What will you see when you look back?

Several weeks ago, our women’s peer mentoring group sat in stunned silence.  One of our members told us that her cancer, in remission for the past few years, was back.  In a big way.  While she did not reveal the specifics of her prognosis, we intuited they were grim.  An indefatigable and positive spirit, she spoke in upbeat tones about her attitude toward her time left.  One specific comment she made, somewhat offhandedly, reverberated long after our meeting ended: “When you don’t have much time left, you don’t spend very much time looking forward; instead, you spend a lot of time looking back.”

This somewhat innocuously-made comment forced me to start thinking about my own life and legacy.  When the day comes for me to reflect on a life now spent, whether I have moments or years, what will I see?  Will I see a workaholic who put client needs perpetually ahead of quality family time?  Will I see countless hours spent in front of my electronic devices, consciously ignoring the beautiful world around me to “just finish this one email?”  Will I see a woman who preached service and community, while hoarding wealth and self-indulgence?  Or will I see the woman I aspire to be:  leading in work, home, health and community?

How many of us find ourselves so overwhelmed by our arduous pursuit of our idealized lives only to realize we are consumed by them?  Have you wondered where you found the time to meet with your employees regularly as a younger manager, eager to help your employees succeed?  Do you marvel at days gone by when you were able to exercise regularly, wondering now, “How did I fit that into my jam-packed schedule?”  Do you look forward only to see deadlines, obligations, and another year gone by without much of a vacation?  Is community involvement a hastily-clicked Paypal deduction from your checking account a few times a year, because you just can’t find the time to  serve?  Is your “humble-bragging” about busyness and overwhelm truly a wish that others will admire how hard you are killing yourself to do it all?

I often talk with my coaching clients about “the tyranny of the urgent.”  We are so mired in what should be done that we forget to keep a true focus on what’s really important.  Sure, we don’t forget about it altogether, but we often only attend to it guiltily, often as an afterthought after another breathless day.  Somehow, in our push to get it all done, we’ve forgotten what “it” is really all about.

What is “it” that you want to look back and admire of your life?  What would it be like to intentionally choose for a life that you will have led, rather than one that was led for you? If you want to explore, consider these steps:

  1. Articulate your life’s ultimate mission.  What are you uniquely on this planet to do?  Can you verbalize it in 15-30 seconds?  If not, devote some  focused time to figuring it out.  If you knew you were to die tomorrow, would you be proud of how close you came? Take heed: this is a spiritually and emotionally-consuming activity.
  2. Review your activities.  Carefully evaluate the time you spend in four key Domains of Importance (DOIs):  work, health/wellness, family, and social life.   Use a pie chart and fill in each pie piece as full as appropriate for the level of  time/energy each DOI gets.  How even/bumpy is your wheel?
  3. Compare and face reality.  Now, compare your graph with your life mission.  What do you see? How close will you come to living your life purpose if you continue on your current path? What needs to change?
  4. Chart a new course.  Write out the old story you’ve been telling yourself – all the reasons you can’t live your mission. Then write a new story where you are living the mission.  Then, commit to your new story through behaviors and accountability.  Enlist the help of close others to help you stay the course.

Living intentionally toward your ultimate goals will not likely sacrifice your work product;   In fact, it’s likely to increase your focus, energy, and ultimately your effectiveness.  But, if it did get begin to denigrate your work, you have the choice to make:  will you continue to sacrifice your life mission for your work?  For how long?  To what end?

My friend with cancer began living her legacy long ago.  She looks now with pride on a life lived fully.  If you were in her place, would you say the same?