In virtuous circles, a shift from victimization toward empowerment is clear
because one’s path — or intention — is
clearly delineated and will be followed
no matter the circumstance.
2. Make money.
3. Provide for the future.
4. Contribute to my field.
5. Meet new people.
7. Have leisure time.
9. Teach what I learn.
If an opportunity meets four or more
of his criteria, Bova said, it’s always
Find your own virtuous circle by making your own “how to decide” list. Make
your list dependent on your values and
vision, not your circumstances, and then
decide how the form of your work must
change in order to achieve your deepest
yearnings — as an individual, as well as
FROM VICIOUS TO VIRTUOUS
In order to go from being circumstance-driven to being vision-driven, you must
clarify the underlying yearning of your
work. Not the form it takes in the world
— “I am an association executive,” for
example — but rather the underlying
yearning — “I want to make the world a
A few years ago, I attended Penland
School of Crafts to study an old way of
relief printing called letterpress printing.
In 1789, the instructor told us, a printer
created a process to print more quickly.
By putting a sheet of metal on top of a
page of type, he could create an impression of the surface of the pieces of type,
thereby creating a template that he
could use to print from repeatedly, very
This sheet of metal was called a
“stereotype.” Because my work involves
diversity training, it was a light bulb
moment for me. I realized this is
exactly what people do when they stereotype each other: They print repeatedly
from a surface impression of a group of
Like the art I was making in my printing class, I realized I could use the same
inspiration to make different compositions.
I could remain true to my intention —
exploring the impact of stereotypes — but
do my work in radically different ways.
Writer Robert Olen Butler says a story
is a yearning meeting an obstacle. My
yearning was to create a more equitable
world for people, regardless of race. The
form my yearning often took was corporate
diversity training. I could choose another
form, like writing a novel centered
around those issues, once I finally knew
its underlying intention.
I wasn’t the only person in my letterpress class to have an epiphany. Faculty
member Ken Bova had one, too. He pulled
from his wallet a piece of old, well-folded
paper on which he had once listed his
goals while considering a career change.
Helping him move toward a virtuous circle,
his list read:
1. Have fun.
Patti Digh is a longtime association executive who
now creates learning experiences as a co-founder of
The Circle Project. Her most recent book is Life Is
a Verb: 37 Days to Wake Up, Be Mindful, and Live
Intentionally. She may be reached at patti@thecir- cleproject.com or at www.thecircleproject.com.