It is probably a function of the time of year (and my age), but I have had more discussions lately with friends about retirement. “When do you think you’ll quit working?”, “What’s the latest advice on when to start taking social security?” “What will you do with your time?”. This often leads to a conversation where folks share their detailed plans for “life’s third act”, as Jane Fonda would say (Check out her terrific TED Talk here http://www.ted.com/talks/jane_fonda_life_s_third_act?language=en)
This has me thinking about where we focus our attention when we make our plans. Of course there is real value in planning for our financial wellbeing when we stop getting a regular paycheck. And yes, it is a great idea to have a sense of what we would like to do day to day when we lose the time boundaries of a regular job. These emphasize the what and how and are often categorized as the “what will help me sleep at night” plans. What I am becoming more and more interested in are the broader questions about the intentions that are connected to our plans and if we even take those into consideration at all.
A few years ago, I had a conversation with some women I admire who are a bit older than me. I chose them to speak with because when I thought of them I’d say to myself, “I want to be like her when I am her age”. I asked them to talk about their inner life, if they feel enhanced by age and what they know now that they wished they had known when they were younger. As you might imagine, useful insights were provided and it helped me greatly as I considered the work I needed to do on myself if I were ever to be able to move about in the world as these women do.
As I considered the characteristics that I wanted to cultivate, I asked myself this question, “How do I want to see myself and how do I hope others see me?” This was no easy task and since I need visuals in order to think and stay on track, I created a 4X3 grid and wrote a characteristic in each box. These included things like ‘at ease‘, ‘trusted‘, supportive and helpful‘, etc. (there are 12 in total and I would be happy to share my grid with you it you are interested in creating one for yourself). I then added a few words that described a bit more what each one meant to me. For instance, in the Supportive/Helpful box I wrote “Speaking up bravely when I need to; offering my time and talent when it will benefit others”. I try to use this as something of a guide when I start planning where I want to go and how I want to get there. I am regularly amazed at how helpful it is to connect with this grid, even when making what seems like relatively small planning decisions. For instance, one of the characteristics I have that I would like to cultivate is Creativity – discover my gifts and offer them freely. Try new things regularly. An easy example of how I am trying to cultivate this was my participation in a painting class this fall (this confirmed what I already knew which is that I might want to just hope to be reincarnated with some artistic ability in my next life, because I don’t think I have enough time in this one) But, I also try something easier by attempting a new recipe for dinner each week.
Big or small plans benefit from considering the why? Why do you want to spend your time and energy doing this? And if it’s not connected to something on your grid, you may want to think again. Time is precious, we know this. Perhaps we would all benefit from making our decisions about how we want to spend it by acting like we believe it.
I don’t set off without a plan. I consider the results I want to achieve first, then choose the surface and underpainting method that will help me get there.