Ed. Note – This is the first in a series of posts in which I’ll deal with the main purpose of this site: Life Design. The series will be an encapsulation of my thoughts on the subject, and the foundation for everything else that’s written here. You can find the entire series of posts here.
Designing a personal development plan is a very involved task. A designer will start out any project with some thought as to what he or she wants to accomplish, and then will lay out a plan to complete it. For example, an architect will begin the design process with the idea that he or she is going to design a building for a specific purpose (say, an office building). However, merely the thought of an “OFFICE BUILDING” isn’t comprehensive enough to provide all the information needed for the architect to complete the project. Specific uses of the space by the potential tenants of the building must be understood and planned for, as will the environment in which the building will reside. These and many other factors must be considered before the building plans are finalized. Planning is an intense process that requires a great deal of focus, concentration, clarity of purpose, and commitment to continue through the difficult portions.
Our lives can be thought of as buildings. If attention to detail is present during the planning phase, and ruthless commitment to carrying out those plans occurs during the building process, the final structure will be sound, aesthetically pleasing, and able to be used for the intended purposes of the designer. However, if the designer is haphazard in planning, or the builder doesn’t follow the plans to the letter, then you can run into a world of problems. The very best you can hope for in that situation is that the building stays up. It may be functional, but it certainly won’t be optimal. And, it’s very likely that at some point, the building will come crashing down.
You alone are the designer and builder of your life. No one can plan your life for you, and no one can take the steps needed to execute the personal development plan you’ve made. You’re in control. That thought can be tremendously liberating and heart-poundingly terrifying at the same time. And, as we all know, failing to plan is planning to fail. You can opt out of Life Design, if you’d like. You’ll just never be able to build the optimal life for you. The building analogy still holds here: if you have a skilled builder, he or she may be able to cobble together a functional shelter without plans. It won’t be great, it’ll cost a lot more than you originally planned, and it won’t be pretty from some angles, but it’ll work. Wouldn’t it be easier to just take the time to develop a set of plans?
The first thing that has to occur is the determination of your values. From the values you hold will flow your life’s vision, or the concept of how you want your life to play out. Some people can list what their values are off the top of their head, but most folks would have a tough time doing it immediately.
So, let’s take some time to determine those priorities, shall we? Take out a pen and a piece of paper (you should do this tangibly, not on a screen), and write down ten or twelve (or however many you can think of) things that are important to you in your life. Examples could be: “family”, “friends”, “baseball”, “the environment”. Seriously, write down anything and everything you possibly can think of that’s important to you. I’ll wait here.
Okay, you’re back? Good. Now, take this list, and find a quiet place. You’re going to have to do something that might reveal some things to you about yourself that you didn’t know. I want you to take the first two items on the list and think about which one is more important to you. Once you’ve picked the winner, move on to the next two and do the same thing. As you’re doing this, make a list of the winners. Once you complete the original list, do the same with the new list you’ve created, and so on, until you boil your values down to the top one or two. You need to make sure you’ve not eliminated a potential value that would have beaten out a pair of values farther down the list. I wouldn’t go so far as to seed your values, NCAA tournament-style, but you get the idea.
You know what? You might have found out that “family” isn’t really as important to you as some other things in your life. Some things that society tells you should rank higher on you list might not. That’s why we do this exercise in secret. It’s so important to be brutally honest at this stage, because we’re trying to get at the heart of what makes you, you. Your values are your values, and I’m not here to judge them. If you personally think your priorities are out of whack when you do this exercise, then it’s up to you to fix that however you deem necessary. I don’t care what they are, I just want you to know what they are so you can move forward with your own personal development plans.
Here’s another thing about priorities: you can only hold one or two at a time, but they can change. Not willy-nilly or without a lot of consideration as to the consequences of that change, but they might. For example, let’s say you have a small child or two in your home right now. One of your priorities may be your children at this juncture in your life. However, as they age and move out of the house, you may find that they don’t play as prominent a role in decisions you make as to how you allocate your time and resources. They’re still important to you, but other priorities may have superseded them now.
I want you to take some time and really focus on the priorities that came out of the exercise you did. Do they resonate with you as you keep thinking about them throughout the next few days? If you need to do the exercise a few times, that’s okay. Sometimes people end up with answers they don’t really feel are representative of who they are, or they don’t like what they see. If that’s you, and you feel like you need to adjust your priorities, then do that. Make sure you get to a place where you are comfortable with the picture your priorities paint of you. Just don’t lie to yourself.
photo courtesy: David Paul Ohmer