“She called me a bad name.” “He took my toy.” “She didn’t like my dress.” “I had it first.” Ah yes, the thrill of being young again.
Remember how important these things seemed when we were young? In retrospect, they now seem so trivial.
Of course, as we get older and wiser, we focus on important things, like showing our friends how successful we’ve become, outflanking others to get a promotion, keeping up with the Joneses, and ensuring that we look young — forever. You’d think we’d have learned something from our kindergarten days, wouldn’t you?
The truth is, we’re often so busy running on our treadmill to nowhere that we can lose focus on the things that really matter in life. Before we know it, the seconds have become minutes, the days have become weeks, and the months have become years. And when we finally take time to catch our breath, we look back in retrospect and think, “Where did all the time go?”
It’s so easy to be blinded by ambition, power, and success that many folks miss out on the simple pleasures of life. For example, did your children’s birthday parties, Little League games, or dance recitals make your priority list? Were you available to counsel your friend in need? Did you make the time to help your kids with their homework, to attend back-to-school nights, or to put down your newspaper/telephone/iPad when your family wanted to tell you about their day? Or was something else more important to you at the time?
Now, I know that you lead a hectic life and that you’re getting pulled in a million different directions. The truth is, it’s not that you don’t have enough time to devote to things that matter to you — but rather, the time needed was spent doing something else.
It goes without saying that every time you decide to focus on one thing in your life, you’ve also decided not to spend that time on something else.
Unfortunately, once opportunities are lost, they’re often lost forever — life doesn’t come with a dress rehearsal. So, if you think you may regret the path you’re on, it may be time to change course.
Here are some guideposts to point you in the right direction:
Priorities. Have you ever stopped to think about what matters most to you? Do you spend the majority of your time in those areas? Or do trivial issues sidetrack you from doing the things that you should care about the most?
Agenda. Do you let other people control your agenda? How much time do you spend reacting to fire drills versus doing things that matter? Are you asking your loved ones to do all of the accommodating, while allowing others free rein over your priorities?
Time management. How much of your day is spent on autopilot? Do you devote more time to thinking about what you’re going to do, or to doing it? When was the last time you identified and eliminated wasteful tasks and routines?
Quality. How much of your day is spent worrying about problems versus appreciating the moment? What percentage of your time do you spend being physically present, but mentally absent? Does multitasking damage your ability to give your undivided attention?
Inner peace. Do you care more about what you want out of life or about what others think? Do you value creating wonderful memories as much as you value material rewards? Are you investing in your family and friends, or taking them for granted? When was the last time you felt comfortable with yourself?
The Decision is Yours
It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day minutiae that we quickly lose sight of the big picture. Many who report having paused long enough to reflect on where they’ve been have concluded that they’ve squandered much of their precious time on earth.
Even those who have secured enviable positions of power and material wealth admit that their decisions to follow these paths have come with real costs — in relationships and precious moments that can’t be replaced. This doesn’t have to be you.
The path that you choose is your decision and yours alone. The only correct answer is the one that feels best for you. As George Eliot once said, “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” The key is to establish goals that matter most to you and your loved ones, align your priorities around these goals, and then pursue them, while taking time to enjoy your life and remain true to yourself and to those who love you.
Your goal shouldn’t be cramming as much stuff as possible into your life. (You’d think we’d have learned something from watching a hamster run around on its exercise wheel.) Success and happiness are achieved by spending time and attention in areas that really matter to you. No matter how old you are, you still have time to change course. As Alan Lakein once said, “Time = Life, Therefore, waste your time and waste your life, or master your time and master your life.” Are you spending your precious time in the areas that matter most to you? It’s your choice.