By Sam Waltz
The Doonesbury cartoon strip used to be a favorite decades ago.
While its sarcasm about dope laws and the futility of Vietnam were quickly tiresome, the panels to which I gravitated often were of the class reunions, which seemed a bit more poignant.
I think of that when I realize that the year 2015 will be the 50th anniversary of my high school graduation. “What happened to those years?” a generation of us will ask.
No, this column won’t be maudlin. It will include a recognition that, even among the best of a generation, unfulfilled potential abounds, and, indeed, lives themselves too often seem unfulfilled.
Therefore, it seems fitting in this last issue before the New Year to share something that may help others.
“MindMapping Your Life: Six Ways to Navigate Change and Create the Life You Really Want” is a book chapter I’d authored about 15 years ago that was published in a collection. It came from both my personal and my professional lives. (I’ll happily email a copy with best wishes for the New Year to anyone who writes asking for it.)
Too often, in my work, I found organizations struggling because of the chaos in the lives of the leaders away from their work. Worse, even highly accomplished and successful people often felt some helplessness in their personal lives, just creating more pain and dysfunction.
It also was a time for me, two or three years after the end of a 26-year marriage, where I was thinking a lot about such things.
The “big idea” is that most of us have more capability to influence the important things in our lives than we realize. Control is a myth, an illusion, and the oft-repeated joke is that “God laughs as people plan.” Yes, I believe that, but I also believe most of us can make more of our lives than we do.
The challenge is to apply a planning process—like strategic planning—to the important areas of our lives. Six areas of our lives that I identified are:
1. Spiritual, regardless of whether one is religious or not.
2. Physical, e.g., health, weight and condition.
3. Financial, e.g., wealth, income and a personal balance sheet.
4. Relational, within the primary nuclear family, as well as important extended others.
5. Work, job, career.
Some treat strategic planning as a mystical “black box,” but it’s really about answering the three great questions of business, even life: Where am I? Where do I want to be? How do I get there?
Many think the “how” question is the most difficult, but, frankly, for most,
it’s the easiest. Answering it is intuitive.
The pain is in answering the “Where am I?” question, because, to be effective, the introspection and self-assessment requires a candor that moves people into places they don’t ordinarily go.
And answering the “Where do I want to be?” question causes consternation, because it emphasizes that most of us have more choices than we want to admit, and it puts the exclamation point behind the idea of commitment!
Some thoughts on doing this successfully:
First, dedicate some time—a half day, even a whole day—over the holidays. Make it your present to yourself.
Second, write it down. Today, we all compose at the keyboard, so open a Word doc, put in the six headings, and, underneath each, write the three strategic questions. Begin work!
Third, share what you’re doing with someone important in your life—your partner, a child, another family member, a confidante. Don’t necessarily engage her or him in the process, but talk about it ahead of time and perhaps as you complete a draft of your plan.
Finally, prepare yourself that it won’t be easy. Bring tissues and a glass of water to your desk.
However, you will have given yourself the New Year’s gift of empowerment, of realizing just how much influence you have over the important things in your life. Please let me know how it goes for you.