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How to Write a Life List

Rerouted-Stream What if we could come to the end of our lives with true fulfillment, looking back on a rich history of experiences, relationships, and accomplishments?

Either metaphorically or literally, we could point to a list of steadily-pursued dreams that turned into accomplished goals as we moved through different phases of life.

The sad alternative, of course, is to come to the end of life unfulfilled – something best phrased in this intense quote from Thoreau I’ve been pondering a lot recently:

Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with their song still in them.

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Good Things About the Recession

Rerouted-Stream Here in the Spring of 2009, it's easy to say that the financial crisis has decimated the global economy:

*Unemployment in the U.S. (and many other countries) is at a 25-year high

*An average of 40% of wealth has been lost by investors around the world

*Consumer spending is down almost everywhere

*Federal Interest rates are close to 0%

The gloom-and-doom is getting serious, people. Are you all ready to go down in the storm shelter and start putting gold under the mattress? Hopefully not, because we have something important to talk about today.

I’m not trying to make light of hardship in any way. I’ve previously explained that the recession sucks. All of us have been affected one way or another. If I had the choice, I’d prefer to have 15% gains for no work every year. Bring back the bubble!

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Glory Days

Rerouted-Stream I sat in the back of the room as the keynote speaker talked about his experience as a war veteran. It was a good story for the first five minutes, filled with close calls, bonding with peers, and learning about the outside world.

Then he kept going. He talked for 10, 15, nearly 20 minutes about the war before moving on to the subject he was supposed to speak about.

The war in question (Vietnam) took place more than 30 years ago. Yet to hear him talk, it was as if he had just returned from a tour in Iraq. He told the story as if it had all happened yesterday, and anyone listening could appreciate how the time in the war had made him into the person he was that day.

But it also made me wonder… what has he been doing for the past 30 years?

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Friends and Enemies

Rerouted-StreamI’m sitting in a bar in Washington, D.C., listening to another writer talk about the untimely demise of her blog. The blog in question started at almost the same time as The Art of Nonconformity. When I first read her writing last year, I knew she was going places. The posts were crisp, funny, and helpful at the same time.

In fact, when I read almost any of her writing, I thought it was better than most of mine. Then, after a few months of steady content, one day she stopped writing.

Naturally, I wondered, “Why? What happened?”

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How Much Money Do You Really Need?

Here’s a good question: how much money is enough? What do we need to have in order to meet our needs and help us be happy? As I completed my Annual Review recently, I finalized a choice I had been pondering for a while. The choice was whether I should continue scrambling to earn a good living as an entrepreneur while writing on the side, or to go “all in” with the project I believed in more – writing full-time.

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Christmas Obligations

I have a fairly conventional Christmas week scheduled out over the next four days. All signs point for it to be filled with the usual blend of good times (worth remembering) and frustrating times (worth forgetting) that most holidays seem to have. It’s good to see people you love; it’s not good to feel trapped…

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What to Do When It’s Not Working Out

complacency-not-working-out
Image by SladeGibbs

From countless encounters with failure, I can tell you that not everything works out the way you hope it will. If you keep trying, you’ll get where you want to go in the end, but there will undoubtedly be many stops along the way where you encounter a dead-end.

First, how do you know when it’s not working out?

Here are a few signs:

  • You approach the project with neither excitement nor dread. You just don’t care.

  • If it's a group project, discussions and planning become circular. People say the same things they said last time, and the time before that. There is plenty of conflict, but little resolution.

  • You feed off crisis. The crisis drowns out everything else. When you have no crisis, you invent one or just wait for another to arrive.

  • Most importantly, NOTHING EVER CHANGES. This kind of thing doesn’t usually get better on its own.

That’s pretty much how you know it’s not working out. So what do you do? The good news is that your options are limited. Specifically, you have only three:

1) Do Nothing
2) Quit
3) Change Something Major

Option #1: Do Nothing

Doing nothing is the most common response when confronting apathy. You suck it up and live with it. You keep going through the motions, dutifully showing up without actually doing much. You attend the meetings, wondering more about what kind of cookies will be waiting on the table than what will be on the agenda.

The agenda? Speaking of that, there may be a written one somewhere, but there is no driving force. Remember, it doesn’t usually get better on its own.

Effectively, you stop all pretense of caring what happens. When I worked in Africa, we used to call this “checking out.” Someone would be coming to the end of a long time in a difficult job, for example, and they had lost their motivation. They had “checked out.”

“Can we ask Steve to do this?”

“He’s checked out.”

“Oh.”

Time to move on to the next guy, because when someone checks out, it’s hard to get them back. If you're the one who has checked out, see the next two options.

Option #2: Quit

When you quit, you walk away as quickly as possible, consequences be damned. You’re in the wrong job, on the wrong team, working on the wrong project, pursuing the wrong goal. Or maybe you’re what’s wrong – but either way, you can quit.

If you start to feel guilty about it, or if someone questions you, you can give the age-old response: “Lots of other people are doing this too.” This response seemingly justifies any behavior, from smoking to discrimination or whatever.

But sometimes, option #2 may be your only choice, if for no other reason than to retain your sanity. When it comes down to that, I think hanging on to sanity is worth whatever guilt you feel for quitting. And if you were the problem to begin with, well, maybe things will be better for everyone else after you leave. You never know.

Option #3: Change Something Big

If you can’t stand the status quo and don’t want to give up, this leaves only one option: something must change. It has to be something significant; even outsiders should be able to look and say, hey, this is different.

Change is the lifeblood of innovation and the salvation of complacency, but beware: no one really likes change, and that’s why it can hard to introduce something that is significantly different after apathy has set in.

It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, however.

What can you change? Ideas include:

  • The reason why you do this thing to begin with

  • The way in which the goal is measured

  • The group leader (if this is an independent project, see Option #2)

  • The format of the meetings

  • The responsibilities of everyone who is involved
Apathy is easy to diagnose but hard to treat, so there is no guarantee that Option #3 will work. For guarantees, do something easier.

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The First Day of Your Life

legacy-sunrise
Image of East Beach, Norfolk by shoebappa

Here’s something to consider:

Today is the first day of the rest of your life.

You’ve heard that before, right? Maybe it’s like Time Is Money – something we nod our heads to before we get back to all the stuff we have to do.

Hearing that today is a new, unique day at the beginning of a new week naturally implies both good news and bad news. In the spirit of realistic optimism, we’ll take the bad news first.

Bad News: You’ll never get today back. Once it’s gone, that’s it. On to tomorrow.

Good News: Right now, the day (and the whole week) is ahead of you. The choice is up to you: spend your time doing things that are unimportant or uninteresting to you, or spend it on things that move you closer to who and where you want to be.

It’s not much more complicated than that, although the actual implementation can sidetrack the best visionary or GTD guru. What can be done about this?

Today, the Beginning of Your New Life

On one hand, we have obligations and responsibilities. Not all of these bad – we have obligations to our loved ones, for example, that we would not want to break. The problem is that we tend to look at all obligations as non-negotiable requirements, when in fact many of them are unnecessary. We take them on because we like to be busy, we like to be needed, or because we’re not actually certain what we should be doing every day.

Instead of being completely mandatory, I’ve found that most plans can be canceled. Most obligations can be deferred without the world coming to an end. You really don’t have to do what other people expect you to all the time.

Some people think these kinds of metaphors are silly. I say, use whatever works for you. If motivation comes your way, take it. Don’t ask questions. There are enough skeptics out there already.

What if you know you’re on the wrong track?

I have one suggestion: change course as quickly as you can. Don’t wait. Someone said in the comments last week that complacency is like the “slow dying of the soul.” I couldn’t put it better myself. If the job is dead-end, if the college track isn’t working out, if you don’t like where you’re living, change it as quickly as possible.

Assuming you are on the right course, then the danger is more that you’ll be distracted by all the obligations and unrelated tasks that crop up along the way.

To combat this kind of resistance, answer these questions:

  • Is there one thing you can do today that goes beyond your regular to-do list?
  • Is there one thing you can do this week to work towards your 5-year goals?

  • Is there one way you can help someone that no one else is able to do?

If so, I suggest that’s how you spend your time this week. It rarely works out to 100% efficiency, but the two steps forward, one step back approach gets us to the finish line eventually. The power of a single action, or a single action for each question above, should not be underestimated.

And when you get there, you’ll have done more than fulfill obligations. You’ll have more than money, and more than a well-stamped time card. You’ll be able to say that today was the beginning, and this week was an exceptional seven days.

Are you ready?

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RSS Feed | Email Updates | A Brief Guide To World Domination

Unconventional Guides:

Working for Yourself: Creating Personal Freedom
Discount Airfare: Surviving Stress and Maximizing Fun

Did you enjoy this article? Please pass it on to others at StumbleUpon, or share your own thoughts in the comments section.

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