The Ultimate Resiliency Secret: Choosing Well
Do you remember the “good old days?” At least it seemed as if our parents’ or grandparents’ lives were so much easier. Those were the days when life seemed to work in a straightforward, linear fashion. You went to school. You chose college or a technical trade. You got married. Maybe you had kids. You retired. You died. Today, only death remains of that prescribed march of time. And now, with advances in medicine, you can even postpone the inevitability of death.
When I started my company in 1980, many colleagues approached me with the same questions: “How did you get up enough courage to do what you are doing?” “How could you leave a corporate structure?” “How did you know what you should be doing with your life?” “Where will your business grow?” Those questions of long ago continue to echo today because I understand the ultimate resiliency secret: choosing well. I still have lots of choices.
And so do you. Recognizing options is the first step toward a resilient life.
From our careers to our lifestyles, from our life partners to our life’s legacy, we have a vast array of possibilities facing us. Our ability to think clearly, to make wise choices in our life, has everything to do with creating a world of our own choosing—the ultimate success.
Our ability to think clearly, to make wise choices in our life, has everything to do with creating a world of our own choosing—the ultimate success.
I wish I could admit I knew this craft of “choosing well” from the outset. Not so. Like many of you, I have experienced divorce, work failure and, at times, a less than healthy body. I have found my crammed 24-hour day consumed by things that—at face value—have been “chosen” by others. But along the way, I also learned some lessons which, when I practice, assist me in choosing well.
Notice the phrase “when I practice”. Like all of you, there are days when I don’t follow the path of wisdom. I forget. The heat of the moment and that demon Guilt take over so I unconsciously make less-than-smart decisions. Please know, therefore, that as I write to you I am also writing for myself so I can again remember what it takes to choose well.
With a degree in Communications, I found my career life first in education and quickly moved to the marketing and advertising part of the business world. An avocation for psychology and a journalistic stint allowed me to quickly pick up the nuances of an enterprise. I worked as the marketing head for a real estate development and an internationally recognized resort property. I handled corporate and investor relations for health care corporations. I became a public relations consultant responsible for handling primarily multinational companies. And I fried. I burned. I sizzled out in one big heap of misery and unhappiness. Something just wasn’t right!
I left. I started my own company. And I realized the first skill in choosing well: Know what you don’t want.
Practice Reverse Goal Setting
For many of us, the admonition to “set goals” is simply not doable. We don’t have a clear idea of what we want. Therefore, I have found benefit in practicing reverse goal setting. Specifically, sit down with a paper and begin to itemize what you truly do NOT want in your life. Begin with your career. I knew I did not want to write another press release. I knew I wanted to choose my own clients rather than being forced to take some I knew, in my heart of hearts, we truly could not serve in the best fashion. I knew I did not want someone else controlling what I delivered in exchange for money. I did not want to be hamstrung by corporate politics, or by the hours on a clock which translated “face time” as the only measure of value.
Try writing reverse goals for the other areas of life: physical, emotional, material and spiritual.
In the physical arena, I determined I did not want to be overweight, out of shape and unable to travel easily.
Emotionally, I learned much from a failed marriage. I learned that I did not want to be anything less than an equal partner in a relationship—from the financial to the intellectual. I did not want to hide again my thoughts or feelings for the sake of peace and quiet. And I did not want to feel unattractive and unappealing.
On the material side, I did not want to live life in a penurious manner, always afraid that there would never be enough. I did not want to inherit the Depression mentality of my relatives. And spiritually, I did not want to feel estranged and empty in a relationship with God or disenfranchised by narrow religious thinking.
Once you begin to write reverse goals, an amazing thing happens: you realize what you do want. I realized that I wanted to be my own boss in a creative endeavor that makes a difference in the world. I realized I wanted to practice the exercise and nutrition essential for health. I wanted a life partner with a strong sense of self-esteem, humor, and a capacity to love deeply and widely. I wanted to give whatever I want as gifts and live in a place that nurtures me with its beauty and peace. And I wanted to work on a spiritual quest.
Once you begin to write reverse goals, an amazing thing happens: you realize what you do want.
Having written all this, there is another step to the process: you must chart your course for the journey.
Determine your “true north” based on values.
When I lecture on the concepts in my book, Your Resiliency GPS, I ask participants to close their eyes, hold their hand over their head, and on the count of three, to point to where they think “true north” lies. When they open their eyes, they see fingers pointed in every direction. And everyone in that room is absolutely correct. Each of us has our own “true north”.
I think of life as a journey, a sailing voyage to be exact. Decisions to help us “balance” must be based on both our individual sailboat as well as the chart we navigate. If we haven’t charted a course, all the navigation skill might still put us in the wrong place. What could help all of us on such a journey is a process, a formula, whereby we might take stock of our decisions, weighing them against our personal values.
Step 1: Answer these questions to help determine what is of value to you. Value has more to do with who you are and how you live your life, not what you have achieved. For example, you might value life-long learning, financial security, service to others, loving relationships, and spiritual growth. Once you have identified what is of value, you have a screen with which to filter goals and activities.
One of the best ways to identify values is to create an imaginary sounding board composed of 4-5 people who you value and admire and who, in turn, sincerely respect and like you. If each one were to give a eulogy, what type of person would they say you were, and why? What values would arise? What goals or activities supported those values? Isolate those values and write them down. You might even be able to rank order the values.
Step 2: For the period of one week, keep a pad of paper handy and make a note of every task you perform and what role you play. For example, my roles are professional speaker, writer, wife, mother, friend, office worker, manager, daughter, sister, student, volunteer and just plain ME. The latter refers to a role that nurtures and cares for me, not necessarily anyone else. Amazingly, I’ve discovered that every task is related to a role and that almost all tasks come in 15-minute increments.
Step 3: On a scale from minus 5 to plus 5, rate these roles and accompanying tasks according to enjoyment and personal value. In looking at the tasks of a week, interesting discoveries are made.
Are the various tasks and roles you’ve played congruent with the values you’ve identified? Are you putting more time than is reasonable into some tasks and roles? The operative word here is “reasonable.” For example, a special friend lost her husband and had no one to help her with grief and anger, not to mention funeral arrangements and lawyers. My value of service and loving relationships and the role as “friend” and also surrogate “daughter” created many tasks and demands. For me, it would have been unreasonable not to spend considerable time with Jeanne. The sailboat headed in her direction.
Another example: I discovered I put far too much time in the role of “office worker” rather than in the role of “manager”. Instead of assigning tasks and growing others, I took work on that did not need to be done by me. It was time to alter course and allow my associates to hold the tiller.
Finally, by putting so much emphasis on the role of professional speaker and its tasks, I had let drop ME. Time to make decisions for overhaul and repair, saying “yes” to a day off, to a day of contemplative silence. I realized that without the silence, all I bring to the platform and my audiences are echoes of words rather than insights. Let me say that again, “without silence.” Here’s another ingredient in the craft of choosing well: a silent retreat.
Retreat in order to advance
“The more faithfully you listen to the voice within you, the better you will hear what is sounding outside. And only she who listens can speak.”
I remember the thud in my stomach when I read these words by the late Secretary General to the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld. Here I was: trying to grow a speaking and counseling business by surrounding myself with busyness, a constant influx of chatter, and an absence of any true internal “listening”. My business had not grown as I had hoped, everything seemed an effort, and I wasn’t getting the sense that my internal compass still pointed to truth north.
I knew I needed to take time away. But there was so much to do. I hated giving up what little time I had at home since it took me away from my beloved husband Bill (yes, he meets all my criteria). This time, Bill insisted. And he was right. I have learned the value of taking a 3-day silent retreat so I can rethink, renew, redirect and refresh my choices. Amazingly, the family survives without me, no clients disappear and I return re-energized for the year.
Many of us have difficulty with being alone. And silence scares us. In a world bombarded by sound, some of us promptly turn on the television or radio as soon as we enter an empty house. I have discovered the deep necessity for silence and alone time. Even if it means checking into a local motel, unplugging the phone and ordering room service, choosing well demands that we spend time thinking and writing.
Choosing well demands that we spend time thinking and writing.
Yes, writing. When thoughts stay only in our head, I am convinced we do not receive the full power of our thoughts. The writing is for you alone. Use a spiral notebook, a blank book, a yellow pad. But write in ink. Write the question you are trying to answer. Write free form all your thoughts and fears and dreams about that question. Wake up in the middle of the night and record a dream you have. Then read it back. Keep the notebook. Pick it up after some time has passed. You will be amazed at the wisdom found there—wisdom that sometimes we don’t get on first reading our words. If you wish to learn more about journaling as a method for self-discovery, check out the Intensive Journal Workshops offered around the world by facilitators trained in the Progoff Journal Workshop method.
Experience the call of the wild
John O’Donohue in his book Eternal Echoes wrote “When you find a place in Nature where the heart and mind find rest, then you have discovered a sanctuary for your soul. Nature calls us to tranquility and rhythm. When your heart is confused or heavy, a day outside in Nature’s quiet eternity restores your lost tranquility.”
In the creativity process, there is a stage called incubation. Answers arise after a period of gestation, a period marked by NOT actively discussing the problem but rather letting the mind focus on other areas. Nature is the perfect gestation place for seeking wisdom about our choices. In the call of the wild, it is possible to find a clarity not found in the confusion of our houses and offices.
I am not talking about backpacking in the high Sierra; though this is certainly an option. Rather I mean taking mini retreats in whatever is the natural setting closest to you and which calls to you. My best friend walks in the cemetery near her house. There, amid the trees and flowers and grasses, wending her way around the headstones placed more for the living than for the deceased, she finds peace and clarity.
I live near the ocean. I place a problem requiring a decision in the back of my head and I walk. On more than one occasion, as my feet feel the cold tingly water and my eyes gaze at whatever debris the ocean has offered as treasure, I find a metaphor replete with meaning. When I was torn about my first marriage and feeling frail, small and inadequate to do anything on my own, I stumbled with broken heart to face the gale of a Nor’easter. With tears and fear streaming down my face, I plunged into the wind’s fury. As foam scudded at my tennis shoes and huge broken shells littered my path, I suddenly spied a perfect sand dollar the size of a dime. This fragile form, amid the destruction of a fierce storm, has made it through preciselybecause it was small. I knew at that moment I could make the decision I needed to make and survive. What a powerful message from the wild.
Find whatever place calls to you and take the time to listen, with eyes wide open. I am confident you will find the information you need.
This is a 2 part series that will be continued tomorrow right here on this blog.
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