Setting Priorities for the Future-You

The true delight is in the finding out rather than in the knowing.

-Isaac Asimov

There are a ton of things you are juggling all at once right now, and an amazing amount of pressure is on you to make sure you don’t drop even one. If you were to drop something, it feels like it might just be the catastrophic end of the world. One of the worst feelings in the world is that of letting someone else down, especially one of your children. With all of this pressure, it is difficult to even consider adding another thing to your plate. It may be fine to continue to do what you are doing, maintaining the “status quo” of juggling all of these things that have now become your whole life. But, keep in mind that there will come a time that the things you are juggling will no longer be the priorities anymore. When that day comes, do you want to be left (likely in middle-age) just STARTING to sort out who YOU are?

At some point, your family will have grown to the point where they don’t need the same things from you any longer. When you get to that point, it would be a shame to find out that, after all the time you have invested in those around you, you don’t even recognize yourself any longer. What were those hopes and dreams you had before? What was it you enjoyed doing again? What kind of hobbies brought joy into your life before? Do you still have the abilities you had back then to do those things well now? Most of the time, we find that we have LOST our connection to what makes us happy by giving all of our time and effort to others.

As we age, our likes and dislikes change very naturally. Usually, though, there are a few activities that really help bring you back to your center. Writing, reading, learning, teaching, painting, bowling, martial arts, playing a musical instrument, pottery, or even knitting are all the kinds of things that often we learn how to do in our youth, but quit doing while we are giving all of ourselves to others. When we come to the point where no one is asking for our every second, we find that we have lost our prowess at these skills. We find that our bodies and our minds are no longer properly trained to do these things that make us happy. When we are not physically or mentally ready, these things that used to bring us so much happiness now cause incredible frustration. Muscle memory has disappeared for your favorite dance moves or you can’t recall how to do your favorite stitch… If, instead, you were able to at least “dabble” in the activity over all of that time, you would be much better prepared to dive in and hit the ground running once you are able to come up for air after raising your family.

It is a form of self-care to maintain your abilities to do these things. And, in this world full of a take-take-take attitude, it is also teaching your family how to navigate life in a healthy way… that it is important to stay true to themselves and to make time to do things that they love. It will also create a life full of meaningful time, less likely to slip past unnoticed. Similar to that odd feeling you get when you are driving home from work and realize you have no idea how you got this far without being conscious of your driving efforts, you don’t want to “wake up” in life already at your destination. It is absolutely worth noticing every moment that passes in your life. When it gets to the point where it has become monotonous and personally uninspiring, you may find that the time is disappearing from your consciousness… That is when you know for sure that you have lost your center. Life has too many amazing things to offer for this to ever happen to you.

If you never really found anything in your younger years that brought you to this center, you should take some time to start searching for what you enjoy now! It adds interest and depth to a life that can be very stressful and repetitive. You do not need to dedicate a lot of time, maybe one hour per week, to this goal.* You wanted to finish your college degree? Take one class, and then when that class is done, take another one. You will be thrilled when the juggling stops and you find that you are so near, or possibly even finished, with that goal. Want to play your instrument again? Get it out and practice one scale each day. You will shake off the cobwebs, start getting your groove back, and possibly even spike some interest in your little ones.

This post is a challenge to its readers. Find one anchor that can help you keep in touch with your center… what makes you “who you are”. What is something that you can do to retain your “self” even during all of the chaos?

*Of course, more is usually better! If you can set aside 15 minutes per day (that adds up to under two hours per week) you can really stay in touch with your center! It’s time well spent. Don’t feel like you have to “finish” anything during this time…. Instead of it just being a quick-fix and then going right back to the grind of life, let your “project” breath and have space in your life!

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Design your Life – You have the Power to Choose

“Things do not happen. Things are made to happen.”

-John F. Kennedy

One of the most wonderful elements of being human is that we have the power of conscious choice. By not using that power, we limit our potential in countless ways. It seems that many people do not realize that they are choosing to live life in a way that is more stressful than it should be. It seems that most people function at a constant level of baseline stress caused by financial issues. For all of the stress that we have to deal with on a day-to-day basis, a huge improvement to our lives can be achieved by shifting this baseline stress level down to the lowest point possible. Here are a few quick tricks that you can use to improve your baseline stress levels today.

Categorize your spending and set up your banking system to work for you.

Most people dump their earnings into a checking account at the bank, then proceed to spend that money on their bills and daily wants and needs. Then, at the end of the month, they look at their account to see what they have left to “save” and usually there is nothing left. This becomes a backwards form of “proof” that they are not making enough money to save anything. This “system” of spending money is NOT designed to get you to a better position in life. This is the treadmill of living paycheck to paycheck, and it is incredibly stressful. Instead, take some time to design a spending system that WILL bring you to a better place in life.

Start by deciding how much you would like to save each pay period. For this example, we will consider 10% of your income should be saved (maybe towards a down-payment on a house, purchasing a better car, building your emergency fund, or whatever next step will bring joy into your life). Treat this money like a BILL instead of as an afterthought. When your paycheck goes into your checking account, you must pay THAT BILL FIRST!

Now that you have paid the most important bill first, you should separate the remaining funds into two categories, money for bills and money for living. The easiest way to differentiate these funds is by having TWO checking accounts… one that has an ATM card attached to it and one that does NOT have an ATM card attached. (While bank cards are not ideal, they will limit your spending to what you have earned as long as you tell your bank to refuse over-drafting the account. This is better, by far, than spending on a credit card before you have complete control of your finances.) The account that has NO ATM card is your major bills account. Deposit into that account the exact amount of funds that you spend on your monthly bills. (Not having the ATM card will mean that you cannot accidentally spend the money set aside for bills for any reason.) For example, if your rent is $1000 per month and you are paid twice per month, each payday you would transfer $500 to your bills checking account in order to satisfy the rent for the month. Do this calculation with each major bill (auto insurance, car payment, telephone bill, child care costs, etc, etc.) and do one transfer to the bills checking account for that amount each pay day. Since these expenses stay consistent in most cases, you can set up an automatic transfer of these amounts on payday. The amount that is left after the bill funds are sent is the amount that you can spend. (Remember, you saved for yourself FIRST, so there is no stress with spending what remains.) If there isn’t a lot left, start looking at where you can make adjustments in those major bills (like maybe you can cut the cable bill, find a better phone deal, trade your car for something that doesn’t need a payment or full coverage insurance) and that will free up more cash for groceries, gas, and other things you would like to buy

Spend only what you can afford (the money you have already earned.)

Once you have the system working in your favor, you will find that your needs have been prioritized over the needs of the rest of the world. You are choosing to take care of yourself. In order to get ahead in life, it is necessary to put your financial life first. Now you are saving for your future goals. Make sure you are not spending money on credit cards and running up a balance! If you do not make enough money to live on right now, your options are either to earn more money or to cut your spending. There is no option of putting your wants and needs on a credit card when you cannot afford them. You will have to practice delayed gratification instead, saving money to get what you want. It is usually possible to get creative when you really want something specific (maybe a night out at a restaurant) but you don’t have the money for it. You can sell something you don’t need anymore, work some overtime, find a temporary part-time gig, or wait until the next pay period when you will have enough funds. If you give in to your wants without funding them first, you will always be digging a deeper financial hole that causes stress. You can choose to avoid this hole completely by only spending what you have already earned

Choose an internal dialog that supports your future goals.

You are making a choice to improve your future. This is a life goal and you should be very proud of your choice! Sometimes it can be hard when you see how the rest of the world lives by getting everything they want instantly. Remember, almost all of those people are living with a terrible baseline level of stress because of the financial hole they are digging. You are making a better choice. You will live in a more relaxed state of mind when you have control over where your funds are. You are saving for yourself because you are a priority. You may come across some moments that try to derail this plan… Maybe all of your friends are talking about the new tech gadget they just bought and you are feeling sorry for yourself because you don’t have the cash leftover to get it right now. Remember, when these moments come up, you can rephrase the issue… You deserve to have less financial stress in your life. You deserve to have your own future in mind. You deserve to feel the accomplishment of reaching your life’s bigger goals. You don’t deserve stress and anxiety about how you are going to pay your bills. You don’t deserve the physical manifestations and ailments that come with stress (like hypertension and illness). You don’t deserve to be worried about small emergencies. Making choices like not having the latest gadgets gives you what you deserve, and avoids the pitfalls of what you do not deserve. It gives you control.

All of this is already within your power. You don’t need to buy anything or wait for anything. Set up your accounts to work for you now. Set up your life to get you where you are going. Set your mind to rephrase any negativity that harnessing this new power might create. You will be proud of your choices. When your friends are stressed out about small emergencies, like having their car breakdown suddenly, you will know that if the same thing happened to you, you would have it covered! And you won’t be digging yourself any deeper or adding any stress to your life by going into debt.

Define Yourself

“Our past may shape us, but it doesn’t define us.”

– Alyson Noel, Night Star
Photo by Garidy Sanders on Unsplash

It is the nature of people as a whole to try to sort our world into simple, logical boxes.  This process allows all of the crazy aspects of the world to be simplified and quickly processed and understood, and it is the reason for our tendency to make snap-judgments. These judgments are used to sift through what has already been painstakingly learned through an individual’s collective experiences to help ease the way into the future.  It means that each new person met or experience encountered is automatically categorized to be “like” the most similar person or experience dealt with previously, creating morphed little caricatures of the actuality.  This is incredibly unfair to those who you meet and judge while knowing nearly nothing about them, but it is also unfair to YOU, since even YOU are being shoved into little category boxes by every person you encounter.  How you are superficially perceived by the world has almost nothing to do with your own actions. The concept is very odd and unsettling.

Not until there is a great deal of time invested on learning about a specific person are you able to lift the veil of these snap judgements and misinterpretations to meet the actual person on their own accord. Even after you know someone very well and have devoted endless hours on this learning quest, you may not be able to grasp the reason for decisions they make. It is a wonder that professional therapists and counselors can gain workable insights, and assign life-changing labels, in an hours’ time spent in sporadic sessions once per month or less. Certainly, these professionals are able to follow guidelines and make practical suggestions that may fit an appropriate criterion, but to really get to the heart of an issue, one must KNOW the participants intimately, not superficially. This is where the disconnect begins, because who can possibly know you intimately enough to truly define you?

It seems to be that the only people who can define you are those that you allow close enough.  Even then, they will still have a disconnect. Having not grown up AS you, they cannot possibly have every bit of seemingly unimportant facts needed to understand you.  That leaves only ONE person who is capable of defining you, and that, of course, is YOU yourself.  Having passed through this short thought experiment, it seems like you should probably take the job of defining yourself very seriously.  Your opinion of yourself is truly the only one that matters.  Others will come and go in your life, bringing and taking away with them their judgments. Leaving out all of those other people’s verdicts, you can grasp the task of self-definition with your full attention! What a better place to start than with this amount of self-proclaimed power!

Photo by Lopez Robin on Unsplash

Decide who you want to be and make it happen. With each decision, you are making that meaning of your life clearer.  Many people make bad decisions without realizing that life is a result of stringing together decisions. If you string together too many bad ones, you create a bad life.  If you string together all good choices, you have naturally created a good life.  Even if the world throws the inevitable curve-ball at your creation, a well-practiced decision-making muscle can guide you past the obstacles while keeping your identity as a good person intact.

This concept begs another question.  If you are the only person who can truly define your life, and life is a combination of the choices that you have decided to make, then perhaps there are no “good” or “bad” people in this world, but instead only people who have made good or bad decisions.  Bad decisions are made when someone does not realize that they have the power to define themselves. Knowledge is truly power when this realization is internalized. Move forward through life and, when a decision must be made, consider that it is a chance for you to flex the power you have; a chance to define and solidify who you truly are to the only person who actually matters.

Weaving your Legacy

I would like to be remembered as someone who did the best she could with the talent she had.

J.K. Rowling

          You are the artist of your own beautiful tapestry.  Each day is a thread in the weave.   You are able to choose the colors and textures used, but ultimately, outside influences cause the piece to bend and weave its way over obstacles.  As with any art, the true beauty of the finished piece cannot be seen until its completion.  Only at the end of our lives can we see the full picture we have created.  The intent of the artist is sometimes realized, but often, the subtleties and mistakes, the twists and turns, the dropped stitches left unfixed in the piece create its true character, personality, and beauty. 

          The mistakes that youth ensures we all make are bound into your piece. Looking over your partially completed (hopefully nowhere near finished!) tapestry, you can see the tears, joy, fear, hardship, disappointment, and the triumph that each thread represents.  As time passes and age sets it, reflecting on our past decisions is customary.  Looking at how you have gotten to this exact place at this time in your life, you are forced to look back at the choices and definition in the work you have done in your life already. 

          Regardless of who you choose to share your life and time with, your personal tapestry will be independent of all of them in the end. You will not be able to point at the beautiful colors in your parents works, your partners work, or your children’s work… You will only have YOUR work left as your representation.  Do not make the mistake of putting all of your time and energy toward creating beauty for others at the cost of your own! Instead, show them how to live by showing them the beauty you are creating, thread by bold thread, choice by clear choice!  Show them how beautiful life can be when you take charge and create it; defiantly working around the twists and turns, ups and downs, through moments demanding patience and tolerance juxtaposed with those instances requiring sharpness and focus.

           As the artist, what colors are you choosing? This piece of art is who you have been, who YOU ARE, and who you will become; how your family is perceiving you now, and how future generations will remember you.  Are your color choices forlorn, full of greys and subtlety, indecisive changes, or are they the bold and commanding colors with clear intent?  In a world full of subtlety, do you feel comfortable enough in who you are to find and highlight the parts of you that make you different from everyone else?  Live a life of love and boldness! Ensure the world will know that you did it!

Education is THE WAY

“I do not know how I may seem to others, but to myself I am only a small child wandering upon the vast shores of knowledge, every now and then finding a small bright pebble to be contented with.” 

Plato
Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Do not be fooled by the title of this post! In no way am I suggesting that formal education is the only way to happiness.  There are many paths that can lead to a happy destination in your life.  Certainly, in some cases, a formal education is a wonderful way to reach your goals! Informal education is what I am suggesting.

Let’s think about it.  There are a countless number of things YOU DON’T KNOW yet.  There are an equally countless number of things that I DON’T KNOW yet, and that every person you walk by DOESN’T KNOW yet.   Those things are different for every single individual born into this world.  Until we have the luxury of Matrix-style plug-n-play learning modules, we are in charge of searching for and learning the things we don’t know.

If you are fortunate enough to live in a country that mandates education, guaranteeing availability to education through high school, then you have been exposed to a lot of topics and concepts by the time you are a young adult. While we are in school, our arranged “school system” tells us what we need to learn.  This is formal education, and it is a wonderful system that will lay the ground-level knowledge to start considering what really strikes your fancy.  If you have been in a position where you were able to continue on to college classes, you have probably limited your path of learning towards one or two subjects that truly interest you.  All of this is exposure to the things you don’t know yet, and if you train yourself to strengthen your curiosity muscles and attack when you find something new to you, this will lead to an amazingly fulfilling life. 

Curiosity is the spark that points you in the direction of what you should learn next.  It is the essence of what makes us all human.  In everyday life, you will often find yourself reading a magazine to pass the time waiting for an appointment, searching the internet to find a solution for an issue you are having at work, or reading a boring text book.  If, in those mundane moments, even one sentence in that text makes you raise an eyebrow and think “Huh! I didn’t know that! That is interesting…”, your curiosity is alive and well!  THAT is the spark.  THAT is the spring board for a topic you should search online.  Dive down that rabbit hole and don’t look back! Put books on hold at the local library to broaden your perspective on the topic.  Bring it up around a group of people to see if anyone else has already picked up a bit of knowledge on the topic. See if there is a movie about the subject.  Even when you are “finished” with your formal education, you need to continue to build connections in your mind about new topics.  You get better and become more intelligent, and more interesting, by reacting to those sparks! 

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

It is amazing to hear someone speak about a topic that is completely new.  Curiosity is the spark that allows you to learn how to lay tile and flooring in your home, fix plumbing issues, invest money, effectively raise your children, write a book, tinker with websites and electronics, bake beautiful cakes or basic necessities like bread, etc… What do you want to know, try, or do? Act on a spark!  Growing your intelligence by researching, asking, watching, taking lessons, and allowing yourself time to truly consider new topics, digging in… THIS is the true sense of becoming an educated person.  This is how you grow and become more productive to society.  Truly productive! Besides just being more knowledgeable, you will find you are more personable. Being more personable will open you up to more opportunities, making you more employable and probably increase your earning potential. 

No one is too old, too young, or too “dumb” to learn new things.  We are built for it and, if we allow ourselves the space and the time, there is nothing we cannot learn.  Your mind is truly limitless!  Use those sparks as guides so that you can become the best version of yourself!