This one is a bit of a departure from my typical article topics.
Recently I wrote a book about what I call “good-enough contentment.” It’s an allegory about a forty-something man who is unhappy with his life. After a magical train ride, he learns to define what contentment means in nine areas of his life: career, family, health, friendships, finances, leisure, spirituality, giving, and legacy. Writing the story caused me to look back at my own life--the things I did well and the many mistakes I made. It inspired me to write about nine nuggets that I wish I could go back in time to tell my younger self. Some I would have done the same all over again, others radically different. All, however, are worth putting down in writing to spur your thinking about things you need to start, stop, or continue.
Here they are:
Career: Your career can’t take the place of family, health, leisure, and friendships – In the movie The Family Man, Nicholas Cage’s character is a hard-charging investment banker who gets to see what his life would have been like as a middle-class husband and father. He comes to realize that there’s much more to life than business. By all means, continue to vigorously pursue your career aspirations, but not at the expense of other important areas of your life.
Family: Don’t squander memories – My father worked very hard as a baker; so much so that he missed out on many family events. In his last years he told me how he regretted missing so many events and milestones with my five siblings and me. Don’t look back on your life regretting not being there for the memory makers.
Health: If you don’t decide to take care of yourself, the decision will be made for you – I had an emotional breakdown at age 30 due to running myself ragged both mentally and physically. I thought I could just keep pushing and tough things out. Wrong. I had no choice but to stop and make some changes to get myself healthy again. If you don’t focus on taking care of your health, something out of your control will happen to force you into action.
Friendships: Have a couple of friends who would help you out at 2 am, no questions asked – Recently I was on vacation when a tenant in our rental property called and said the washing machine wasn’t working. I was 3,000 miles away and couldn’t get there, so I called a dear friend who was at the rental in 30 minutes and addressed the problem. Having a couple of close friends you can rely on to help you out of a jam is worth gold. Being someone your friend can rely on is just as important.
Finances: No one cares about your finances more than you – When I graduated from college, I bought three books on investing. Those books formed the foundation for my investing discipline. At times, though, I let others who didn’t have my best interests at heart manage investments on my behalf. Now I manage every dollar myself and keep current on investment strategies. Putting your money in the hands of a paid advisor will ensure bread is put on his or her table along with your money. Do as much of this on your own as you can.
Leisure: Work/life balance means slowing down, not speeding up – I’ve known way too many people who worked 60+ hours during the week only to cram “life” activities in the weekend. They had work/life balance, but it was achieved by running 100 miles per hour. Leisure time should include time to relax and recharge, so use at least some of it to rest, and be careful about trying to fit too many things into your life.
Spirituality: Walk the talk on your beliefs – Whatever your spiritual beliefs (mine are Christian), don’t be a Jekyll and Hyde in what you say and what you do. Cursing up a storm in meetings during the work week then heading into church on Sunday just doesn’t square. It’s not about judging your belief system; it’s more about ensuring your actions align to your beliefs.
Giving: Give out of love, not out of convenience or obligation – My son loves to cook. He regularly volunteers to cook and deliver meals to families in need. He loves to give of his time and money to help families who need a hot meal enjoy his cooking. The quantity and type of giving is up to you, just do it out of love and enjoy the gratification you get in return.
Legacy: Live to your eulogy – A number of years ago I created a personal purpose statement. After a lot of soul searching, I came up with: I will work to help others to help themselves and not simply enable them. When I die, I want people to say three words at my funeral: He helped me. If you have a personal purpose or mission statement, live it. If you don’t have one, a book like The Purpose Driven Life might be helpful.
My hope is that you, my readers, might be able to glean something from my nine life lessons. If I help you do or think differently about some aspect of your life, then mission accomplished. Thank you for helping me live out my purpose statement.
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