Your life: What will you do with the time you have left?

by Gary Gilles

Free course: Making Meaning AttachmentsThis is a question I’ve been asking myself lately. Perhaps you have been as well. It feels like a natural question to ask since I am at that stage of life where I’m clearly past the half-way point. While some are simply trying to hold on until “retirement” I’m asking how to eliminate retirement from my future plans. I want to use the experience, learning and insight I’ve gained thus far to continue doing things that matter.

While that sounds inspiring, the reality is that most of life is lived in the realm of the mundane where we are dogged by work hassles, financial pressure, parenting challenges, house maintenance and the ever present relationship problems that we all have to navigate to varying degrees. Finding your purpose and making a difference in the world can easily get buried in the landfill of daily life.

All things are not equal

In addition to doing therapy and writing I periodically teach college courses in psychology. Some students use the traditional yellow highlighter to mark important sections of their textbook for future reference. Occasionally I see a student’s textbook with virtually all of a chapter’s content marked in yellow highlight. This usually means the student considers everything he’s reading to be of high importance and worth remembering. But, if everything is equally important, nothing stands out as being of primary importance. Without an ability to distinguish between the primary, or the most important, from the secondary or less important, there is no effective way to study the material.

The same principle holds true for our lives. If we approach our days as if all of the items on our to-do list are of equal importance and the goal is just to get through the list, we are not separating the primary (what we truly value) from the secondary (the necessary but mundane) parts of life. Living life in the fast lane, which many of us do, makes it very difficult to live by our core values because it leaves little time or energy for reflection on what we are doing and why. Our behavior is largely driven by what we have to do instead of where we want to invest our best energy.

Value-driven behavior

Value-driven behavior is marked by deliberate choices that reflect closely-held values. No one completely escapes the mundane aspects of life. But someone with a value-driven life has clarity about their choices. When you are clear on your core values ( such as the people most important to you and the work you are passionate about) it becomes much easier to say yes to certain people and tasks and likewise to opt out of others.

Where are you on the grid of life?

I subscribe to a number of blogs that coincide with my interests. One that occasionally offers insightful ideas is waitbutwhy.com. In a recent post called “Your Life in Weeks,” they presented various grids of the human lifespan from birth to 90 years of age. I’ve copied one for you below. This grid highlights various stages of life and the approximate age the average person experiences them. The progression of years is measured vertically and the number of weeks for any given year is measured horizontally.

Now, for the reality check! Scroll down and find the year and week where you are living right now. Put your cursor on that dot and see how much life you’ve already lived. Now compare that with how many potential weeks you have left, assuming you live to at least 90 years of age. What is your response?

When I do this exercise, I find it sobering. I potentially have a lot less time ahead of me than I typically think. This infuses in me an urgency to become crystal clear on what I should be doing with my limited time and energy. I want to leverage my life experience to become even better at what matters to me most: those people I love and helping to bringing hope and healing to those who need it.

So, where are you in the grid? Do your daily choices line up with your stated values? If so, how could you leverage your expertise and experience to be even more effective at what you are passionate about as you age? If your values don’t line up with how you are choosing to spend your life, what would you like to change?

 

Weeks-block-LIFE1

Relationships are the hub of life

When we clear out the clutter in our lives, it is the relationships we hold close that mean the most to us. You know that, but in the busyness of daily life we can easily take these relationships for granted.

Use this exercise as a time to reflect on your most important relationships. Make your stated values line up with how you actually live. Don’t just say you value your family, live it out. Pursue your teen, listen more deeply to your spouse, be fully engaged when playing with your toddler, initiate those important conversations you’d like to have with your aging parent. It’s not more time that you need; it’s clarity of your values combined with deliberate choices. This value-driven lifestyle may lead to fewer items checked off your to-do list but it pays far more than it costs in the long run.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Donna Recine

I’m interested in what will I do with the rest of my life. I had some health issues that lasted 5 years are resolved. Now I’m 60 and its exactly where I’m at. I think about it alot.

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