, there’s a microphone in the middle for others.

How many people would be there?

Would it be a couple dozen people? Would you fill the place up?

What sort of role do you have play in someone’s life for them to take a day off from work and attend? What if they live on the other side of the country – would they drop what they’re doing and fly across the world to be there?

What would the people in attendance say into the microphone? What kind of stories would they tell? How long would it take?

Would their stories be about the multiple you got on the business you sold? Would it be on the appreciation on your house, or on how many retweets you got?

Thinking about your funeral might sound morbid, but I think it’s a good way to get clarity on your priorities. I think the number of people there would make a great OMTM for your personal life.

One of the reasons people talk about exits in their companies is because it’s how they keep score. It’s how they know whether they accomplished their goal, and to what degree their business created value for people.

Wouldn’t the number of people attending your funeral be a good litmus test for how you lived your life?

Of course you’d never know the actual answer, because you’d already be gone. But you could probably make a guess and be reasonably accurate.

If you wanted to double that number, or 10x that number, what would you have to do differently?

What would it take to fill up a baseball field with people who love you because of the impact you made in their lives?

What would change if you made that your OMTM?

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