What do you want to be true?

James Buckhouse
4 min readOct 20, 2023

Skip “personal branding” work on this instead…

Go from being a mess to being the best, all by knowing what you want to be true, and then working towards that goal. Once you figure out what you want to be true, everything else becomes easier: Your personal story now has a through-line and a punchline; Your self-descriptions now have a genre; You know why you are doing what you are doing; You know how to make decisions—because you now have a unifying criterion—will this help me move closer towards making what I want to be true, actually true?

Step by step

Identify what you want to be true.

Part I

  1. If you already know the answer, skip to PART II, otherwise… write down 20 (yes 20!) possibilities. You’ll easily write down two or three, but the full 20 will require real creativity. Don’t worry, 19 of these 20 will be thrown out, so don’t stress too much. But commit to writing down 20, because something interesting happens when you push past the obvious.
  2. Start crossing out the obviously incorrect answers, and circle your top five.
  3. Try on each of these top five. Take each one for a mental walk around the park. Ask yourself—what would life be like it it were true? Write a little paragraph for each. If you start writing the paragraph and you realize you don’t want this, then chuck it.
  4. Now pick your top one. Re-read it. If it feels great, This is it! If it doesn’t feel right, start again. Go back to something else on the list that you crossed off. Try writing five more. Repeat until you feel great (and maybe a little nervous, because it’s hard to keep your cool when it’s something you actually want).


Make a plan

  1. With your “what I want to be true” statement, now start writing down all the elements and requirements that need to happen for this to come true. For instance, if you want to be an Ironman, you have to train in running, biking, and swimming. You’d likely also need to learn about nutrition, salt depletion during extreme exercise, and hydration (I’m guessing here, I don’t really know). Also maybe injury prevention, sports psychology, and time management... This last one is an example of something you might not think of at first… but would emerge as a requirement as you progress and realize it’s not just about fitness, but also about figuring out how to fit your workouts into your workweek. If you want to be a painter or writer or actor, you’ll have a similar list of skills and concepts—including the psychology and time management elements. Start googling. Much will come from what you already know, but learn faster by reading other peoples thoughts.
  2. Next write out a list of human connections required for you to succeed. For painters, there are many other people — gallerists, curators, critics, collectors — that help make it all happen, and likely there are people you don’t yet know. So whom do you need to know? Your unique pursuit of excellence will benefit from knowing a group of people who can help you learn faster and help connect you to opportunities.
  3. For each skill element in your list, create a plan. This step will be eye-opening, as some of these requirements and elements will present themselves to you and you’ll realize you have no idea how to make a plan to improve or achieve it. This step requires on-going research.
  4. For each person (or type of person) try to learn from people who are just a few steps ahead of you. Ask them about the people they met along the way who helped.

Here’s a skills worksheet to help get you started…


Put it into action

Painter Gerhard Richter has a collection of his diary entries called The Daily Practice of Painting. Think of the thing you want to be true as something you incorporate into your life through daily practice. Read more on practice here: Talent is Overrated, by Geoff Colvin and Peak Performance, by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness.

  1. Practice each skill, of course, but do not practice just to “put in the work,” instead practice with an understanding and intention about what you are doing and what you are trying to improve and accomplish. This is called “purposful practice” and it makes all the difference.
  2. Practice how you recover from rejection, mistakes, missteps, and total blunders. How you bounce back makes a tremendous difference.
  3. Practice how you introduce yourself—the story you tell others about the person you are working to become.
  4. Practice how you ask for help. People can only help you if they know what kind of help you need.
  5. Practice how you talk to yourself. Hack: say something positive in your mind’s ear before starting any task. You can say anything, it doesn’t matter, but it must be positive. Try it. It works better than our rational minds think it would—but our intuition/gestalt minds understand perfectly well. We can give ourselves near-magical powers through constructive confidence.
  1. Practice how you treat others.
  2. Practice how you manage your day.
  3. Practice Finishing (by actually finishing).
  4. Practice every day.



James Buckhouse

Design Partner at Sequoia, Founder of Sequoia Design Lab. Past: Twitter, Dreamworks. Guest lecturer at Stanford GSB/d.school & Harvard GSD jamesbuckhouse.com