Protecting the Touchstones Of Your Life
With most of us spending a lot more time at home than we normally do, we have the opportunity to do some 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 considering an alternative career choice or changing some aspect of our personal lives. But before finalizing any new life-plan, make sure it includes the one critical component that increases your chances of creating a rewarding and satisfying future.
Episode 7 - Protecting the Touchstones of Your Life
I received an interesting question from a listener. His name is Paul, and he’s in the process of what we might call a mid-life review. He made it clear that it’s not a crisis by any means, but it’s been causing him a few sleepless nights. From his email, I learned that Paul is in his mid-30s, and works for a large corporation—a company he went to work for right out of school. He’s done well and has received several promotions that have increased his responsibility, authority, and compensation.
He told me at the time he took the job, he thought of it as a dream career. In his words, it was exactly what he’d hoped to find and he counted himself not only happy, but extremely fortunate.
Even at an entry position, the money was great, and the working conditions were ideal. He could work on his own schedule, and he didn’t have to be concerned about making an appearance in the office.
But that was 12 years ago. And things have changed. He’s changed. He’s not the same person that he was.
He still appreciates the freedom and income, but he has the sense that something’s missing. And even though he can’t quite put his finger on it, he knows there has to more to life, and he’s concerned that he isn’t going to find it if he continues on the same career-path.
Hey, Welcome back. This is Roger Reid with another episode of Success Point 360.
There’s something else in Paul’s email that’s important. He’s concerned, that in 30 years from now, when he looks back on his life, he’s going to wish he’d made a change, chosen a different direction, made a mid-career shift, instead of spending all that time placating himself with the comforts of a decent salary, three weeks of vacation, and a job that he excels at.
He ended the email by asking, based on his current career path, and his concerns over his future happiness, how can he make sure he doesn’t sacrifice one for the other?
Paul is not the only one re-evaluating his future career path.
With most of us are spending a lot more time at home than we normally do, we have the opportunity to do some reflection, to take a look at where we are in our lives and how we’ve been spending our time.
And as a result, many of us are reexamining our options, and even considering an alternative career choice or a different industry. Some of us are pulling out the goals we made back in January, and looking at them with a new perspective, a new mindset.
I suppose If there is one positive side effect of the coronavirus quarantine – if there is such a thing as a positive side effect from the virus– it’s having the time to take an objective look at how far we’ve come, and where we want to go from here.
And before we move on, I want to emphasize that we all go through periods in which we wish we were doing something else.
It might hit us after a particularly difficult day at work, after a bout of bad weather, or during one of life’s milestones. Celebrating a decade birthday is a good example, with the numbers forty and fifty bringing especially critical scrutiny to what we’ve done with our lives up to that point and what we want to accomplish with the time that remains.
Regardless of when or how it happens, the question is usually the same:
Am I spending my life in a way that is rewarding and satisfying to me? Or is there something better?
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 and a good parent is the perfect life choice. Others may decide to seek fulfillment through success in business, or the arts, or politics.
But regardless of how, where, and with whom we choose to spend our time, living life on your terms, with your priorities determining how you spend your time, 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? When we realize that 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 that we need to change something . . . changes in our career, our relationships, where we live, or how we spend our time.
And so we begin to research the options, we buy the 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.
After reading all the usual advice about choosing new objectives that are realistic, measurable, and time-bound, we’re typically reminded of that well-worn metaphor. You know the one—comparing the unfortunate majority, those who don’t have goals, to a ship without a rudder, its certain destiny to become nothing more than a rusting hulk on an unforgiving ocean.
And so we formulate our new goals and objectives, making sure we allocate our time and recourses toward accomplishing these new priorities.
All good things, all good advice . . . right?
Usually . . . at least, on the face of it. But there are exceptions.
And before you prematurely discount what follows as just another philosophical derivative of the old adage, “life is a journey, not a destination,” understand that I’m a definite proponent of using goals to achieve the things in life we want to accomplish.
And then there’s that exception I mentioned . . .
Sometimes we see it in those folks who arrive at work early and stay 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.
These are the folks who are compromising their current situation and circumstances for what they hope to attain in the future. They give up the benefits found in the proverbial “here and now,” for a chance to make more money, acquire more prestige, or to raise their so-called station in life.
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.
Sometimes we rationalize those decisions by calling them an opportunity cost, and we promise ourselves that we’ll “make it up in the future,” after we reach our objectives. It’s 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.
And 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 – action that eventually will bring the result you want to achieve.
It’s the traditional formula for goal achievement: Know exactly what you want to accomplish and take the steps necessary to make it happen. It’s a practical, logical method of moving from where you are to where you want to be.
But it’s the second part of that formula that’s tricky. I’m talking about the seemingly reasonable idea of keeping your objectives in front of you, of blocking out everything else that threatens to take your focus off the goal.
The idea seems reasonable because we interpret the phrase, “blocking everything else out,” to mean distractions and time wasters, like watching television, or spending huge 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 that we would never intentionally put in jeopardy.
And that’s when striving to accomplish our goals can cause us to lose perspective. That’s when it’s time to re-evaluate the cost of our pursuits.
That’s my not-so-subtle way of introducing what is usually the most overlooked critical component in determining what you ultimately achieve in life, and even more important, how fulfilled and satisfied you feel about what you DO accomplish.
So, what is it? What is this critical component that is so important, that if we ignore it, we can end up with a life filled with regret, even when we accomplish everything we set out to do?
Here it is: It’s the conscious act of recognizing what is already working in our lives, especially the people, places, and things we should never put at risk.
It’s part of our nature to discount the stable, nurturing, and comfortable parts 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.
Without realizing it, the pursuit of our goals can put the most important touchstones of our lives at risk. Those touchstones can be your spouse, your kids and 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.
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, these critically important touchstones can easily be lost to neglect and indifference.
We’re talking about the very real possibility of paying too much to achieve a goal. And it’s a very real threat. It can begin and continue unnoticed—until it’s too late. 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 identity the parts of our lives that we already acknowledge as important? Because it’s never our plan to intentionally damage our relationships with our spouse or family. We don’t set out to destroy our long-held friendships, or neglect the parts of our lives that give us comfort.
But unfortunately, if we don’t make an intentional effort to protect those people, places and things that we care about, protect them from the fallout of over-zealously pursuing our goals, the damage is sure to occur. And it happens because it takes place a little at a time, A missed birthday here, a forgotten anniversary there, and over the years, it adds up.
Always putting career and professional goals in first priority can extract a heavy toll, especially on 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.
So, How do you avoid letting these touchstones of life slip through the cracks?
I suggest you 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 life, that gives you pleasure, that motivates 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 what you call them, they are the reasons for getting up in the morning, for going to work, for coming home, because you know those things are waiting for you.
This list becomes a personal reminder of what comes 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, it 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 results of what you ultimately accomplish.
Not sure what to put on your list? I’ll give you a peek at mine. 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 even most important, she puts up with me.
I would never consider pursuing any objective that would put my relationship with her at risk. Another thing 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 that 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 provides them with comfort and a non-judgemental ear when experiencing the constant emotional roller-coaster of life.
So as you reconsider your priorities and re-evaluate your past and current professional and personal objectives, I encourage you to take this one additional step to avoid inadvertently putting your personal touchstones in jeopardy . . .
Always include—as one of your goals—the priority to maintain the important relationships, the core values, the personal and financial interests that are paramount in your life. Give them the priority they deserve by imagining what your life would be like without them. And 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 build 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 does not also 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.
Hey, that’s it for this episode. Stay safe, everyone, and follow the mandates for physical and social distancing.
If you’d like a transcript of this episode, you can find it at https://successpoint360.com Just click on the show notes under the appropriate episode. And yes, I want to hear from you. Your comments and questions are important to me, and I’ll do my best to answer them, either during a future episode or by return email. The best way to reach me is to use the contact link located in the main header of my website at https://Successpoint360.com
Again, thanks for listening, and I’ll see you next time.
© 2020, Roger A. Reid