Invoking a Sense of Purpose III – The Roadmap of your Life

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” – Lao Tzu

In the previous two posts relating to this series we examined what motivates us (our values) and how we can align our thoughts and actions to our values. This alignment is very powerful because it strengthens our integrity and therefore our personal power. Personal power allows us to get a firm grasp of the wheel and to zone in on creating the experiences, environments, relationships and outcomes which make us feel fully present and alive, whether in our professional or personal lives.

For those who took the time to reflect throughout this blog series, a wakeup call might have been heard. Others may fall into denial if they cannot acknowledge their limiting-beliefs; the invisible forces pulling us in the opposite direction of our desires. Denial is a common reaction for many. Some people spend years or even decades climbing up the wrong ladder – only to reach the top to discover this fact; at which point denial and anger may lead to a deflated spirit. However acceptance of the truth is inevitable if we give ourselves the time, space and self-compassion necessary; the truth that we’ve inadvertently been sabotaging our lives. After assimilating and integrating the truth we’re in a position of open-awareness; open to the possibilities that lay before us. A wise place to start this journey of re-alignment would be by identifying your current reality in terms of your strengths.

What do you consider to be your strengths?

Character Strength Word Infographic

Current Self

Strengths are those faculties and competencies which we’re particularly good at; they are sets of skills and behaviours which one is able to enact at will to create desired outcomes. Strengths are not skills by themselves. To illustrate, consider a software development team consisting of a group of analysts. Now, all software analysts will have the skill to code and know how to develop and test software but what makes one analyst stronger than the rest? What makes one analyst consider the perspective of the intended user of the software in order to create a top-notch user experience whilst others simply develop working programs?  The answer has not much to do with what can be learnt from in a classroom but mostly to do with our experiences and how we’ve learned from them which enables us to apply our wisdom. To find out what your strengths are I invite you to reflect back over your personal and professional history, recall moments where you were commended by a friend, colleague, client or anyone whose opinion matters. Take some of these people out for a coffee and ask them to give their honest feedback on your strengths, ideally supported by examples. Recall moments where you were asked to lead on something or invited to lend a hand. If you were to write this all down and put it into a narrative, what common themes might you see? Perhaps you’d find consistent positive feedback around your unique way of engaging people? Or how you’re really great at connecting the dots? Perhaps you have a gift for being able to explain complex scenarios in simple terms?

When you bring your strengths into your conscious awareness you can begin to frame a purposeful future. Now, go a step further and combine the knowledge of your strengths with the knowledge of what drives you and you’ll have clarity around the conditions and environments which need to be present in order for you to thrive. Before you take your next steps, may I have you ponder the question: Do you want to thrive in the relatively familiar places, or do you want to be a trailblazer?  With the former option, the trajectory towards success may be mapped out as many others would have already treaded that way; to a greater or lesser degree, the path is worn and visible.  With the latter option you would need to commit to a journey beyond the map of your current frame of reference where you will need to make your own pathways and nurture resilience and internal-musculature for times when dead-ends greet you more often than not. Apart from strengths you should also know your weaknesses. Your boss may apply the label “areas for development” to these.

Having awareness of ones weaknesses can sometimes be enough of a solution because then we’re able to do the minimum necessary to avoid setbacks. However, to really make progress it is imperative that we engage our strengths rather than try to improve upon our weakest areas – unless the area of weakness happens to be a competency which is key to making progress in the journey ahead.

“I know my strengths and what my values are. Where is this journey going to take me?” I hear you ask.

Perhaps you have taken the opportunity to reflect and contemplate whilst reading through this series. What have you noticed about your life so far?

How have you been living your principles and values?

What are the challenges that have kept you engaged?

What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned as you overcame these challenges?

Where is this trajectory taking you?

Desired Self

What are your goals for the next 5, 10, 15… 20 years? And what is the relationship between them and the milestones you’ve encountered thus far?

If you think about what 10/10 looks like in your career, in your love life, with your mental and physical health, in your relationships, with how you spend any spare time – If everything was as you wanted it to be in these areas (and any others) what do you see happening? What, and who, do you need to be in order to achieve 10/10 in all of these important areas?

These questions hint at the type of inner enquiry which can lead you to a compelling vision for your life. This vision acts as the destination co-ordinates and becomes a powerful active agent when it begins to inform your intentions, thoughts and actions. Though the vision is likely to change over time as you clarify your answers, it will nonetheless provide you with a sense of purpose and with stability in motion even in times of massive change. The personal vision is a critical piece in the puzzle and great care must be taken to ensure that this vision is truly meaningful to you at a deep level. You will know this when it evokes in you a powerful urge to make changes, to focus and to commit yourself fully, even in the face of uncertainty.

Remember, in order to have something  you need to do something, and in order to do something you need to be more or less of something.

How well do you understand yourself?

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Reconciling Duality through Self-Actualisation

Now that you are more aware of the nature of your strengths and weaknesses (your current self) and you have a clear definition of your personal vision, you are ready to create a roadmap.

At the core, this roadmap represents a learning and unlearning journey. Learning can happen in structured or unstructured settings such as through formal education or through experiences respectively. Unlearning happens through challenging beliefs and mental models of the world which are limiting or based on untested assumptions.

What technical and/or social knowledge do you need to help you make progress towards your personal vision? What experiences do you need to have? What conversation do you need to have? What do you need to master?

How will you build on your strengths to make progress towards your desired self?

In his seminal book ‘The Fifth Discipline’ Peter M. Senge noted that the awareness of the gap between ones current self and desired self invites ‘creative tension’. The energy which arises through this tension is the fuel one can leverage to create the pathways towards ones personal vision.

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Invoking a Sense of Purpose II – Beliefs and Behaviour

 

“It was character that got us out of bed, commitment that moved us into action and discipline that enabled us to follow through.” – Zig Ziglar

 

  rowboat

 

The first post of this short series explored the role which our values play in living a purpose-full life. Our values enable us to express ourselves with confidence and to live authentically, however they are not always so easy to identify and often operate at the subconscious level. There are a ton of offline and online resources that can help with finding out about the things that enliven you. To start living a more fulfilling life it is not necessary to finalise a definition of your values. Instead, I would encourage you to write down draft statements in the present tense and in first person where appropriate and compassionately observe how they influence your days, keep a daily journal to document how you live and embody those values, or otherwise. As you get further clarity through your observations you may need to refine or change your ‘value statements’ to better reflect the values which you live by. When you feel they are in-tune with who you are, the daily observation and journaling will strengthen your connection to your values and your ability to live life true to your essence.

In your observations you may notice that there are times when your behaviour does not align with your values. In fact we often behave and act in ways which oppose what we truly value! In these instances we might feel frustrated, confused, angry or misunderstood. This inner-conflict inevitably reveals itself on the outside, in engagements with people, in activities and situations. In turn people normally react according to your behaviour and actions. Their reactions can sometimes be thought of an invisible mirror which provides an indication of how your behaviour and values are misaligned.

Unfortunately rather than gauging a deeper understanding of this misalignment, we instead tend to adapt our actions and behaviour in order to validate or invalidate the “mirror”. For example, if the response you receive from an audience after giving a presentation is very negative, then you may take on the belief that you are no good at presentations and in turn you will try to avoid giving presentations in the future. In Behavioural Psychology this is called negative reinforcement and it involves a person taking up a behavioural trait to avoid pain or fear. Positive reinforcement involves a person taking up certain behaviours to which s/he links some pleasurable outcome; sales people might get into the habit of doing over-time to make extra sales calls if this often earns them a bonus. In another context positive reinforcement occurs in an addict who will repeat their addictive behaviour in return for the high or someone else may constantly get into arguments if they feel a release of anxiety afterwards. Other examples of negative reinforcement include someone who constantly avoids going out on dates due to their fear of being rejected or someone starts coming home late to avoid a stressful situation in the home. This rift between our values and our behaviour is a rift between our internal compass, thoughts, words and actions.

Do you know what your drive in life is? What gets you up in the morning? What specifically brings out the best in you? Are you embodying your values or is there a widening rift?

 

Connection and Direction

If we use the analogy of farming, then our beliefs and behaviour are akin to a farmer sowing the seeds. We get unexpected outcomes (or weeds) if we’re not careful.

As we explored earlier, our internal constructs, our beliefs about who we are may not be congruent with how we behave; a shy person may perceive themselves to be compassionate however, the lack of expressed compassion will make others see them differently and in turn others will generally respond in kind. Unfortunately this is a self-enforcing system; staying with the example of the shy person, other people will often feel uncomfortable or confused and respond by being apathetic, impatient, irritated or even with criticism. The shy persons’ sub-conscious mind processes this in such a way which reinforces the belief that they’re shy, and so the belief strengthens the shy behaviour.  This may cause the shy person to become frustrated and unfulfilled with their life.

Now if the shy person understood that their behaviour was not congruent with their value of living compassionately then this self-awareness can provide the impetus to change. Our desire for happiness and meaning is so intermingled with our relationships that at a spiritual and primal level we have a need to feel loved and to feel worthy. This is true for both our personal and professional lives no matter what our aspirations might be.

 

Bridging the Inner and Outer Self

anchor and compass

 

In one sense, cause and effect of behaviour are two sides of the same coin. Regardless of the angle from which you look at it, it’s the same coin. Yet, we can choose another system, another belief to guide our actions and related behaviour; beliefs that are aligned to our values.

Beliefs either form the bridges between our values and our actions or they widen the ocean between them. They dictate how we affect and engage with the world and the people in our world. Neuroscience explains this metaphor through describing the brains neural network and chemical reactions called synapses which build the bridge or widen the ocean between constructs of the Self. Beliefs affect how we approach our day, our vocation, how we make decisions, how we raise our children, what we consume, how we spend our time and money and how we see ourselves and treat others.

Do you feel unfulfilled in any part of your life? How might your beliefs be working against you? Which beliefs could you develop to support your values?

The process of picking and unpicking your beliefs may be a slow one and perhaps uncomfortable too. Though, we need not be critical of or judge ourselves because beliefs have the habit of forming without our choosing. Some beliefs are adopted through cultural and social norms, religion or our life experiences but it isn’t very important how they came about if they are limiting your life.

Getting clear on how any belief is limiting your life, whether in relationships, career, lifestyle etc. is crucial because clarity is going to provide you with the will and discipline to drop a belief. Getting clarity into what your values create when embodied through action is also important for strengthening new beliefs. The process requires reinforcement, a high-level of self-awareness and a dash of self-compassion.

When we’re able to align our values with our actions we start to see out into the world with a new perspective. The river of your life will start to flow in a new direction, meandering through places which bring meaning and vital energy to your experiences, relationships and to your lifes’ work.

I encourage you to look into your values and beliefs in order to dial into your inner compass, and I also encourage you to look at which of your values are in fact principles, i.e. truths which universally govern the nature of life and thus provide you with secure anchors. If one anchors their daily life with such principles yet acts through their values then their world will thrive no matter what the circumstances.

 

To follow up this short series on ‘Invoking a Sense of Purpose’, I will be writing about the link between your strengths and values and its significance. The role of stories in creating meaning and we’ll look into your unique edge, what it might be and what it may mean for your life.

Invoking a Sense of Purpose I – Values

 

“Trust that which gives you meaning and accept it as your guide.” – Carl Gustav Jung, founder of Analytical Psychology (1875 – 1961)

James Jasper City of Silhouettes - Invoking a Sense of Purpose
Photo courtesy of James Jasper.

 

We are all on a journey, as I wrote in my previous post this is a journey unique to each of us. My previous post utilised a metaphor of the ‘Hero’ to illustrate some of the steps that we embark upon throughout our lives. The journey we take is often cyclical. We rise and fall. We achieve and look for something new. We become and then seek further fulfilment.

Since our lives and our gifts are unique and only we hold the key to expressing these at their fullest, there may be an underlying feeling that you’re in it alone.  This feeling of loneliness is actually a very primal feature of our biology called the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The SNS is what is associated with the fight or flight physiological response and provides necessary support to the mind and body when we in find ourselves in difficult situations.

Whilst we do not have the Tyrannosaurus rex or tribal warfare to worry about, in the post-modern “go-getter” era the SNS is triggered by the stresses and strains of taking the usual commute you hate, by the over-bearing boss you’ve had for the last 5 years, by the growing to-do list or re-occurring worries about your retirement or the fear of not getting what you think you need. It is our good fortune then that we are not in it alone and that we have support at-hand, sometimes in the unlikeliest of places.

There are a few questions which you must answer before you can get clarity on what this support might look like and where it might come from.

 

What is important to me?

This simple, yet powerful question more often than not raises further questions.

What captures my imagination? What are my values? What is my worldview? What motivates me? The answers to these can be categorised as ‘values’.

These questions need to be answered if we are to understand the form of support which may be most in-tune with our lives at this moment in time.

Often people are unaware of why their decision-making repeats a certain pattern, of their unique way of responding to events or of what fuels them to contribute. Equally, most people are either not aware, or choose to ignore the things that are not important to them, the things that do not motivate or fuel their drive in life.

The key to getting clarity of ones values is raising awareness of how we conduct ourselves each day, in particular becoming familiar with our own thoughts and feelings and perhaps highlighting those instances which stir up strong feelings or thoughts.

You may find that a framework can help you raise you self-awareness and help you discover your values. There are a few out there under the label of “Values Scales”. One such scale was developed by the German philosopher and psychologist Eduard Spranger in his book entitled, Lebensformen (translated as ‘Types of Men: the Psychology and Ethics of Personality’). This was later worked on by American psychologist Gordon Allport.

The scale developed organises values into seven categories which interact with one another, though often two or even three maybe more dominant than the others. The seven modes are:

 

  1. Theorist: To understand, discover and gain knowledge. Where this mode is dominant, the individual will be driven by their intellect, logical thoughts and have a drive for understanding the finer details. At home they’ll always be the ones who are the brains in the family, driven by personal development and often single minded in their pursuits.
  2. Utilitarian: To seek economy, return-on-investment and practical returns. In business, those motivated through this mode are bottom-line oriented, at home they’ll want to do the shopping in one outing rather than several.
  3. Aesthetic: To experience impressions and expressions of harmony, variety and balance. These folks are driven to keep the peace for themselves and those around them, at home they’ll be constantly looking to make things look pretty and be highly interested in how others feel. On-going focus on work-life balance might be a feature here.
  4. Political: To influence, take responsibility and control. Those that have this dimension as a dominant value are driven to take the leadership role and are unafraid of being accountable. They are often the heavy duty “do-ers” in society, the office and in the home.
  5. Social: To benefit others, to give and serve. At the high-end of this mode one is driven by humanitarian challenges, and so time and energy is usually devoted to related causes. At home, they may often be very happy to baby sit for friends and family whilst sacrificing their personal time and space.
  6. Individualistic: To be seen, stand-out and to express uniqueness. At the high end this mode manifests as individuals wanting to be seen apart from the crowd, often wanting to be in the limelight and centre of things.
  7. Regulatory: To be proper, orderly and to seek structure. A high score in this mode indicates ones drive for protocol, process and strong principles. Folks who value this very highly seek consistency, routine and stable authority.

Knowing why we are driven by certain situations more than others and how we are likely to perceive and “feel” those situations helps us get an insight into which environments might provide fuel to our lives and which may sap us of our vital energy. Also, when we know more about our underlying motivators we have a better chance of communicating the things we care about and bring a new dimension to projects, to work life, to relationships with friends and families, as well as seeking allegiances with those who share our values. Inversely, knowing what de-motivates you also raises your awareness of possible pitfalls. For example, if one is not at all motivated by utilitarian and economical values then how might that affect ones management of money, budgeting or ROI on projects?

Raising our awareness of our drivers, de-tractors, ways of being and acting is a significant step toward participating in lifes’ puzzles and adventures whilst enjoying the experience. The next question to arise is:

 

Does my behaviour compliment my values?

In a follow-up post, we will explore our behaviour and how we act. We’ll look at how other people perceive us as a result and finally, we’ll seek to understand the cause and effect of actions which are in-line with our values as well as when actions are in conflict with our values.

 

A Hero’s Journey

A Heros Journey – Part I

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Artwork courtesy of awkwardsnowball

“Our life is a series of moments.. each one a journey to the end ”

                                                     from the movie ‘Now is Good’.

We have moments that are more splendid than the colours of the rainbow, and others which are heavier than the darkest of rain clouds. We have fleeting moments of chance, of opportunity and then there are those moments which feel like years spent wandering the thirsty Saharan desert. Some of our precious moments leave the scent of wild roses lingering in the air but we can all recall moments when fear sulled the very molecules of oxygen, as life itself seems to escape the confines of our skin and bones. Yet it is the meaning we give to each moment that somehow weaves the tapestry of the events, experiences and vitality of our lives.

Some of us are seemingly asleep at the wheel. We live out our lives in monotonous humdrum, of the 9 to 5 and the “same old crap, just another day”. So, the same old crap reinforces and embeds itself into your badly self-designed reality and into your psyche – which is the worst place for “crap” to be stored, wouldn’t you say? But try telling your sleeping self, that you’re asleep and I’ll bet that you won’t wake up.

Waking up needs to be a constant exercise if it is to have any profundity on your being, it’s an exercise of complete awareness of your potential, getting clarity of your journey and taking responsibility for your actions. Whether you believe it or not, at first your potential may be so great that it requires you to retrain your imagination! Imagine that. However it is at the level of your imagination where you can connect with your potential.


A Heros Journey –
Part II

Leaving_Home_by_thefantasim
Artwork courtesy of thefantasim

“Audacity augments courage; hesitation, fear.”

                                                       – Publilius Syrus (Syrian writer, 1st century BC)

The ordinary world

Amidst the unfolding drama of our lives, we might be able to recall a blurry memory where once upon a time there wasn’t much drama at all. One day was very much like the next, months passed along like weeks and maybe, the years even seemed to drift along just fine.

Maybe these memories remind you of a time when your innocence was as beautiful as the prettiest of all green meadows, or of times when life was relatively care free.

Can you remember such a time? Are you here right now?

You may also remember a feeling of there being something missing in your life or something holding you back, perhaps feeling like a greyhound stuck in the gates.


Call to adventure

Then, there comes a time in our lives where one day you’re offered a glimpse of another realm, some unfamiliar territory, a new perspective or a new possibility to explore; the gates go up and the race track appears before you. Or perhaps this other realm comes in the form of a career opportunity, the prospect of starting a family, or becoming aware of some profound (good or bad) part of you which you had never quite noticed before. You could have noticed that in certain scenarios you always feel paralysed from head to toe.

We are offered a choice at these junctures; do you follow your intuition? Do you ignore it? Or do you resist anything that threatens your comfort zone?


Reluctance

Many of us make the decision subconsciously due to habitual behaviour, indeed we operate in autopilot throughout most of our day (thanks to beliefs systems formed by our perception of the world and ourselves rather than what is real). Though, sometimes we decide to ponder for a while on the “what if”; What if I really have some wonderful gift that could make a significant difference? What if I take on this idea and decide to start a business? Or, what if I really look at why I feel paralysed when I even think about starting a business?

Maybe you have some unexpressed desire or ambition? Perhaps the fear of the unknown keeps this desire from coming to the fore and in to the power of your awareness and imagination?


Finding heart

We may decide to forget about whatever it was that came to light and showed you a new path, because settling with the familiar may appear to be more attractive. However, there are some things that once revealed to us come back again to offer you a chance once more. This second revelation may come through listening to someone’s wise words on YouTube, watching a good movie which manages to stir things we have tried to bury under the pillow. And often people we know say something that resonates with a deep desire. You may sit with this and look back at your journey to understand if this desire has urged you in the past.

These moments don’t just stir your thoughts and feelings; they are there to help you to muster up the courage and stand in the shoes of your bravest self to open up to whatever is calling you. Courage will help you endure any unpleasant emotions, fear and uncertainty. Self-compassion will help you to calmly observe whatever insights may arise. Allowing yourself to contemplate can help shed the heavy baggage, and bring clarity so you can make a move to taking the first step on a journey which might just be your greatest journey yet.

Have you felt inspired or encouraged by somebody or by something you read? Maybe it was a single thought that came to you out of the blue?


A Heros Journey –
Part III

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Photo courtesy of Greg Epperson

“It is a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness”

                                              – Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Roman philosopher)


One small step

The first step can feel like trying to get the Titanic unstuck, but when you finally make it rock it gains momentum, the engines roar into life and a single step becomes a faithful leap into the unknown; your journey has begun.

If you take a moment, you might realise that taking this small step wasn’t really like moving the Titanic at all. The act of taking the first step was preceded by a committed decision; a powerful decision, supported by clarity which literally moved you into a new direction.


Testing times

For our traveller, this is the road along which new alliances will be made, new possibilities or creations will emerge. The plot of the story will start to unravel enough to inspire you to follow the bread crumbs and your own instinct. This is an exciting phase indeed.

With excitement, there are also tricky obstacles and testing challenges to master. However afraid our traveller may be in facing up to these monsters, the purpose of these apparent road blocks are to raise your skill, ability, knowledge and experience by making you dig deep and ignite the power already within you. Beyond these challenges, we find that new doors seem to open at the right time, leading to the right people or the right opportunities.

This is a crucial part of ones journey; without these tests, the potentiality of our lives ends up as a distant dream.


The innermost cave

Through trials and tribulations we travel far and wide. Looking back at the hazy horizon, the memory of the place we’ve come from seems unreal, as if it were a past lifetime. We remember the person we used to be and recognise the growth we have undergone since setting out. We remind ourselves of our desire, the urge to follow our calling and we turn our attention to the present moment, with this sprouting new you.

You have metamorphosed into a more powerful self, one who has learnt to keep his or her own council, one who is guided by an intelligent intuition. Everything that has happened in your life so far has lead you to here, yet even this is just another stepping stone to somewhere deeper, some place which will require you to be at your absolute best and brightest.

It is there you face your deepest fear or your greatest challenge. You may even feel that this challenge is something you need to go through all by yourself. Here, you find yourself in an abyss, where darkness appears to enshroud everything and loneliness asks for pity like a beggar grasping at your ankles; you need to have faith in all that you are, fire up your inner light and transcend the veil before you.


Enduring the great ordeal

With all your skill, experience and knowledge you will engage your nemesis, face your greatest inner-shadow/wounding/demon, your business may face a serious trial, or the day will finally arrive for that marathon you’d been training toward. These moments demand a laser-beam like focus; blocking off all other eventualities or distractions.

This crossing will change you in so many ways; maybe even more than any transformation in the past. Many aspects of life are affected by working through this challenge, as a deeper knowledge about your own power emerges and you see all the mental constructs which support how you view yourself in the world around. Like a fledgling that has just taken its first flight, you see from a birds-eye view, you manoeuvre the forest with all its branches and obstacles without effort; you have a new found ease.


Wielding your power

Having faced a great ordeal, you walk with the realisation of your achievement and an understanding of the empowerment that has been bestowed upon you. The ordeal has been a gift in disguise.

Perhaps you now command the skill of making allies in your workplace, maybe the journey took you to a dark place within yourself and now you’ve come through it, to the light with self-compassion and at-one-ment (atonement) with your wounding; free from the chains of wounds and breaking old limiting beliefs. This new empowered state provides the breakthrough that we needed, the breakthrough that shows us a new frontier of opportunities as we imagine walking through life with the advantage of wielding this new gift.


The road back

The new way of being may take some time getting used to. As you practice working with your new skills, your new reality, your new career, you will naturally make mistakes and drop the ball now and again. You may even get criticized or judged by others during this period. Yet more tests! Albeit, ones you will pass with flying colours.

When working with a new skill, new knowledge or a way of being, one gets accustomed with its ways by exercising it and by experimenting.

It took you so long to get here; spending a little time in this space will help you master your newly dis-covered power.


Resurrection 

When you emerge back in the normal world, you emerge transformed by your experiences, by new knowledge or new skills. You come back to familiar surroundings with a new truth about you; a certain strength in your character. You experience life differently, you perceive differently and you express your self differently.

You may notice people being attracted to you; perhaps they seek mentorship by someone who has travelled to their desired destination before them. You may notice things happening which require your engagement to rectify an issue, or to secure an opportunity, to work on a project which may benefit from your gift.

If you hadn’t understood by now, you will understand that there was a reason for all that had occurred through this journey, from the very beginning to the present day. After this short post-analysis (keep it brief Freud!), you will enjoy a reality in which you create the world, you give meaning to all events, you see beyond that which is visible to the naked eye and together with the pieces of the symphony of all that is, you play in harmony.