I mentioned toward the end of my last entry that a visit to Chicago was on the books. Originally, this was supposed to be a week-long visit, ten days at most. It has been pushed nearly a month because I have the time, plenty of people to visit, and a close friend was running in the Chicago Marathon and I wanted to support him. (And, selfishly, marathon weekend is one of my favorites.)
I used to be a long distance runner and am therefore familiar with the discipline and dedication required to keep putting one foot in front of the other. However, by the end of my senior year, I had had enough and the finish line of my last race was a rather literal one. Marathon fever grew in the years that followed, especially in the first decade of this new millennium, but I have never felt the urge. Still, I can appreciate, on some level, the very long-term mindset in preparing for one, the thousands of moments where a runner chooses “just one more mile” over something more immediately gratifying like, say, stopping.
But what does that have to do with living more intentionally? Two things. The first is an analogy, the second is a related article I think you will enjoy.
Living with more intention and awareness can be likened to training. It begins with the thought of crossing the finish line, again a rather literal one in the context of one’s lifetime. When I first considered quitting my job back in 2005, a decision that would set off my unlikely-but-very-fortunate set of experiences, I focused on what I was going to do next, as in immediately afterward. Financial debts come calling regardless of whether or not you’ve found yours. I quickly realized however, I had neglected visioning the end game, that fundamental piece for which I was taking a risk to begin with, and that I needed to put in that work.
In the months leading up to my departure, and in many months afterward, I spent a great deal of time with visualizing exercises, reading books and articles about seeing the kind of future I wanted for myself, and finding ways to articulate it. I wrote it out in long form. Edited it. Edited further. Scrapped it and started over. Rinse. Repeat. It was at times tedious, but each round was “just one more mile” encouraging me to further clarify the kind of long-term personal success – and I mean living with a sense of fulfillment, not material success – I wanted. And, like a runner’s training, that practice prepared me for the long course ahead.
Now for the related article. A recent issue of the Harvard Business Review includes a piece by Clay Christensen, one of Harvard Business School’s professors well known in the area of management theory. His piece, How Will You Measure Your Life?, lays out his guidelines for a life of substance and fulfillment. In short, a life well lived. It dovetails nicely with the idea of training for, and running, a marathon because it requires persistence, a dedication to a game plan especially when you aren’t feeling like it.
For Christensen, the point of departure for this examination lies in three questions:
1. How can I be sure I’ll be happy in my career?
2. How can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and family become an enduring source of happiness?
3. How can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail?
That last one sounds a bit humorous. None of us plans to go to jail and Christensen does not assume everyone will. His larger point connects to living with integrity and personal accountability with one’s core principles.
I encourage you to read Christensen’s article and then take some time to think about the ways you have successfully envisioned the types of long-term results you want in your life. Remember, they don’t have to be grandiose. Something as small as planning – and sticking to – a weekly phone call with family members can, over time, create the kind of relationships that deepen life’s meaning. Join a service initiative. Great fulfillment comes from sustained giving of one’s time and talent.
Day by day, (or if you prefer, mile by mile) you will reach that finish line of a life well lived. The sooner you start, the sooner – and longer – you’ll experience the benefits that come with having done so.