I had a conversation with a young person recently. Totally equipped, gifted and awesome at a particular talent, the opportunity came to compete in it. The response of this young person captures my heart. “That is not what I want to be” was the response and turned away. Wow! Turning down the opportunity of a “lifetime.” Why was it turned down? Because the thought of the future was bigger.
Too frequently we look at our natural gifting or talent and we pursue the path because we are good at it. Let me just say I am thankful Moses turned away from shepherding. That Gideon accepted the voice of God. That even Jesus stepped out of heaven into earth.
I had a friend who I had known from kindergarten. He and I played ball together. He was not brilliant, but not dumb. He thought by year two of high school, football was his pathway. He was great even amazing. Teachers began to let him slide. Opportunities began to open. He changed his mind about his career. High school ended and so did his sojourn of being on top. (Life was different then. There was no Youtube or Facebook to promote our latest song or undertaking.) No one took up his cross or carried him. He entered the workforce. I recently heard that he ended 40 years of doing the same thing over and over, and never progressed or succeeded at anything else.
Life is and always will be about choices. Choices will always be predicated on priorities you have previously established and the filters you employ to let what you want in and keep what you do not, out. Let me expound on this for a moment.
A priority. Merriam’s defines this as the quality or state of being prior; superiority in rank, position, or privilege; a preferential rating; especially : one that allocates rights to goods and services usually in limited supply; something given or meriting attention before competing alternatives. What this means, is that my future is my priority. I do things daily that lead me toward opportunity, future betterment, destiny and legacy.
A filter. It is defined as something that has the effect of a filter (as by holding back elements or modifying the appearance of something). Just as my email reader filters email to boxes; personal, business, spam, so does a filter in life separate necessary from frivolous.
When you look at where you want to be, what you want to build, you begin to develop filters. From these filters you establish priorities. My young friend, as great as the opportunity before them, had already “installed” filters based on what God was saying to them. The result was priority.
Priority is not and will not always be fun. If your goal is to be rich or successful in a field, you may be forced to make sacrifices that others may not. Dave Ramsey, a famous author and radio host said this, “If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.” His point being your friends and family may get to go away a lot now, but if you build a plan of financial freedom, you will be able to do all that and more down the road.
Because we have developed an instant, microwave society, we often put aside the things that will be important in the future. Sacrificial living is not popular these days. (Did you read that Parker Brothers changed Monopoly to make it faster? Honestly, it goes fast if you play by the rules. For instance, you do not have the option of not buying the property you land on and leaving it in the deck. You must buy it or it goes to auction. Highest bid wins.)
The keys? Develop priorities. Design filters. What do you want to be? Where do you want to go? What do you want to do?
1. Choose your values. Your values are what you hold near and dear to you. They can be principles, standards or beliefs that you find most worthwhile. You probably already have a core set of beliefs that guide you. Think about what is most important to you.
Values are usually fairly stable, yet they don’t have strict limits or boundaries. Also, as you move through life, your values may change. For example, when you start your career, success – measured by money and status – might be a top priority. But after you have a family, work-life balance may be what you value more.
As your definition of success changes, so do your values. This is why keeping in touch with your values is a lifelong exercise. You should continuously revisit this, especially if you start to feel unbalanced… and you can’t quite figure out why.
As you go through this stage, bear in mind that values that were important in the past may not be relevant now.
2. Analyze your values, interests, and skills. Are there things that have influenced your thinking and behavior? Think about what you enjoy and what you’re good at. What about the skills you’ve learned from full- or part-time jobs, volunteer experiences, or school and social activities. There could be a connection between your activities and skills and your values. Will any of these skills help you get where you want to go?
3. Set realistic goals. To make your dream future your reality, set some reasonable, short-term and long-term goals for yourself based on your top values. You’re more likely to get where you want to go if you set a goal and commit yourself to it. To increase your chances of success even further:
- Choose some logical steps toward your goal.
- Take each step and fill out the details. Include the what, when, where and how for each step.
- Now it’s time for action. Do your plan.
- Keep your plan close by, so you can see how each action step is working and make improvements to the plan as you go.
4. Do some research. Think about your dream job, and then learn more about it. Find out how other people in that field developed the career you want. Do a job shadow. Go to work with someone to find answers to questions like these:
- What kind of training, education and skills are required?
- What are the real-life work conditions, the work environment and the work schedule?
- What are the likely rewards (for example, salary, fringe benefits, room to grow, retirement plans)?
- Are these rewards important to you?
- Would other rewards be more important to you?
Based on the work you’ve just done, define your life mission and start living it with every decision you make. Soon you’ll be able to look back and see how far you’ve come.
My young friend is doing this. Establishing what is wanted makes it easier to put aside that which is not.
Establish your priorities
Once you know your mission, be brutally honest with yourself: Are the activities that take up most of your time really moving you towards your goals? If not, it is time to set some priorities that support your goals, and make sure they get plenty of your time and attention.
Time is a precious commodity; basically, you use it or lose it. The good news is that we all have the same amount of time every day, so use it to your advantage. Since there will always be plenty of diversions to distract you from your goals, practice staying in the driver’s seat when it comes to time management. Remember putting off for tomorrow the things you can do today is procrastination. Procrastination is wasted energy.
Here are some time management tools that can bring a sigh of relief to your busy life.
- Use task lists and a calendar to manage school, family, and social responsibilities. You have enough important facts and figures to remember right now without committing your ongoing calendar to memory. Use a time management tool to coordinate all of your daily, weekly, monthly tasks, obligations, social events, tests –and anything that is important for you to do.
- Understand the difference between important and urgent. Important tasks must be done; urgent tasks must be done NOW. Some things can be taken care of tomorrow, later this week, or next week. Really!
- Work with your natural rhythm, not against it. Everyone has specific periods of peak productivity, so capitalize on your best time of day. If you’re a morning person, plan to tackle the most difficult tasks before lunch. Likewise, if you’re a night owl, don’t force yourself to study or work on complicated projects until late afternoon or evening.
- Accept that you just can’t do everything. Don’t be a popularity addict. It may feel good in the moment to be “in demand,” but wouldn’t it feel even better to achieve the life you really want? Limit your commitments by choosing activities that you truly enjoy and are consistent with your goals. Practice saying no without feeling guilty; the mastery of the tactful decline is a skill that will come in handy throughout your life!
- Take care of yourself by paying attention to your physical, emotional and financial health. The same rules still apply: eat well, get plenty of sleep, exercise regularly, and build time into your schedule for relaxation. Take proper care of your body and it will take care of you. Remember that stress, although it can’t be seen, can cause a lot of damage – don’t overtax your emotions with too many commitments. Also, pay attention to your financial health as well. Be realistic about your money, create a realistic budget and stick to it. Using a spending plan to control your finances can actually feel great– it’s empowering. Develop that muscle of determined discipline, and watch how it drives you towards your goals.
It does not matter how old you are or where you are at. Building priorities and filters will help you become at what you want to be and what you want to do. It is never too late to start to build.
In my own life, I leave myself space for the “whatever” time. These are additional times with my wife, children or friends or just times to kick back. If you are unfamiliar with how to do this, find a friend who is at good at it and probe their mind and help. And if you “fail” get back on the train!
Legacy is the process of developing something that is life giving and eternal for the generations to come. It is more than inheritance. Your priority design will incorporate that which is to come.