Th 293101

Designing your next chapter

Aug. 1, 2008
What is it about humans that makes so many people unwilling to accept personal responsibility for their lives? I acknowledge that this can be one of life's toughest lessons to learn, but the degree of difficulty can't be that high .
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by Doug Young, MBA

For more on this topic, go to www.den and search using the following key words: Personal responsibility, personal mastery, achievement, intimacy, play and creativity, search for meaning, compassion and contribution, final reflection.

What is it about humans that makes so many people unwilling to accept personal responsibility for their lives? I acknowledge that this can be one of life's toughest lessons to learn, but the degree of difficulty can't be that high ... or can it? It would be easy to become very judgmental at this point, but I can't say that I'm filled with pride when I recall my own mind-set on this issue in my younger years.

In those days, the concept of designing and planning my life was totally foreign to me. Realizing that I had the power to make the choices that would take me where I wanted to go was not something I embraced. I'd like to be able to tell you that I totally dumped this kind of thinking right after I passed through my teenage years, but not so. As a supposedly mature adult and parent, I still clung to the misguided belief that others controlled a disproportionate amount of my life, especially the bad parts! Intellectually, I knew this was not true, but my actions did not match this understanding.

Fortunately, I embarked on a committed effort toward personal growth, and my awareness about how life really works took a new direction. It didn't happen overnight, but the message about personal responsibility was received! I began to accept that the quality of my future depended on the choices I made, not on the choices that someone else made for me.

Staying in touch

This awareness about personal responsibility may be obvious to you, as it now is to me, but acting on it is an increasingly difficult challenge. Living in today's white-water world of relentless transformation and limitless possibilities means that our lives are being played out in multiple chapters with changing themes and circumstances. What we needed and wanted yesterday is often very different from today, and it's predictable that new paths with new opportunities and interests will open up tomorrow. In terms of life planning, what does all this mean?

It says to me that we must stay in better touch with where we want to take our lives. The long periods of stability that older generations used to experience are vanishing. It's important to call a "time out" more frequently to ask the question, "What's next?" But having asked that question, is there a process that can help us to arrive at better answers? I've found that the work of Frederic Hudson and Pamela McLean at the Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara offers an excellent guideline. Let's look at what they have to say about living a "deliberate" life.

Choosing your focus

Their research of successful adults has identified six passions — passions that serve as driving forces for our lives: 1) Personal Mastery, 2) Achievement, 3) Intimacy, 4) Play and Creativity, 5) Search for Meaning, and 6) Compassion and Creativity. All six will have an influence on your life, but most life chapters focus on only three or four at any one time. Furthermore, the passions that motivate you the most can change as you move from chapter to chapter, so it is crucial to re-evaluate your priorities as you plan for what is next. If you have ever made a key life decision without doing this assessment, you may have found yourself disappointed and disenchanted. Why? Because you designed your next chapter based on what you used to want, not on what you want now. As you read further and think about these passions, which ones stand out for you at this time?

1) Personal Mastery: This involves developing and using the gifts and talents we have been given. Is this one of our responsibilities in life? I think so. To honor this responsibility, we must know ourselves, believe in ourselves, take care of ourselves, and have the courage to commit to a lifelong journey of personal growth. Should this be your next priority?

2) Achievement: Everyone has the ability to accomplish more. What are you capable of doing that you have not yet pursued? Is it time to get outside your comfort zone once again, and to take on that next goal that will stretch you and take you to a higher level?

3) Intimacy: The quality of our lives is heavily influenced by our relationships with others. Reaching out from the heart to family, friends, and colleagues is a gift to others and ourselves. But it is too easy to lose focus on this passion when the pace and pressures of life get to be too much. Is there someone with whom you need a stronger connection?

4) Play and Creativity: Picasso said, "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up." Creativity is within all of us, and it is revealed in a variety of ways. Approaching life with the innate curiosity of children and activating your imaginative mind can take us to places that we thought were out of reach. Do you need to express your creative side more strongly? How would you do that so that it brings the greatest satisfaction and fulfillment?

5) Search for Meaning: Unearthing our purpose in life is possibly the ultimate discovery. It can provide us with a sense of direction, focus, and personal power. It also connects us to our place in the world in ways that bring wholeness, peace, and wisdom. Is this the time for a more introspective look inside yourself as you seek to better understand the meaning of your life?

6) Compassion and Contribution: Giving back will serve others and provide you with a special brand of satisfaction. Could there be a better win/win situation? The need is enormous and the opportunities to help are everywhere. Virtually everyone can contribute in some way, big and small. How can you offer your talent, give words of encouragement, support a favorite cause financially, or make some part of the community in which you live a better place?

As you ponder what your next chapter should look like, prioritize your passions from one to six. Concentrate on your top three or four. What must you do to bring these top passions into greater focus in your life? What can you set aside or reduce so that there will be room for this concentrated focus? Create a plan for honoring your choices. Reading "LifeLaunch: A Passionate Guide to the Rest of Your Life" by Frederic M. Hudson and Pamela D. McLean, The Hudson Institute Press, Revised, 2000, will inspire your choices! With a clear picture in place for your next chapter, you will discover that the hidden resources to help you accomplish this chapter will appear unexpectedly. Be open to some pleasant surprises!

Final reflection

While I was writing this column, the TV was on in the background. Suddenly, Tom Brokaw broke into the telecast of the U.S. Open to sadly announce the untimely death of Tim Russert. I was deeply distressed by the loss of this stellar journalist and wonderful human being. When we suddenly lose someone, it can serve as a wake-up call. Possibly Tim's final gift is to have us ask ourselves, "Are we really doing what we want to do?"

Doug Young, MBA, and his spouse Marlyn, MCC, have a professional speaking and executive/team coaching business in Parker, Colo. They co-author this column and share an interest in leading-edge business concepts, achieving personal and professional potential, serving patients, and improving how people work together. Marlyn's insights into people and relationships and her coaching skills complement Doug's motivating and mind-expanding presentations. Contact them by e-mail at [email protected], by phone at 877-DMYOUNG, or visit their Web site at

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