“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to walk from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where-” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you walk,” said the Cat.
“So long as I get somewhere,” Alice added, as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
(Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll)
Where do you want to get to?
Some people have a clear sense of direction for their lives from a very young age. These are the people who have strong sense of desire for their careers, for example to become a doctor, a lawyer, an overseas charity worker, a teacher or a writer. Others will be clear they want to be parents, or want to pursue fun activities in their leisure time, e.g. playing in local sports leagues, performing in amateur theatre, painting, photography, etc. These fortunate folk grow up knowing exactly what they want to do, or who they want to be, and put in huge amounts of effort and energy to make sure they get where they want to go.
You might be incredibly clear about where you want to go in one aspect of your life. You spot all the right signposts to move you forward and take the steps you need to take to reach your destination. Suddenly you realise you haven’t arrived at the place you thought you would when you started out, and you’ve lost sight of things that were once precious to you. It might be a tiny thing that stops you in your tracks and forces you to look up, or you might be so focused on your end-game that it takes a major incident, like a health-scare, or the threat of divorce or redundancy, to kick you out of orbit. It turns out you hadn’t noticed there were multiple routes you could have chosen. If only you had taken time out to reflect on where you were heading both before you started and at each decision-making signpost along the way.
You might have absolutely no idea where you’re going or what you’re doing. You’ve just fallen into everything you’re doing for work and leisure, and you’ve not really made active decisions to end up where you are now.
And you might also be somewhere in the middle of the extremes. Few of us have a “grand plan”. And that’s also absolutely OK. I’m not here to tell you you need one. I’m here to help you check whether the way you’re going is the way you have chosen to go.
Taking time to reflect on the direction you are heading in life, and the choices you are making, is not only a nice thing to do if you have time, but essential if you want to live big, fulfilling, contented lives. There are endless possibilities – doesn’t it make sense to take a little time out to reflect on where you might end up before you get there? All great mountaineers plan their routes before they leave base-camp, making sure they have what they need and are clear on where they want to go – not just to the summit but the route they want to take to get there, places to stop along the way, and who is going with them. Life is the biggest journey you are ever going to take – why not do the same?
Here are a couple of places you can start if you want to do a little mountaineer planning in your own life. Get really comfortable – this can feel weird to start with so make sure you’re somewhere comfy and free from distractions, get nice and warm (put on extra socks if you have a tendency to get cold feet), put on some great music that enables you to concentrate, then relax and breathe. Good.
In 5 years time
Ask yourself, “where will I be in 5 years time if I keep heading in this direction?” It’s a big one, isn’t it? Explore where you might be in all areas in your life: relationships with your significant other, family and friends; careers and work; fun and leisure; home; spiritual life; health; personal growth etc. Write down your thoughts, then come back to them another day and look at the answers again. Keep your mind open and no second-guessing yourself! If you start judging your answers, notice that, and jot the thoughts down anyway. Maybe you’ll be exactly where you are now, just five-years older. How do your responses make you feel? Happy? Uncomfortable? What is it that makes you feel that way?
Little caveat for crystal-ball gazing – I know that curve balls come from all directions and there could be a million reasons why something could change and would lead to a totally different result. There are no right or wrong answers, just your own thoughts and ideas – none of them are set in stone.
Slice of pizza
Another way of starting to look at where you’re going is to stay firmly “right here, right now”. Draw yourself a nice big circle. Split it up into segments, like slices of pizza, and add titles to each slice: Significant Other (add their name if you want to); Family; Friends; Careers and Work; Fun and Leisure; Home; Spiritual Life; Health; Personal Growth – and any others you feel are an important part of your life or you would like to be, e.g. some people like to include finances. Once you have your segments take a little time to rate each one on a satisfaction scale of 1-10 where 1 is thoroughly dissatisfied and 10 is out of this world amazing and loving it. You may be surprised how quickly you can do this on gut feel alone. Be honest. Don’t second-guess yourself or spend too long deliberating on whether to give a slice this or that rating – there are no wrong answers here either. When you’re done take a look and you’ll start to see the areas you’ve been focusing on the most. Maybe you’ve given your health and fitness a whopping great 10 (maybe a 9, if you’re being a shy Brit) and you notice that you’ve only scored your family at 5. Or your career has taken all your energy and you’re doing great in it but you’ve noticed that you’ve only given fun and leisure a 3. Whatever you notice is OK – it’s not an excuse to mentally beat yourself up. Noticing where you are now will help you make changes, if you want to and you feel its right for you. And, by all means, pray about what you’ve discovered if that feels like the way forward for you.
Whether you look forward, do the pizza challenge or a bit of both, I want to caution you (again – I really mean it) not to judge yourself for whatever shows up. You might be taking care of small children or elderly relatives and your own health or leisure time have been affected, or you might be ill yourself, or you’ve just moved house so “home” is taking up extra time. There are an endless combination of reasons of why you are where you are now and why you are heading in a certain direction, and that’s OK. This is not about regretting the past or blaming anyone (you or anyone else) for where you are today. These are exercises to help you work out what direction you want to head in now.
Whatever you think might be your destination in 5 years time based on where you are now, gently ask yourself: “how do I feel about my life? Is that what I want?” If it isn’t, ask yourself what would need to change. If you look at your completed pizza and you decide you want to shift direction – ask yourself this: what would it look like to hit a 10 in the areas you want to change most? Don’t ask if it’s possible, just imagine what it would be like. What’s the smallest thing you could do differently today to take your first steps in the direction you do want to head? What’s a tiny step towards getting a 10?
Which way should you walk? It all “depends a good deal on where you want to get to”.