What are your priorities in life? I imagine that you will include family, friends, health, success or purpose, and ultimately to be happy. But does your calendar and the way you live your life truly reflect this?
A few months ago I was browsing through my LinkedIn feed and was stopped in my tracks by a post I saw. It showed a man in a hospital bed. He had been feeling unwell at home and then had a heart attack. He commented that the first thought that came into his head as the pain worsened was that he was going to miss a work meeting the next day.
What was interesting about my reaction to this was that a part of me thought ‘Yeah, I get it.’ Because for most of my career, my initial reaction would have been something similar.
I thought of this story again in May this year, just after my own father had died. I had essentially put my own life on hold for three months, spending time in Manchester looking after him. Although of course I was devastated when he passed away, those three months were a gift.
They allowed me to spend more time with him than I had in decades, say all we wanted to each other and although undoubtedly the short-term pain was greater, over time I know it will help alleviate the regrets that we all have when we lose someone. But why did I wait until those final few months? If he had died suddenly six months earlier how much more regret would I have felt.
We don’t like to think about mortality until it is right in front of us. And then perhaps we stop and reflect. We may change our priorities. We may do things differently. We may appreciate the time we have left.
Getting it wrong
I was a trader for 25 years. I worked long hours and yet that rarely felt sufficient. I would check my blackberry all evening to see how the markets were doing. I would go on holiday and instead of sitting by the pool with a good book or play with the kids, I would be looking at the trades being done on my book and worrying about whether I was missing out on any opportunities to create some more P&L.
Thinking about this now makes me feel very sad. I have three children, two of whom are now in their 20s and one who is 17. How much quality time did I miss with them because I was focussing on the wrong priority? With hindsight, all those evenings and holidays spent checking the markets probably made very little difference to my career. What I did miss out on was being truly present with my family at the most precious time that we have as adults: seeing our children in their formative years.
But even if you do not have children, how much time do you spend getting the balance right? Feeling truly present, enjoying the moment and not ruminating about the past or worrying about the future? The story goes, that when we are on our death beds we don’t wish that we had spent more time in the office. That seems so obvious but unfortunately, the fact is that a lot of people will end up regretting how much time they did, to the detriment of time with family and friends or just doing the things that create lasting memories.
You have the power to change how you live your life
But here’s the thing. You can act on this now. Whatever stage of life you are at, you have the power to choose how you live your life. You can choose how to create a life that will enable you to reduce those regrets.
Work/life balance has been put into focus by the impact of Covid — more time spent at home and a general reassessment of the necessity of spending so much time in the office or thinking about work. But lasting change requires action.
Disraeli wrote that “Action may not always bring happiness but there is no happiness without action.” So what stops us from taking these actions? I read somewhere recently that most people choose unhappiness over uncertainty and that really is the crux. We have a fear of change and would rather stay in the comfort of what we do now, even if it isn’t working. But perhaps it’s that we just don’t know how to even begin this process and so we need the help of a thinking partner to give us the space to find our answers.
My wake-up moment came when my daughter fell ill. Despite the incredible despair we as parents felt during the whole episode it was my catalyst to do something different. If it had not happened then I would just have coasted along in my old career, continuing to feel the frustrations that I felt and rarely being present at home.
There is a lot of research that shows that only when something life-changing happens to us or those close to us, do we begin to examine how we are living our lives. Fundamentally it is a realisation of our own mortality, that we have a limited time on this planet and that we only get one shot at it. But why wait for events to lead us by the hand?
How do you want to look back on your life?
When I am working with clients one of the early exercises that I ask them to do is to write a letter from an older version of themselves looking back on their life and what they have achieved. It is very powerful. It shows the gap between how they want to look back on their life and their current timetable. What are they not doing enough of, what are they doing too much of and what needs to change?
As I mentioned in my previous article, sometimes we just need to take a step back and reflect. We tell ourselves stories about why we do what we do but often the narrative begins to crumble when put under the spotlight. The only thing stopping living a more authentic life, one that we will look back upon with a smile on our face, is us. Change is always possible.
So the question is why wait? What is stopping you from taking some time out to think about what your current priorities are and what you actually would like them to be. How do you want to look back on your life? With a smile on your face or with a sense that you should have done things differently.
If you would like a conversation on how you can start to make these changes then please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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