Unexpected life changes. Anticipated transitions. Long, sleepless nights. What do these three things have in common? The ability to provoke one of the most haunting questions in the library of human introspectives:
“What on earth am I going to do with the rest of my life?”
While I cannot answer this question for anyone other than myself, I can offer those in this position some basic tips on how to ensure that their future turns out as bright as their class valedictorian said it would be.
Too often, when faced with a major (or even not so major) life decision, we tend to either take the first decent choice that presents itself, or we allow circumstances to choose for us by default – putting off the decision until the inexorable current of life sweeps us past the turning point. As you can imagine, this is not the best way to get what you want out of life. But the options we are faced with in life can be so wildly divergent, or so deceptively similar, that it is difficult to know which turning to take. Wouldn’t it be great if we had some kind of road map that would help us know which paths to follow and which ones to pass?
Below are five questions that everybody should ask themselves before starting out on any new path. The answers to these questions should then be used to guide decisions and to direct actions – when a choice comes up, simply compare the various options with your stated desires and choose the option that takes you closer to (or at least moves you the least farthest away from) your destination – your stated goals and desires.
1. What does success mean to me?
Be very specific. “I want to be rich” is not an answer – just what does “rich” mean, anyway? Are you thinking of a set number? And if so, why? Or is the term “rich” a substitute for certain freedoms and opportunities that you view as coming only with money – and by limiting them to being accessed only through money, are you missing out on other alternative pathways?
Some more specific alternatives to “I want to be rich” (depending on the individual) might be: “I want to have enough net income to meet my current financial responsibilities without strain, plus have time and money left over for travel,” or “I want to be able to comfortably afford a jet-setting lifestyle in and around Asia Pacific,” or “I want to spend 4 days a week at home with my kids,” etc.
You should try to come up with at least three answers to the question of what success really means to you personally, with each one reflecting a different facet of what you feel makes up a truly successful life. And keep the money issue to just one statement – after all, such things as personal fulfilment, spiritual meaning and other essential needs and values cannot be solved, acquired, or even influenced, by money.
One of the biggest obstacles to success is that most of us have never consciously explored what that means to us, aside from some vague and nebulous idea of fame, fortune, or other worldly success. Knowing what success really means to you – what you hope or imagine that these generic definitions of success would actually provide and how you want those things to physically look like in your life – allows you to weigh your choices more accurately.
2. What are my non-negotiable needs?
List all the things that you envision as inescapable parameters of a successful and enjoyable life. Family, travel, no debt, pleasant work environment, social status, contribution to society, spiritual involvement, public acclaim, love, excitement, comfort – any or all of these. Plus any others you can think of that are legitimate needs, that when not met, creates an environment of stress, wants, and disempowerment, in your life. Knowing what you are not willing to do without, makes the relative values of different options clearer.
3. What are my non-negotiable boundaries?
List all the things that you absolutely do not want present in your life. If the idea of working in a standard hierarchical office environment makes you ill, put that down. If you cannot stand the thought of living in a cold climate, add that to the list. If being poked fun at about your physical condition or other attributes makes life unlivable, note that as well. By knowing what you will not tolerate, many choices become much easier to make. Plus, it allows you to set down rules and policies about who and what you will invite into your life, and the standards of behaviour you will, and will not, tolerate.
4. What are my key values?
Spend some time searching your soul to come up with a list of your basic values, creating a life around which would make you the person you want to be and allow you to live the life you want to live. Are you the type who values honesty, clean/green living and a deep love of nature above all things? Or are you more of a ‘comforts of home’, family and fun kind of person? Do you value charity over letting others find their way on their own, or is it the other way around? Knowing what you truly stand for is a vital component of good decision-making.
5. What do I want to be remembered for?
What legacy do you want to leave here when you pass on? What do you want people to say about your life and you as a person? What do you want to be known for? What would you like your obituary to say about you? Knowing where you want to end up makes choosing the path to get there, and keeping track of your progress, infinitely easier.