Elements Of Personal Operating System V 1.0

We are all trying to be better, aren’t we?

And how we do anything is, well, how we do everything.

There are many different industries around the idea of human improvement:

  • Education- Both K-12 as well as higher ed.
  • Wearables- Our fitbits and Apple Watches help us to run faster.
  • Self Help: Coaches, books, gurus want us to be bigger than we are.
  • Gyms- We go to the gym to get better.
  • Beauty Salons- We want to look our best.
  • Church- We want to commune with a higher power.

All of this gets to our improvement. We want to be as close to our best as we can. We don’t want to waste our potential.

But to organize all the different parts of human experience, we need a metaphor. Something modular based on something else we understand.

The Operating System Metaphor

I’m obviously not the first person to use the personal Operating System as a metaphor for how we want to do life. It’s useful because if we have a set of programming that runs us.

Our computers and phones and devices all run on an operating system. It tells them what to do, and what not to do. Our devices work because they have instructions and programs and some unity within.

The metaphor works for us.

As I try and build a life of purpose and meaning, I move towards codifying exactly how I mean to do that.

First Principles: System-Level Instructions

This is where it starts. What we do and what we don’t do. Our very “first principles.”

First principles make our most important, our most difficult decisions easier. Where our boundaries are, and even where the exceptions might live.

These make up the aspirational definition of who we are trying to be. We can’t live a big life and not run afoul of our first principles at least occasionally. When we do that, it’s a system crash.

We have to have a way to recover from those, too.

My principles are here.

Your Mission: What You Are Doing Right Now

The next part is the mission. That’s what you’re doing in this season of your life. What you’re “working on these days.”

A mission could be something you pursue “forever” and with fervor, or it could be a little more modest in scope.

You can have several “missions,” at a time, too. You might have a mission to:

  • Raise $10,000 for a charity,
  • Lose 10 pounds
  • Or learn Spanish.

Your mission may be more “permanent.” You might have a mission to:

  • Build 50 schools.
  • Have 1,000 “True Fans”
  • Get a woman elected president.

It’s a part of our operating system because it guides the direction of our efforts.

When there’s a conflict between the mission and the first principles, the best of us will choose our first principles.

Habits: How We Spend Our Time

What we do every day is habit. A habit can be something simple like brushing our teeth, or getting a Diet Coke™ when we fill up our gas tank. It could even be the way that we react to our spouse.

Habits can be complex: going to the gym, or practicing the violin.

50% – or more – of our behaviors are spent executing our habits.

So it’s a core part of our operating system, and it can undermine- or enhance any goal or mission we have.

There are two main parts of habit:

  1. What we actually do.
  2. What we want to do.

The closer the two are, the better off we will all be.

A schedule is a subset of habits.

Vocation: What Earns Our Keep

How you earn by serving others. What you are here to give. What we trade for pay.

Our vocation is how we earn a living. What our primary focus is. This could be something like: raising our kids, being an attorney or doctor, being an entrepreneur or house flipper.

We want to include a vocation in our operating system because we need a purpose to sustain ourselves. We’re not meant to sit idly by and do little. The American Dream of work 40 years, then retire when your mind is at its sharpest is suspect.

A job is different from a vocation. A job may mean that we are here just for a paycheck, like waiting tables when we’re in college. Sometimes jobs can be part of your vocation, sometimes not so much.


At what level of quality do we do things?

Standards are something of a catch-all. We can include “did we make our bed” as well as “is our tone of voice acceptable,” in our standards.

It’s the way that we do – or want to do – things as we live our lives. Having error-free spelling may be a standard, or always sending a thank-you note may be a standard. Aspirational standards, as well as actual standards, are important to note as we go along.

We can have standards for being fast, or for being perfect in our lives.

Versions: How Do We Improve Ourselves

Software follows a release pattern. For those of us old enough to remember, Windows 3.1 came out, followed by Windows 95 and so on. Each one was better than the last one.

We have to iterate ourselves. Reinvent ourselves every so often. Have better tools to overcome life’s challenges.

So, to be able to improve, we have to figure out a periodic way to upgrade.  All while we travel through life in an aging body.

We have to improve our operating system.

I hope to rewrite this post every couple of years and version accordingly.

The Map Is Not The Territory

This is a way for us to think about ourselves. We want to have the best operating system we can have so that our limited time has the most possible impact. But every metaphor is imperfect. Some things won’t translate.

That’s because the map is not the territory.

The goal is to be the most effective, highest performance version of myself I can be. We start with something we can understand that can collect all of the areas we want to get better at, and we go from there.

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Christopher Johnson

Christopher Johnson is writing this blog. He's a startup veteran, having built a company called Simplifilm. This blog is about things that he's starting to - but may not actually - think yet. It publishes irregularly.
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