Your Unanswered Questions Hold the Key To a New and More Rewarding Future
5 ways to bring your life into alignment with your true priorities and values.
I haven’t been back to my old hometown in years.
The last time I was there, I felt like I was visiting a graveyard — lots of buried memories and too many headstones. It wasn’t long before I began to feel uncomfortable, and I knew it was time to leave.
A lot of it has to do with the recollection of things left unfinished — incomplete plans, broken dreams, and lost relationships. Looking back, I know most of it was by choice. Like most young people, I grew older, lost interest, and simply moved on.
Regrets? I’ll admit there was a lot more I could have done with my youth, more productive ways to spend my time — activities that could have been used as stepping stones to an ultimate destination.
But back then, I had no idea where I really wanted to go. Like most of my generation, I followed the path of those who came before me. You know the drill: Get an education. Get a job. Buy a house. Find a wife. Kids were optional but expected.
It worked for a decade or so until I realized every new day of my life was frighteningly similar to the one preceding it. With each passing year, I noticed very little was changing in my life.
And the things that used to pique my interest with possibility had become vague, hazy reminders that my life had not turned out the way I’d hoped.
The good news?
It forced me to question the choices I’d made and what I was doing with my life. Specifically, I asked myself three questions:
Where was my life headed?
Who would I eventually become?
Is that how I want to be remembered?
The first place I looked for answers was in the past, searching for those times when I was still excited about life and the possibilities it held. I decided if I was going to break the “Groundhog Day” cycle my life had become, I needed to start mining my memories for clues to create a new life plan.
I made a list of my earliest core interests, and how they might translate into new career possibilities. Then I qualified each new idea by reminding myself how I’d spent the last 10 years — letting them serve as a warning not to revisit meaningless and unrewarding activities.
Next, I examined the other areas of my life that gave it balance — my relationships, physical and mental health, and spiritual interests. The process eventually reduced those three soul-searching questions into a set of guidelines, which ultimately became the design criteria for my future.
Since then I’ve refined and tweaked them a little, but the same powerful core concepts remain unchanged. Think of them as the starting point to reshaping your life with choice, transition, and goal-directed priorities.
Count the cost
How much of your past resulted from living to please someone else?
Admittedly, we often follow the suggestions and recommendations of others because our own plan is hazy, lacks detail, or seems risky. It’s difficult to say “no” to a well-meaning parent, family member, or friend who offers a plan that’s organized, sensible, and represents a proven path to success.
But if it’s a strategy that’s missing your input, values, and intentions, it’s a useless, time-wasting detour. Living someone else’s life plan is the fastest way to create a hollow, empty life that leaves you comfortably miserable.
If the past was spent fulfilling the needs of others — and it no longer satisfies you — it’s time to reassess your priorities for the future.
Use the past to motivate you to take action — now!
Time never stops. And soon, each of us will arrive in a place called Old. It’s our common destination. No matter how we choose to live or what we decide to do with our lives, we will grow old. All routes end up there. It’s not optional, and the only bypass is an early death.
How does that affect your goals and objectives? Does it make them more or less important? If what you want to do is physically demanding, and you don’t do it NOW, will it be possible to do it later?
Based on your current age, you have a quickly closing window of time to accomplish something requiring great physical exertion, rigorous training, or stamina. If you put it off another year, how will that affect the likelihood of accomplishment?
Approach this realistically, rather than with platitudes that promise, “It’s never too late to do what you want to do.” There are very few seventy-year-old ballet dancers, and even fewer 80-year-olds who have climbed Mount Everest (in fact, there’s only one.)
There’s no such thing as a completely wasted past.
Many of our misdirected efforts were necessary to bring us to where we are now. Some were learning experiences, making us better prepared to take the next step into the future. Others were necessary to give us clarity about what we don’t want in our lives.
Making sure we recognize the same red flags and steering clear of situations that are ultimately unrewarding or unproductive are big parts of getting to where we want to be.
Acknowledge your past accomplishments and milestones — especially the hidden ones. Take the time to appreciate what it means to have completed something important — so important that you dedicated time and resources to the exclusion of other pursuits.
Look back and remember your circumstances when you first began your journey. Acknowledge what you’ve learned, and how much better prepared you are to move forward in life.
As you begin to count your past achievements, you may find it’s not the completion of the goal that counts, but what you had to become to accomplish it.
Goals change because life changes.
Just because you changed your career goals or life direction along the way doesn’t mean you failed at becoming whatever it was you initially wanted to be.
Our plans must often bend and reshape themselves to meet the unexpected challenges of life. And yet, here’s what’s surprising. While new objectives often look completely different from our original goals, the outcome, the effect on our lives — whether measured in money, a great relationship, or a healthy mind and body — are often very similar to what we were trying to achieve initially, just dressed in a different outfit.
Maybe we didn’t set out to be a corporate vice-president or the owner of an online business because when we originally designed our goals, they weren’t considerations or may not have existed as possibilities.
But in the end, we could still create the kind of life that allowed us to feel the way we wanted to feel and to have the experiences we desired because we found an alternative route to get what we wanted.
Some of the messages from our past have to be ignored.
Especially those encouraging us to return to our old comfort zones.
When the challenges come, it’s tempting to return to our former lives — a time when things were less stressful and more comfortable. But that’s only because we’ve forgotten how frustrating and empty we felt.
We left our old life because we knew there had to be more. And remaining where we were — working at a dissatisfying job, living in a toxic or shadow relationship — was no longer acceptable.
So we took action. We made changes. We ignored the pleas from friends and family who tried to coax us to stay the course because it was “good enough,” and by accepting our situation, we’d eventually get used to it.
Leaving our comfort zone takes sacrifice, focus, and courage. But the rewards can make the difference between living a life of mediocrity and one filled with purpose and satisfaction.
I’ll leave you with this …
As you look back on your life, your past may reflect satisfying reminders of time well spent. Or it may reveal years of virtual captivity, working at a job you didn’t like, living with a spouse or partner who left you drained and angry, or being manipulated into serving others whose values and beliefs were completely different from your own.
But good or bad, the past can be more than a collection of memories. Let your past serve you — especially as you reshape your life, bringing it into alignment with your true priorities and values.
Thanks for reading,
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In case you missed the previous article …
Roger A. Reid, Ph.D. is a certified NLP trainer with degrees in engineering and business. He’s the author of Better Mondays and Speak Up, and host of Success Point 360 Podcast, offering tips and strategies for achieving higher levels of career success and personal fulfillment in the real world.
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