Writing a manifesto and other ways of figuring out who you are

Lifehacker has a great article on choosing your direction in life. They offer four tips:

  1. Think about where you’ll be in five years.
  2. Write your personal manifesto.
  3. Volunteer or shadow someone in a job you’re interested in.
  4. Dig into those side projects.
These are great ideas, and the one that stand out to me is number 2. It’s the one I’ve heard least, and it just might be the most powerful.
I’ve never written a manifesto, but I’ve done a couple of related exercises: declaring myself as a possibility, and writing a personal brand statement.
A while back, in a Landmark Education course, I declared myself as the possibility of intimacy and adventure. Without getting into the tortured syntax, we can see that finding a juicy, resonant concept as your guiding principle can certainly help you to make choices in the real world. When I found that grad school was starting to overwhelm me, for instance, I realized that I needed to add in more intimacy and adventure: I made plans to study in Korea, started asking classmates to dinner, connected with others as language partners, and ultimately ended up dating a Chinese woman who will go with me to Beijing this summer. Intimacy and adventure indeed!
Personal branding is something I teach at Google. Each time I teach the course, we go through the exercise of writing a personal brand statement, and I refine mine. Simpler and shorter than a manifesto, a brand statement can be a path to understanding what’s important to you — again, a guide to real-world choices. In my case, I found that I want my brand to be someone who’s a guide, mentor and teacher. That’s why this blog exists for you to read. 
However you do it, figuring out what matters to you — and then checking again often, and refining — can help you choose what to do from moment to moment. 
Or, as Dolly Parton once put it, “Figure out what you’re doing, and do it on purpose.”