How to really live every day of your life


living lifeOne of my clients is home health care company that provides care for older people who want to remain in their homes as long as possible. One of the companies clients recently passed after a long period of substance abuse.

Even though she was regularly treated by physicians, her condition worsened. Before my client’s company began to care for her, she simply wallowed in despair and often became suicidal. Through exceptional care offered by the company, she slowly began to improve and her outlook brightened. She began to have hope once again.

But the effects of time and the consequences of decisions made long in the past could not be overcome. Her health deteriorated. At the hospital, the attending physician asked her a provocative question.  (I should tell you that the patient’s personality was abrasive and belligerent. She lacked even a snippet of social grace.)

At the insistence of my client, the health care company, the patient was transported to the emergency room. The attending physician, putting up with the patient’s foul mouth and even fouler manner, suggested an avenue of treatment. But the patient was contrary and argumentative. So the doctor asked simply, “Do you want to live?”

Even though she answered in the affirmative, within a few days she had passed. Those who had been providing health care had hoped that their patient’s new optimism and attitude would change things, but her doctor had one more insight that explained everything.

“Even though she said she wanted to live,” said the doctor, “she made that decision too late.”

I’ve been writing about finding your place, fitting in, being faithful to your calling. Hindsight is 20/20. It is all too common…and all to unfortunate… to look back on life and wish we had done something differently. Now in all fairness, given the information we had at the time, and given the experience and insights we possessed (0r did not possess) most of us made the best decisions we could at the time.

But that is not to say that we can’t make better ones now.

Being the 2nd day of February, we’re a month in to the new year. What resolutions we might have made at the turn of the calendar are probably wearing thin or gone away altogether by now.

So, it is time to take another look at the future and see what decisions we should really take. After all, if I were to ask you, you would doubtless say, “I want to live.”

What I don’t want to happen is for you to make that decision too late. So, I’ve developed a list of 16 questions for you. For many years I have given out this list to people who voice some dissatisfaction with life, young people who are just embarking on life on their own, with leaders and managers facing the challenges of a mid-life readjustment, and with those who find themselves overloaded with work. It is an analytical process where you define and describe the elements of your life and determine what and where changes can and should be made. There are no right or wrong answers, but you do need to be brutally honest. 

  1. What is your single greatest strength? Everyone is good at something, not so good at other things. Stress is magnified (becomes distress) when you are placed in a position of having to primarily rely on skills other than your greatest strength. If this is happening often, you might be in the wrong position. Eustress is good stress that results from being busy and in demand because you are using skills and talents you have and can employ them in settings that are appreciative and supportive.
  2. What three decisions are causing me the greatest stress? There are things we commit to, agree to, disagree with, contend, contest, sign a contract for, or engage in that have become a source of difficulty. What are you engaged in now that you wished you had not agreed to or has evolved into something more stress-producing than you expected?
  3. What is overwhelming me?Ok, this may be a bit melodramatic, so if you’re not exactly feeling overwhelmed, you might just be feeling too crowded, too overloaded, too much like you cannot escape but need to. What is the source?
  4. What impassable roadblock has me stuck? Typically money and/or people, identify what sits in your way from becoming what you want to be, doing what you need to do, learning what you need to know, and so on.
  5. If  I could do only three things before I die, what would they be?Zig Ziglar has said, “Live each day like it is your last because one of these days, you’ll be right.” Well, this question just might be the most critical of all 16 because it forces you to narrow the plethora of tasks, opportunities, and ideas into just three. The idea is to help you focus on what is important and necessary, not just what is urgent and demanding.
  6. What should I resign from or drop out of?This might tie in to your answers for #2, but even if it isn’t, you might be over-committed, especially in light of #5. Each of us has exactly the same amount of time every day. You cannot save minutes or hours over until tomorrow, you must use them up every day. Do you need to abandon something? Like that smart phone you carry around, sometimes you need to disconnect.
  7. What things on my to-do list can someone else do at least 80% as well as I can?Hearkening back to question #1, you have certain skills, talents, abilities, and responsibilities that you and only you can employ and fulfill. But there are things you are doing now that someone else can do as well or almost as well. You need to focus! And you need to focus on those things, tasks, commitments, and responsibilities that only you can do. Give everything else away to someone else.
  • What are the elephants in my schedule?For 14 days, keep a record of everything you do. In no less than 15 minute increments, write down what you do then analyze them. Where are the biggest bites going? If you are a dedicated scheduler you might discover that you can actually schedule a small portion of your day because others occupy your time and attention and it is largely beyond your control. I will deal with ways to manage others when they intrude on your time and turf in a future post, but for today, determine where the big beasts stand.
  1. What are three things I could do in the next ninety days that would make a 50% difference?Analysis is futile without a corresponding action plan. These questions will show you what you are doing right, where things are going well, and where they are not. Decide right now 3 things you will do differently and plot their start date no later than the next 90 days. You will doubtless make other changes down the road, but I want you to focus on the immediate future. And be specific. Don’t write “manage my time better.” That is too general and too vague to be meaningful. Write exactly how you will manage your time better, when it will begin, and how you will know it worked (or not).
  2. What is my passion (what lights my fire today)?If you engage someone in conversation long enough to get beyond the courtesies that typify the initial minutes of a conversation, and if you catch them in an unguarded moment when they can be honest, listen to what they talk about. You will hear their passion. So, what floats your boat? This is where your motivation resides.
  3. What is my dream (if everything were like it ought to be, what would it look like)?Play God for a minute and describe your ideal life. What would you be doing, where would you live, how much money would you have, where would you be heading?
  4. What do I really want to do?Sadly, many people take the first job they can get when they graduate and they settle into it. It may or may not match their skill set. More critically, your desires and ambitions change over time and your skill sets become more obvious.
  5. When do I want to do it? Plot a date for change. I have done this myself more than once in my life and have just made another job/career change at the ripe age of 61. You can do it too.
  6. What am I going to do to prepare myself? I recommend you work backwards – start with the date of change, ask yourself what has to happen before that…then before that…then before that.
  7. Who will I ask to help me?Now that you’ve worked through 14 questions, get someone else involved. Who can assist you on your journey?
  8. How will it fulfill my calling? if you are not religious, imagine for the sake of this exercise there is a higher power full of goodness, love, honor, and nobility. How will your decisions and actions please that higher power (even if it is inside yourself)?

Just living often overwhelms life. The stuff that has to be done every day glosses over what we really want to do and be. We are often better described as human doings rather than human beings.

But the fullness of our days is no excuse for not deciding early that we want to live.


Calling is not just a religious thing


twain quote“The crowning fortune of a man is to be born to some pursuit which finds him employment and happiness, whether it be to make baskets, or broadswords, or canals, or statues, or songs.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’ve been examining the difference between leaders and managers in the light of finding your place. The process of connecting with and engaging others is filled with nuances and subtleties. We need to know who we are, what we are “called” to be and do, and what we bring to the equation. Like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, there is a place to fit, a void that is shaped just like who you are. Fortunate is the person who finds it. Frustrated are those who almost but not quite ever discover it.

The world of religious professionals has pretty much co-opted the concept of “calling” but it by no means is limited to a religious or spiritual experience. In more rigid societies, one’s calling might be predetermined by status and vocation. Your father was a tradesman so you will be, too. But most of today’s cultures are less rigid. America has always been a place where one’s birth did not predetermine one’s destiny.

No, calling is, and should be personal. Calling is the meaning and passion that drives and fulfills. It is the ease with which our innate gifts and talents find expression and response within the people with whom we are engaged. Calling is the higher purpose that drives us, that forms our core values and beliefs, and that persuades us that effort is worth it and obstacles are worthy of the cunning it will take to overcome them.

Calling means that we do nothing for very long for only the money.

Before I hear too many objections, let me assure you that money is important. We make a living by earning money, but we make a life by responding to and remaining faithful to our calling. Calling is a pursuit of values higher than money. Hint: people who pursue calling are often highly paid. Why? Because of the authenticity of their work. They can give 100% to the job not because they are paid labor but because they’ve found their place. They fit. Everything about them connects with the opportunity before them.

Calling means that we do nothing for any amount of time that runs counter to our core purpose.

It sounds altruistic and it is true that before you find the prince you have to kiss a lot of frogs, but leaders who live by and for their calling never settle into a job because it pays the bills. They can see far enough ahead that they never want to arrive at a place 40 years from now only to despair over what they’ve done…or not done… with their lives. Temporary work is never permitted to become a permanent position because the calling always beckons.

Ronald A. Heifetz, in The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World wrote that “If you find what you do each day seems to have no link to any higher purpose, you probably want to rethink what you’re doing.”

He’s right, you know. And higher purpose as stated there has nothing to do with hearing voices, having epiphanies, or seeing visions. It has everything to do with knowing who you are what you are called to do.

You cannot hope to fit in, to find your place, if you do not know at least to some degree, what drives you.

Calling means that the passion that drives us changes work into achievement and fulfillment.

Being useful is not the same as being fulfilled. It is psychologically rewarding to accomplish, but is pales in comparison to accomplishments that are consistent with your call. Peter Drucker encouraged leaders to “build only on islands of personal health and strength.” Just doing good, productive, and useful things is not enough. The need is not the call but answering the call doubtless will address needs. Put things in order and be responsible for yourself.

Finding your place requires more on your part than waiting for the door to open to that ideal position. What is necessary? Tune in next week for the answer.