With most of us spending a lot more time at home than we normally do, we have the opportunity for reflection — to take a look at how far we’ve come in our lives and where we want to go from here.
As a result, many of us are re-examining our options.
Perhaps we’re considering an alternative career choice, or working in a different industry, or starting our own business.
Some of us are even pulling out the goals we made back in January, and looking at them with a new perspective — a new mindset.
For most of us, it’s not the first time. We all go through periods that motivate us to take a closer look at what we’ve done with our lives — and what we want to accomplish with the time that remains.
Regardless of when or how it happens, the question is always the same:
Is this the way I want to spend my life, or are there better choices — choices that will produce greater rewards and a higher level of satisfaction?
It’s a difficult question to answer, because how we measure the quality of our lives is not only different for different people, but it also changes as we get older. For some, being a great spouse or a good parent is the perfect life choice. Others may decide to seek fulfillment through success in business, or the arts, or politics.
Regardless of how, where, and with whom you choose to spend your time, living life on your terms and your priorities, should produce the feeling that you’re making a difference, not only for yourself but for others as well.
But what happens when that’s not the case?
What can we do when we realize something is missing, and we begin to feel those first indications of stagnation, anxiety, or just a general sense of being dissatisfied?
Usually, our first thought is to change something — changes to our career, our relationships, where we live, or how we spend our time.
And so we begin researching the options. We buy books and training courses. We try to learn as much as possible about how to go from where we are to where we want to be.
You know the drill: Stay motivated.
Keep your eye on the prize.
Concentrate your efforts by blocking out disruptions, diversions, and time-wasting detours. And always take action every day — an action that eventually will bring the result you want to achieve.
It’s the traditional formula for goal achievement:
1. Know exactly what you want to accomplish and take the steps necessary to make it happen.
2. Always keep your focus — and your priority — on your objectives.
It’s a practical, logical method of moving from where you are to where you’re headed.
All good things . . . right?
Usually — in fact, most of the time. But there is one exception.
And before you prematurely discount what follows as just another philosophical derivative of “life is a journey, not a destination,” understand I’m a definite proponent of using goals to identify, prioritize, and measure the things in life we want to accomplish.
And then there’s that exception I mentioned . . .
It’s located in the second part of the formula — a hidden landmine that, unless carefully avoided, can leave you with a life filled with regret, even when you achieve everything you set out to do.
I’m talking about the seemingly practical idea of keeping your objectives in front of you, and intentionally blocking out everything else that threatens to take your focus off the goal.
On the surface, the idea seems reasonable because we interpret the phrase, “blocking everything else out,” to mean distractions and time-wasters like watching television or spending large amounts of time on social media.
But the virtual blinders we voluntarily wear to keep our eye on the big prize can block out a lot of other things, as well — things we would never intentionally put in jeopardy.
And that’s my not-so-subtle way of introducing what is usually the most overlooked yet critical component in most goal-setting presentations — the conscious act of recognizing what’s already working in your life, especially the people, places, and things you should never put at risk.
I’m talking about the very real possibility of paying too much to achieve a goal.
The symptoms are most obvious in those who are goal-obsessed — consumed with uncommon dedication to their life’s objectives.
These are the people who compete with sheer drive and overwhelming determination. They always arrive early and work late. They forego vacations in favor of “catching up on the paperwork.” They watch their kids grow up as strangers, and their wives become little more than someone they plan to grow old with.
Granted, real accomplishment is seldom achieved without sacrifice.
And every goal, whether realized or not, comes with a price.
Most of us understand that pursuing the things we want often means re-prioritizing other facets of our life — including those having intrinsic or psychic value we can easily, even conveniently, overlook.
We even promise ourselves we’ll make it up in the future as if we’re putting that part of our life on hold — just temporarily — until we’ve arrived at our desired destination.
At least that’s what we tell ourselves.
Without realizing it, we put the most important touchstones of our lives at risk.
Those touchstones can be your spouse, your kids, or family members. It can also be your existing degree of financial security, or your health, or your ability to recognize the needs of others who are counting on you.
Think you’re immune?
Those destined to become the most accomplished are the most susceptible.
Our natural tendency is to prioritize our time and attention in favor of the new and compelling. But never allow an obsessive preoccupation with any of your goals to result in the most important facets of your life becoming an expendable part of your future.
The danger comes from being so caught up in the day-to-day striving for success, we never consider the possibility that, with less attention, devotion, or commitment, our important touchstones can easily be lost to neglect and indifference.
So, how do you avoid letting these touchstones of life slip through the cracks?
The key is to identify the non-negotiable fundamentals in your life and protect them with a commitment to keep them whole and healthy for the long-term.
Why go to such lengths to formally identify the parts of our lives we already acknowledge as important?
Because it’s part of our nature to discount the stable, nurturing, and comfortable aspects of our lives. The fact that they already exist — as opposed to being something we don’t have and are longing for — makes them ideal candidates to take for granted.
It’s seldom our plan to intentionally damage our relationship with our spouse or family. We don’t deliberately set out to destroy our long-held friendships or neglect the parts of our lives that give us comfort.
But unfortunately, it happens a little at a time — a missed birthday here, a forgotten anniversary there — and over the years, it adds up.
Unintentional indifference can extract a heavy toll, especially on primary relationships.
After decades of neglect, the fire goes out — because it wasn’t tended, fed, or supported. In essence, it was allowed to die. And now, each partner finds themselves living with a stranger of convenience.
If you want to avoid this subtle, yet destructive side-effect of pursing career and life goals with a single-minded obsession, the process is simple:
Make a list.
Write down all the things in your life that are important to you — things that are positive, that make a difference in your attitude, that give you pleasure, that motivate you.
These are the things you enjoy, appreciate, and fill you with gratitude.
If you don’t want to call them touchstones, call them foundational elements or your base support system. But regardless of how you identify them, they are the reasons for getting up in the morning, for going to work, for coming home — because you know these things are waiting for you.
This list becomes a personal reminder of what must come first, and what must always be protected as you continue to work toward a more rewarding life.
They’re also the things you don’t gamble with.
Because without them — even though you accomplish your most ambitious goals — it won’t have the same meaning.
Your achievements won’t bring you the same level of satisfaction and pleasure you’d hoped to receive. Because you’d always assumed the people closest to you would always be there to celebrate with you, to share in your victories, and enjoy the success resulting from what you ultimately accomplish.
Not sure what to put on your list?
I’ll give you a peek at mine.
The first thing on my list is my wife. She’s smart, she takes care of her health, and she works with a sense of dedication and persistence that gives her the advantage of being successful at whatever she chooses to do. And most importantly, she puts up with me.
I would never consider pursuing any objective that would put my relationship with her at risk.
Another item on my list — and not necessarily in second or third or fifth place, it’s just on the list — is where I live, from the standpoint of climate.
Right now, I live on the gulf coast of Florida. I’ve become accustomed to 75 degree winters and tolerable summers. I wouldn’t consider moving to a climate with below-freezing winters. Nor would I entertain the idea of moving to somewhere like Phoenix, where the summers reach 115 to 120 degrees. So where I live is important, because I’ve learned I’m happier and more productive in milder climates.
Your list will no doubt be different.
But the fact that you make one will put you far ahead of those who set goals without first identifying the important, non-negotiable people, places, and things that make them happy, that motivate them, and that provide them with comfort and a non-judgmental ear when experiencing the constant emotional roller-coaster of life.
So as you reconsider your priorities and re-evaluate your past and current professional objectives, I encourage you to include the priority to maintain the important relationships, the core values, the personal and financial interests that are paramount in your life. Give them the importance they deserve by imagining what your life would be like without them.
Then make this the number one goal on your list, meaning that it may be necessary to modify or even eliminate one or more of your other goals to prevent the conflicts and disappointment that can accumulate over time.
The ultimate test for any goal is to consider its impact on your future from the standpoint of looking back and being able to say, “That was time well spent.”
I’ll leave you with this:
Socrates argued that the unexamined life isn’t worth living.
I’ll offer the counterpoint that subjecting every part of your life to evaluation, measurement, and control can kill spontaneity, shackle creativity, and blind you to the things of value and importance already present in your life.
Certainly, use goals to qualify your time and resources and keep you focused on the highest priority activities. Just make sure any process used to increase your effectiveness doesn’t prevent you from experiencing — and appreciating — the excitement and satisfaction that can come from simply living in the here and now, one day at a time.
© 2020 Roger A. Reid. All Rights Reserved.
Roger A. Reid is the author of Better Mondays: The New Rules for Creating Financial Success and Personal Freedom (While Working for the Man)