CAT | Vision or Mission
One of the exercises I go through with people during my seminars is to think back five years or ten years. Let’s pick a nice round number, like 2005. That’s seven, almost eight years ago.
Where did you live?
Was it the same house?
Did you drive a different car?
Did you go to work at a different place?
Did you hang out with different friends?
Has your personal (love) relationship changed?
How old were your kids? What grade?
What was your biggest spare-time activity?
What was your favorite TV Show? Song?
What kind of phone did you have?
Did you have pets? The same pets as today?
Did you go to the same religious services?
What was your favorite restaurant?
Where did you go on vacation?
Please take a minute and really think about that. It is completely possible for everything in your life to be different in the next seven years. Everything. You could live in a different place, work at a different office, drive a different car, have different friends, be in a different relationship, etc.
Some things just will change no matter what you do. You’ll be seven years older. Your children will be seven years older. You know you won’t have the same phone or computer! You’ll probably have different pets, a different car, different hobbies, and vacation in a different place.
The lesson is: Lots of change is going to happen in a very short period of time.
And the important thing is, most of that change will take place whether you LET it happen or MAKE it happen. Your intentions have a huge role to play in creating your new future. You can plan almost everything on that list. Your age . . . well that’s just going to be what it’s going to be. But your car, your house, your friends, your hobbies. Those are all within your control.
Here’s an exercise I went through recently in my morning Quiet Time. I had been pondering what my life used to be like. A little nostalgia maybe. And I started wondering about the things that used to be important but simply aren’t important any more. Some of these actually fall into the category of “facts” that used to be true are not true today.
So try this exercise in three parts. To be fair to yourself, you might dedicate three days of Quiet Time to this.
First, make a list of things you believed to be true five years ago. This doesn’t have to be profound. A good way to get started is to think about your day. Look back on your former life. You wake up in your bed and begin your day. Maybe you make coffee, chat with your spouse, get the kids up for school. Whatever it is, write down the things that were true then.
Five years ago my daughter was 15. She didn’t have a drivers license. She was in high school. My house was worth a LOT of money. My monthly income was $_____. My yard was beautiful but a lot of work. I enjoyed my patios almost every day. I had written three books with great difficulty and my speaking business was just starting.
All of those things were true. I believed my house was important. My marriage was important. My daughter’s high school and driving and graduation were things I thought about every day. In my head were many “truths” about who I was, what my life was like, and where the world was going.
I defined myself as a computer consultant. I was also an author and speaker, but those were secondary.
Second, make a list of things you believe today. Maybe the same technique will work. For me, it’s now true that I don’t need to own a house. I don’t need a big stock portfolio. I can write books non-stop (as long as I sit my butt down and write). My daughter is still the center of my life, now 20 and moved out.
My marriage ended quite suddenly. My truth around that today involves accepting that I can be happy without that marriage. That didn’t used to be true. Now it is.
Today I define myself as an author and speaker. I am also a computer consultant, but that is secondary.
Finally, make a list of things you might believe five years from now. Will you believe you’re five years closer to retirement? What will you believe about your self-image, your career, your relationships, and your children?
What will you believe about your money and your success? What will you believe about what you “need” in life to be happy? What will be important to you? What will you care about? What will you believe about friends and family?
Remember, today is simply what “is” at this moment. Truth – reality – will be different in the future. And just like everything else, you can create that future. You can choose what you will believe. You can formulate the reality of your life as it evolves.
Beliefs are not really any different from the other things in your life. A physical thing like a car will age five years and may be replaced in the next five years. And a mental/emotional belief will also age five years, and my be replaced at some point in the next five years.
The primary difference is that physical things can be replaced and be gone. One day you can trade in your old car for a new car. After that moment, the old car is gone and the new car is simply there in your driveway every day.
Emotions and beliefs don’t change that quickly. But they can change just as completely. It might take you a year or more to stop believing in one reality and accept a new reality. Luckily you have experience with this! You used to define yourself as as kid, as a student, as a newbie in the workplace, etc. You have been many people in this lifetime and you will be many more in the future.
Lucky for you, you get to create the new you whenever you want.
People are interesting creatures. We create an artificial thing called time, divide it into little increments, and then assign meaning to those increments. Today is Leap Year Day. We won’t get to experience February 29th for another four years.
In my book, Relax Focus Succeed, I discuss the topic of looking forward and backward. There, and in seminars, I give the example of five, ten, and fifteen years. Today let’s look at four years.
Consider four years ago – February 29, 2008:
- Where did you live?
- Who did you live with?
- What car did you drive?
- Where did you go to work?
- How old were you? Which milestones have passed since then?
- What was your favorite hobby?
- Who did you spend time with?
- What groups did you belong to?
- Where did you go to church?
- Which books did you read?
- What was your favorite TV show?
- Were you prepared for the financial “crash” in late 2008?
- What was your relationship status (married, single, dating, etc.)?
- What color was your office?
You get the point. Consider all the things that can change. How many things stayed the same? How many are partially the same? How many are very different?
It is often difficult to see the future. Humans have a tough time with changes they don’t create. But look at those questions again and turn them to the future. Where will you live four years from now? What milestones will pass?
On a very personal note, the last four years has been quite a time of upheaval and change in my life. Four years ago I was married and didn’t know it was about to end. In the last four years I passed the 10th anniversary of being diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis.
I also passed the anniversary of my father’s death (at age 50). And I passed the age 50 mark with a strong heart and no worries about my health.
In the last four years my daughter went from 15 to 19, from girl to woman, and from high school to college.
As I look ahead, I see me being better off financially in four years (2008/2009 was not good to me financially).
In four years my daughter will be a college graduate and maybe even in grad school.
In four years I’ll be driving some other kind of car, live in some other house or apartment, and maybe live in a different city.
My plan is to transition into writing more and making more money from speaking engagements. I already make a living at it, but I’m still very involved in a technical consulting business. We’ll see.
- – - – -
Take some time today (or in the next few days) and consider where you’ve been and where you’re going. Place meaning onto this moment in time savor it. Soak it in. And begin building a plan for the future!
Recently I found myself in two very different settings that resulted in similar, uncomfortable results. Both were business networking and “master mind” settings of truly amazing people.
In each setting the following scenario played out:
- People were given the opportunity to ask a room full of experts to help them with their businesses. Name any problem with your challenge and we’ll all brainstorm about how to help you.
- More than one person in this situation simply falls into a daze. “I’m not sure what to ask for. I wish people really understood the value of what I bring.” This was then followed by a stammering, flat sales pitch about their business.
- Some people are very excited to have the opportunity for feedback, but are simply lost about what they want.
- – - – -
It’s true in business and in your personal life: You can’t GET what you want until you can ASK for what you want. And you can’t ASK for what you want until you KNOW what you want.
Sometimes when we are overwhelmed and feeling “lost,” it can simply be a reflection of what’s going on at a deeper level. We know we can get up every day and do what we did yesterday. But that just continues the surface-level activities. It may not reflect the important decisions and beliefs that are changing at a deeper level.
When your day-to-day activities no longer align with your underlying values and vision, you begin to feel that some thing’s not right. But you can’t describe it, explain it, or even ask for help. You can’t ask for help because you haven’t figured out what’s wrong and what you want to do differently.
Think about it like the earth’s crust. Every day it’s pretty much like yesterday. But underneath the earth’s mantle there’s all kinds of activity. It changes all the time. And sometimes those changes have to work their way to the top. The earth shifts and groans. A minor earthquake here, a volcano there. The crust changes so that it sits more comfortably on the changing mantle. Then things settle down for awhile.
Quiet time allows your brain to start making these connections between the “new” changing you under the surface and the conscious you that has to get up tomorrow and live on the surface.
We all change all the time. Period. You can’t NOT change. But you can choose to ignore it and pretend it’s not happening. Or you can spend some time thinking about what’s going on and tuning into the changes that take place constantly.
Once you’re in tune with change, even if it’s unexpected or uncomfortable, you can describe where you are, where you want to be, and then ASK for help to get there.
And change is constant.
So you need to keep thinking about life and goals and happiness. Otherwise, the ground will have shifted again.
Not too long ago I found myself in two very different settings that resulted in similar, uncomfortable results.
In each setting the following scenario played out:
- People were given the opportunity to ask a room full of experts to help them with their businesses. Name any problem with your challenge and we’ll all brainstorm about how to help you.
- More than one person in this situation simply falls into a daze. “I’m not sure what to ask for. I wish people really understood the value of what I bring.” This was then followed by a stammering, flat sales pitch about their business that no one understands.
- Some people are very excited to have the opportunity for feedback, but are simply lost about what they want.
We all need things. In our personal lives, in our community involvement, and in our business lives. We need advice. We need help. We need each other.
But we also need to know how to ask for what we want.
The chances that you will get what you need without asking for it are pretty slim. The world is full of wonderful, helpful people. But it’s just a statistical improbability that someone is going to give you exactly what you need if you can’t even ask for it.
So where do we get stuck? I believe it is rare that we know what we want and can’t find the words to express it. That means the sticking point is a step back from asking: We are stuck because we don’t know what we want. We might know vaguely but not in a precise way that can lead to actions.
For example, you might know that your business is going in the wrong direction. But how can I help you? If your request is, “I want my business to be more successful,” there’s not much I can do to assist you.
If your request were more precise, then I might be able to help. For example:
- “I need to reduce accounts receivable”
- “I need to figure out which marketing is working”
- “I need to determine the right price for a new product”
Each of these is specific enough that someone could actually offer up assistance.
Figuring out what you really want (so you can articulate it for others) is not particularly difficult. But it does take some effort. Once again, I highly recommend sitting quietly and focusing each day on the things that are important in your life. This daily meditation or quiet time can work miracles for you.
Once you can clearly tell the world what you need, the world can begin working to help you get it. You have probably heard the theory that the world conspires to assist you as soon as you decide to do something. Well, one piece of what’s going on there is that YOU are seeing opportunities more clearly because you’ve articulated goals for yourself.
We all want things. We all need things. And we all need to learn how to ask for what we want.
Tis the season for people to start putting together their “to do” lists for next year.
- Exercise more
- Eat less
All too often this “exercise” is simply an exercise in futility. People add things to their lists because they think they should. Or, even more commonly, they really want to accomplish something next year, but they don’t put together a PLAN in addition to items on a list.
Goals are great. Goals are necessary. But real, meaningful goals have to be coupled with action plans. Think about it this way: When I ask an audience of any size whether they want to be millionaires, virtually everyone raises their hand. Then when I ask how many have a plan to get to that status, I might get one or two hands.
A goal without a plan is just a wish. And most of the time it’s a wish that won’t come true.
We all want to exercise more, eat less, spend less, save more, and spend more time with our families. But some people WILL and some people WON’T make progress on those goals in the year ahead. Overwhelmingly, the people who actually make progress will be those who have a plan and work to make the plan come true.
You hear a lot of talk about dedication or conviction around goals. Without playing too many word games, let me say that most people are dedicated to their goals. But they don’t execute. And the reason is that you really have to have a plan wedged between the goal and the conviction. Here’s what I mean.
Let’s take exercising as an example.
Conviction comes from a sincere desire to accomplish something. But a goal of “exercising more” is pretty imprecise. It’s hard to execute. It’s hard to measure. It’s hard to hold yourself accountable. And it’s difficult for others to help you hold yourself accountable.
But a plan takes the ethereal goal and turns it into one or more visible, physical action steps. A plan doesn’t have to be complicated. It just has to have enough specific action steps to turn desire into results. If the goal is “exercise more,” the plan might be to walk one mile a day, five days a week.
You can measure this very easily. You might even check off days on a calendar or use a software program to track your progress.
But here’s the key: What happens when you slip? What happens when you skip a day or two? If you only have a wish and a desire, it’s hard for conviction to take hold. When you add a PLAN to the process, you have a way to get back on track. The plan gives you someone to grab onto and get back headed in the right direction.
That’s what I mean about wedging the plan between the desire and the conviction. A plan of action gives you something hold onto and something to get back to.
If you plan is written, that’s best. You can literally pull it would a read it. For simple goals, a one sentence or one paragraph plan is ideal. Read it regularly as part of your daily quiet time and it will keep you headed in the right direction.
Good luck with your goal setting for the end of the year. Just don’t forget the important part: A plan to make your goals come true.
There’s a lot of “universal” advice out there. The always-present everyone says don’t smoke, exercise more, eat your fruits and vegetables.
One piece of universal advice is to stop worrying, or at least reduce the level of worry in your life. After all, we have plenty to worry about—Money, our children, our parents, our spouse’s happiness, a long list of problems at work, even the health of our pets.
Worrying, we are told, adds stress to our lives and focuses on the negative. It keeps us awake at night, gives us ulcers and is bad for the economy.
I think that’s all a bunch of baloney.
Worrying is natural. In moderation, worrying is good. There’s something wrong with people who don’t worry enough!
In the big scheme of things, there are a few people who worry too much (some tiny percentage of the population). They have intriguing phobias that become fodder for news stories. This condition (worrying too much) is so rare that most people only learn about it from afternoon TV junk-talk shows.
There is much more of a problem with people who don’t worry enough. Think about this. What’s your image of someone who doesn’t worry about what other people think, doesn’t worry about social norms, doesn’t worry about paying his bills or insuring his car, doesn’t worry about keeping himself clean or being responsible for his own actions? The picture in my mind is a young person who is completely irresponsible, who has made a mess of his life and others and who has left it up to other people to fix his messes.
A handful of these people make it to adulthood without changing their ways. Most, however, go through a long painful process of paying their debts, raising their children, having to work hard and becoming responsible adults. At which point they find themselves worrying a normal amount—just like the rest of us.
As with any other behavior, there is a great benefit to be gained by:
1) Examining the behavior
2) Learning to control the behavior
3) Focusing the behavior
4) And integrating the behavior into our overall understanding of ourselves.
Thus, the behavior–worrying–becomes one more important piece of our success.
Let’s look at three aspects of worrying
– What is worry?
– How much worrying is right?
– How can we focus our worry in order to reap its benefits?
By “worrying” we generally mean that we are thinking about something; the something is usually a problem that needs to be solved (e.g., “Where will be get the money to . . .”) or a concern about future events (e.g., the health of a loved one); our mind wanders back to the something whenever it has the opportunity; and we find ourselves thinking about the something when we don’t want to.
Thus we find ourselves worrying while we try to sleep or while we’re driving, but not when we’re engaged in a project that requires our full attention. For example, work keeps our mind off our troubles.
Interestingly, most people “try not to worry.” In practice this means we try to not think about our problems. But our unconscious mind knows that the problem needs to be addressed. So whenever our mind isn’t busy with something else, the thing we should be thinking about pops up to get its share of attention.
What are you trying to avoid addressing in your life? Why is it that humans think some problems will go away if you ignore them?
Don’t think about the roof and it won’t leak. Don’t think about your teenager’s risky behavior and it will stop. Don’t think about your relationship problems and they’ll all smooth out.
Baloney! You know it’s not true.
We have problems we want to avoid: We know we should think about them but we don’t want to. One way that we avoid thinking about problems we don’t want to think about “right now” is to spend time on a hobby or on busy work.
Have you ever noticed that our hobbies tend to be rather technical and detailed? Whether it’s carving or needlework or gardening or making things or whatever. Our hobbies fill our minds and are distractions. This is good—in fact it’s extremely good for our mental health—unless we’re using it to avoid thinking about a problem that needs to be addressed.
Let’s face it, we have problems we embrace and we have problems we avoid. Those we embrace are labeled “projects” and those we avoid are labeled “worry.” The only substantive difference is whether we’re ready to address the problem.
Now we know what worry is. How much worrying is the right amount? That’s difficult to quantify. I believe we need to think about the problems in our lives enough so that we understand them. Notice I didn’t say that we need to “solve” the problems. If a loved one is gravely sick, there’s little most of us can do to “fix the problem.” We’re sad, perhaps depressed, maybe scared. We have a flood of conflicting emotions that we “don’t have time for” or otherwise wish to avoid.
In such a circumstance, we need to force ourselves to sit down and think about what’s going on. Let the emotions flood in; become overwhelmed; have a good cry; say a prayer; and then go back to our routine for awhile.
It may be necessary to do this every day for some time. We need to let ourselves feel the feelings we’ve been trying to avoid. We need to let all the aspects of this experience come out. It’s difficult and physically draining. But you need to let yourself experience what’s going on.
Some problems you can solve, but right now you don’t see the solution. For example, financial problems. Too many bills, or not enough income, or an unexpected expense. It’s all too overwhelming, so we set it aside. Intellectually, we know the problem will just get worse. But it’s “just too much” to think about right now.
The answer, of course, is to consider all the pieces of this problem: Your income, your regular bills, your credit, possible sources of loans or other income, payment plans, and so forth. This is definitely a problem that can be solved. It requires a lot of thought; it requires a plan of action; it requires some change in behavior; and it requires asking others for help.
These are just a few examples. In each case the amount of “worry” (thinking about the problem) required is the same. You need to think about it enough to understand the problem.
Oddly enough, most of us spend more emotional energy avoiding our problems than we would spend understanding them if we tried.
You can reduce the amount of “worry” in your life by taking time to relax and simply reflect on what’s going on. If you take time every day to sit down and relax and focus on yourself, you will find these problems a lot less overwhelming.
I try to sit down every day and reflect on four aspects of my life:
- Myself as an individual
- Myself as a father
- Myself as a friend
- Myself as a businessman.
I rarely make lists of what needs to be done or what problems need to be addressed. I simply think about what’s going on and what I need to do today. If there’s a problem in one of these areas, or with something else, I let my mind consider it. I don’t look for solutions or answers. I do try to consider all aspects of the problem. The goal is to understand everything about the problem. When I think I really understand the problem, then it becomes clearer what I need to do.
Worry brings benefits. That sounds odd to us. Let me rephrase it: Spending time thinking about problems brings good things into our lives.
There are two types of “focusing” on problems. The first is to open your mind and let the problems flood in. Perhaps focus is the wrong term. This is more like out-of-focus. Sit down with a pencil and paper and relax. Take a few deep breaths and try to clear your mind. Think about nothing. Focus on the way your breath feels moving in and out.
If you have things to worry about, they will interrupt your relaxation. As a “worry” presents itself, write down a brief note (not a long paragraph). For example, you might write
- College Savings
- Business partner
- Ad revenues
Don’t pass judgment, don’t try to solve the problem, don’t get into details. Just list your worries. Set yourself a time a do this listing for ten or fifteen minutes each day for a week. I guarantee that by day four you will be a lot less worried at night or when you’re concentrating on something else during the day. Why? Because your mind has been allowed to spend some time on the things it knows you should be thinking about!
The next step is to focus more clearly on your problems. For the next several days spend your 10-15 minutes sitting comfortably and “organizing” your problems. You may want to sort the list into categories such a family, finances, employees, etc.
Then spend a little time writing a bit of detail about each concern. For example:
I’m worried about college savings for my kids because I’m starting late. I wonder what college will really cost. What’s my goal? How do I get started? Who can help me? I need to talk to my spouse about this.
Set yourself a strict limit on this activity. No more than 30 minutes a day! You’ll be amazed! It will give you energy. Worry will stop draining your energy. And as you focus on the problem you will naturally break it down into smaller pieces that are much more manageable.
This, in turn, will lead to taking actions that address the problem. In other words, you’ll be working on a solution! What you’ve done is to stop spending your energy trying not to worry. Instead, you are spending a limited amount of energy focusing on issues that need some attention.
Instead of letting “worry” have an unscheduled, unlimited amount of your time, you have allowed a specific amount of time to be used improving your life!
Again, I guarantee that you will see a dramatic reduction in the amount of time spent on unscheduled worry during the day (and night). Your mind knows that you need to spend time on these activities. When you allot this time, your mind is more relaxed and it doesn’t need to force these thoughts upon you.
And, even better, when such thoughts pop into your mind now, they will be productive and bring solutions. The process of focusing on a problem for a specific period and then setting it aside has tremendous power. It organizes your unconscious mind, which works on possible solutions while you’re doing other things. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the solutions come forth into your conscious mind.
Problems never solve themselves: You need to worry in a healthy way and you will find a solution. Just as we have to focus on our happiness and our family and our health, we also need to focus on our problems.
You will never be without problems. But you can be without excessive, unnecessary worry. Allow yourself time to work on your problems and you’ll have a much more restful mind throughout the day. Because you’re worrying enough—and not too much.
|“Do not anticipate trouble,
or worry about what may never happen.”
– Benjamin Franklin
In the Monty Python movie The Holy Grail, King Arthur’s men do not use the terms “charge” and “retreat.” Instead they use “charge” and “Run away! Run away!” So, when I tell my friends I’m going on my annual retreat, they always say “Run away! Run away!”
Part of me wants to say that I’m not running away. But the truth is, I am. As a part of modern society, a piece of me feels a little guilty about “abandoning” my family, friends and work and all the chores that need to be done around the house. This is particularly acute since my retreat comes in the early part of December. I’m also abandoning putting up lights, shopping for gifts and holiday parties. However, perspective helps (as it always does).
Sometimes we need to “run away” from everything. To retreat is to withdraw, to enter seclusion. Is the holiday season a bad time for a retreat? Maybe. But when is it a good time? Maybe the holiday season is the perfect time to step back, take time for yourself and plan for the next year.
There are many benefits to be gained from a retreat. The most obvious are Rest and Relaxation. On the most recent retreat I attended, the leader asked people as they were gathering together whether they’d taken time for a nap. “What’s the point of going on retreat,” he asked, “if you’re not going to take a nap?”
Many people find that it takes time–twelve hours or more–to quiet themselves and leave the world outside, and to focus on being away from it all. And then the end comes too quickly. We are a society completely deprived of quiet time and solitude. Going on a retreat forces solitude upon you and then you become hungry for it. With luck, you incorporate quiet time into your life.
Retreats are also a time for thinking and planning and goal-setting. Who am I? What’s my purpose here on Earth? What do I want to do? How do I get there from here? Focusing is very difficult without time to relax. On a retreat you will have time to think; time to straighten out problems; time to plan for the future; time to put thing in perspective.
And perhaps time to respond to a subtle call from God.
There are many kinds of retreats. The first step in finding a retreat that’s right for you is to consider
What’s your goal? What kind of retreat are you looking for?
|Men- or Women-focused|
|Yoga (spiritual or exercise)|
Once you begin considering what you want from a retreat, you can start looking for one that’s right for you. How do you find one? Most retreats have some religious or spiritual component, so the first place to look is at the office, at your church, synagogue, or temple. There may be flyers or advertisements on a bulletin board, or someone may know who to call.
You can also search on the Internet. If you put the words “retreat” and your city/county in a search engine, you’re likely to come up with something. A few sites that can help you find retreats almost anywhere are:
Just remember that these are NOT comprehensive listings. Almost every county in America has many retreat opportunities. You just have to look.
Can you create your own personal retreat of one? Of course. As you might imagine, I encourage this. But it is best to go on a guided retreat (especially a silent one) before you create your own personal retreat. They will provide you with hints and tips, and probably some good readings, that will help you see the full benefits of a retreat.
Then you can “run away” whenever you need to.
We have discussed several aspects of “focusing” on your success. Lots of books have been written on the concept of focusing on the moment, but I want to relay an incident that brought this point into focus for me recently. Brought clarity to focusing on the moment.
I take Bikram-style yoga classes several times a week. This is a special type of yoga consisting of 26 poses in a hot room (about 100 degrees). Each class takes 90 minutes.
A few weeks ago I was in a 6 AM yoga class. About half way through, the instructor said to me “I’d like to see a little more effort there, Karl.”
My first thought was, “Hey! I got up in the middle of the night to be here for a 6 AM class! I’ve done 45 minutes of strenuous exercise and I’m about to do another 45 minutes of strenuous exercise! In a room that’s 100 degrees! There are only four other people here! I’ve already put out the effort.”
After a little reflection, of course, I had a different perspective. All those things were true. But, after all, I was there to exercise. And I’d gotten up in the middle of the night to go to a 6 AM class in order to do myself some good. So I actually had many reasons to put in a little extra effort at that moment.
The lesson is simple: You have the ability at any moment–at every moment–to put out a little extra effort. When you find yourself in a meeting you want to escape, or at a cocktail party you can’t handle, or performing a dreary task at your desk, that’s the moment to focus on your success. You are in the situation: Make the best of it. Put out a little more effort. Then move on to the next moment of your success.
In the same vein, you have the power, at every moment, to take a breath and consider whether your first reaction to a situation is the reaction you wish to exercise. You experience your life one moment at a time. Being aware of that, and experiencing it at a conscious level, will give you many more opportunities for success.
So, let’s see a little extra effort out there.
I’m sure you’ve read this quote before: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates said at his trial for heresy. He was on trial for encouraging his students to challenge accepted beliefs of the time and think for themselves. The sentence was death or Socrates had the option of suggesting an alternative punishment. He could have chosen life in prison or exile, and would likely have avoided death. Socrates believed that these alternatives would rob him of the only thing that made life useful: Examining the world around him and discussing how to make the world a better place. Without his “examined life” there was no point in living. So he suggested that Athens reward him for his service to society. The result, of course, is that they had no alternative and were forced to vote for a punishment of death. Luckily, we don’t have to choose between an examined life and death. The sad thing is, most people avoid leading an examined life. It’s not that they don’t have time or make time. They actively avoid examining their lives.
People who do examine their lives, who think about where they’ve been, how they got here, and where they’re going, are much happier people. No one has all the answers and no one’s life is free from trouble and strife. Yet their are those who have some sense of where they belong in the universe also have a context for understanding how all the elements of their life fit together.
If there are two people, one with a map and one without a map, who has the better chance of reaching their destination? The one with the map, of course.
When you set aside time to examine your life,
You get to choose your destination; You get to set the goals;
You get to determine the path; You get to decide how long it will take;
You get to decide whether you’re on the right path or the wrong path.
In other words, you begin to know your self and to take control of your life. You decide who you want to be and begin to become the person you want to be.
The hardest thing about examining your life is getting started. You have to sit your butt in a chair and get used to not doing anything. Just relax. Focus. Well, you understand . . ..
I loved my father. And one of the things I loved the most was his sense of humor.
One time we were driving across country from our old home in North Dakota to our new home in Washington State. Alongside the freeway were telephone poles. Mile after mile. Hundreds of miles after hundreds of miles.
Whenever we drove alongside railroad tracks, there were short telephone poles. I don’t know if they were telegraph lines (this was the 1960′s) or whether the train companies just used short telephone poles because they didn’t have to deal with buildings.
It didn’t matter. My father had a great explanation. I asked why the telephone polls were short and my father immediately explained: “They’re for when children make phone calls.”
Even at the time I realized how very funny that is. In addition to being a great explanation, close enough to believable to get a kid thinking, it was also a fast answer. I appreciated my father’s quick wit.
And more than 40 years later I still think that’s funny.
We travelled 1100 miles. And I remember one joke plus coloring books in the back of a station wagon.
After all these years, the interesting conclusion is very unexpected. The conclusion is that you never really understand a transition until after it’s complete.
I have a few memories of visiting North Dakota, but no strong memories of when I lived there. Once we moved to Washington State I remember a lot — even a lot about our first year there. Somehow that trip was a big enough event that it became a transition from “too young to remember” to a series of memories I savor many years later.
How can you understand the road you’re travelling without reflection? The truth is, you can’t. At the same time, there isn’t any other road. You can’t stop being on “this” road and begin being on a different road. The most you can hope for is that you build the road in front of you and create your own detour.
You can be on any road you want. But you have to start from where you are today.
The good news is that you build your road every day and you can be lazy (going nowhere) or purposeful (heading where you want). In terms of meaning, it’s hard to force meaning into your daily journey. You can try, and you should try, but evaluation of such things always involves looking backward.
When I consider all the great memories of my father, I didn’t know at the time that those moments would be the moments I would keep forever. Looking back, just less than half of my life’s journey involved travelling the road of life with my father. And now they’re powerful snippets filled with meaning for me.
Changes can be hard. Transitions can be hard. Building a detour you didn’t want to build can be hard.
But every day you can look at where you are and where you want to go and head in that direction. Life goes on. Memories are powerful motivators. At the same time, you need to be vigilant. You never know which tiny thing you experience today will become a lasting memory you’ll have forever.
It helps to sit quietly and let you life’s experiences sort themselves out in your mind. For that I recommend daily reflection, or a walk/jog without headphones. Spend time being alone with yourself without an outside source of distraction.