A while ago I read an article called “How to live wisely” and like a good book or movie, I have found myself thinking back on it at various times since then. The article is about a short course “Reflecting on your life” offered at a few universities in the US that give first year students the opportunity to think about the direction they want to head with their life/career.
So what does it mean to live wisely, or to have a happy/content/good life? The course poses a few questions to help students work out what this may look like for them. I don’t think I gave any real thought to my life’s direction as an 18 year old university student, I was too caught up in just being in the moment to give something like the future much consideration. And while I am well past the age of 18 and my university days, I think these questions continue to have relevance to me today, particularly in the context of career development and navigating life changes.
There’s no wrong or right answer and I suspect your answers to them may change over a life time.
1. The first exercise in the course is to write a list of how you want to spend your time, what matters to you, what you want to devote your time and energy to. Then make a list of how you actually spend your time. Now compare the two. I think this can lead to a couple of outcomes, one, you have a nice overlap – (really? this happens!), or you discover a fair bit of disparity, I didn’t list Netflix miniseries as how I want to spend my time but turns out it’s how I do spend a fair bit of it! Or perhaps how you actually spend your time will reveal something about your where your true passions lie, a new career path to consider?
I liked it because although there are quite a few things on the list that I would like to spend my time doing that clearly I just don’t, it does make you more aware of your choices. To be more conscious about how you choose to spend your time, whether that is doing something on your list or not, owning that decision and then enjoying it!
2. Another question is about core values and when these come in to conflict. What do you stand for, believe in and value and what happens when they don’t align. For example now that I’m a mother and wanting to grow my business it’s a dilemma I often encounter. Family and quality time with them especially while they are young is very important to me but this can often come in to conflict with other things that are important like developing my career and business. Being aware of these values and more importantly where the conflicts arise I think might help me make better or at least more conscious choices. Unfortunately this article only poses the questions and doesn’t give any answers!
3. The last one is my favourite, it tells the story of a happy fisherman living a simple life catching some fish for a few hours each day, enough to feed his family, sell a few and live a relaxed happy life spending the rest of each day with his family. Now a businessman comes along and explains to him how he could actually turn his fishing in to a thriving business, earning lots of money and in the process create jobs for other locals, donate money and food to impoverished villagers thus making a big difference to the lives of many. After building this company and making a significant impact he could retire to a well off life enjoying time with his family, giving them all sorts of opportunities and relaxing. What would you do?
As with all the questions there is no right or wrong answer but I think this is a particularly relevant question to growing a business or re-assessing your career and direction in life. Are you content with a modest career that gives you lots of time and flexibility to focus on other things that you value, like family and hobbies? Or is it important to you to make a bigger impact, beyond yourself and your circle, perhaps even make the world a better place in some way. Does this decision align with your core values and what happens if it leads to a lot of conflict – what price are you willing to pay? For me the answer is somewhere in between and will probably change with time.
I have a paraphrased a lot here, it’s well worth reading the actual article here.