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The SeamLess Life

Isuue #12, October 5, 1998

Unearthing Your Touchstones

Touchstone: A fine-grained dark stone, used to test the fineness and purity of gold and silver by the streak left on the stone when rubbed; a test of the quality or genuineness of a thing.

The chemists and alchemists of the Middle Ages relied on their Touchstones. It was the only way they could tell real, pure gold from baser imposters or from Fool's Gold. The test was a final measure of the quality of the treasure in their hands.

We each need something similar when we're creating a new life path for ourselves, to let us know when what looks like gold really isn't. When we've been fooled or led astray by something that glimmers but, well, just isn't the real gold we're after. When you've created your Purpose, articulated your Mission, Vision and Values (see Issues #4, #8, and #9), you've got a great sense of where you eventually want to end up. You've created a destination for yourself, a path. Trouble is, you don't yet have "road signs" that let you know you're heading in the right direction. If you're like many people, you know more about what you don't want than what you do want.

That's where Touchstones come in.

Touchstones are the very specific, unique, and personal indicators that let you know you are "on path." That you're taking purposeful action and are living on Purpose (Issue #8).

They are the road signs along your path. Like the highway signs that tell you "Cincinnati 50 miles," or "Scenic View Ahead," they show up before you get to where you want to go. When you're afraid you're lost, or wondering if you're wandering, you look for these road signs as indicators that in fact you're heading in the right direction. You never confuse the road sign with the final destination, of course. But you're glad to see it. It tells you you're on course.

Here's the catch: there's no state highway department worker who can choose and place the right signs for you. You have to create them for yourself. Here's how:

1. Review your Purpose, Mission, Vision.

Read your statements aloud. Read them again, to yourself, slowly. Notice any images, words, or feelings which spontaneously surface. Just record them.

2. Ask yourself, "How will I know I'm on Path?"

Touchstones are observable, measurable indicators. You want to have "road signs" that you (and maybe even those around you) can observe. Ask yourself, "What would I see, hear, feel, notice that would be indicators that I'm on the right track?" Find someone who knows you well and understand your path. Ask them, "What would YOU see, hear, feel or notice that would let you know that I'm on the right track?"

(Note: If you're familiar with the Quality movement, you've probably already noticed that what you're doing is a personal version of Benchmarking! When you Benchmark, you always look for what the Best are doing. In this case, your path is personal. So, you're the best source, with the best wisdom. Don't be tempted to grab Touchstones from others. It's easier, but it may get you off track.)

3. Convert the images, words, sounds, feelings into Touchstones.

When Diane was unearthing her Touchstones, a recurring image of a rose bed showed up. Her Purpose had nothing to do with gardening. So at first she disregarded it. What she realized later was this:

A blooming, thriving rose bed requires attention, time and care. Rose tenders are committed gardeners. They provide quality rose care--fertilizing, pruning, watering, snipping dead plants--almost daily. Otherwise, the roses don't thrive. Diane got it: If she planted and created just such a garden for herself, it would show her that she was indeed on track, committing her daily time and energy to creating beauty, being in the present. Most important, she's limiting the excessive time she used to spend on her career.

4. Find 3-4 Touchstones. Write them down. Use them to check whether you're "on track."

Your touchstones will be unique to you. You'll know you've found good ones when you get that sense of "Aha!" Like the light goes on for you. And when you have signs that are observable and measurable. Don't question your insights, by the way. You don't need to share your indicators with anyone else.

Here are some other examples:

  1. Sherry likes to be "on the edge," as she describes it. Pursuing things that are innovative, exciting, unusual. Sometimes, though, she gets stuck on an edge, and loses her balance. Goes off her path. One of her Touchstones is a set of actions: She knows she's on her path when she has scheduled herself for regular retreats every year, about once a month, at a local retreat house. This keeps her balanced and able to course-correct. She has enough variety. She ventures out as well as ventures in.
  2. Dick identified a path for himself that required him to be organized and disciplined. He realized that a Touchstone for him would be the absence of anger. But absence isn't measurable and observable. So, he realized that his Touchstone was a feeling: "I feel as if I am a vessel to be filled, open to others." Another Touchstone for him was his work team: "My office team, which I lead, works with ease and harmony."
  3. One of Marcia's Touchstones is "I am kind to myself." She notices how she is kind instead of critical to herself about times at work when she's less than perfect. She looks for times when she is kind instead of critical to others, too.
  4. Sherry has a Touchstone called "I'm Grounded." To get there, she uses a planned, quarterly travel trip as an organizing device. To travel well means that she needs to leave her house, business and pets in good care, and well organized. She puts a lot of effort into organizing for these trips. Her preparations actually provide a grounding opportunity for her: she cleans up incompletions, rechecks her systems and structures, and reconnects with people who support her home while she's away. She gets regrounded in all the systems that support her life.
5. Identify Your Touchstones through your Values.

One way to identify Touchstones is to write down an action that you can take to let yourself live through one of your five top values. If your value is Creativity, you could spend 30 minutes journaling each day. Or work through Julia Cameron's 12 week program, The Artist's Way. Take this action and check it through the lens of your Purpose, Vision, and Mission. Ask yourself, "how does this serve me to live out my Purpose?" When Dan did this, he discovered that his journal work and use of Cameron's "morning pages," made him less tense and more creative in the problem solving he did at work. So, he knew he was on track when he was writing in his journal every morning!

Available at

6. Set up a Touchstone monitoring process.

Keep your Touchstone list visible on your desk. Write them in your planner. (If you use a Franklin planner, write your touchstones on the Weekly Compass and slip it into your pagemarker, so you see it each day of the week.) Start your day by aligning your intentions: reread your purpose, vision, mission. Reread your Touchstones. Create the intention this day to live "on purpose," to be on your unique path.

7. Welcome the Unexpected.

Once you know the signs that you're on course, look for other, unexpected signs to appear. Look for other "road signs," other teachers. Look for the Jumping Mouse to appear.

Curious about the Jumping Mouse? See our Tip next week for what it means when Jumping Mouse starts to show up in your life! `,,`,,`,,`,,`,,`

Contact us with questions or suggestions.
Sherry can be reached at
The Lowry Group, Austin, Texas USA,

Ph: 512-527-0097

Diane and Sherry's book, Discovering Your Best Self Through the Art of Coaching, can be ordered at

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Text © Diane Menendez & Sherry Lowry, 1998, 1999. Part of the original Sideroad.
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