Most people plan for everything in their lives except their lives.
Through marriage, I was related to Sister Esther Boor. She died a few days ago at the age of 107, and she was still very alert, alive, and mobile.
In fact, Esther never officially retired from her teaching position until she was 98. After that, she only taught occasionally. Then she made the cover of Time magazine when they reported on a study of Catholic nuns who were living well into their 90’s and 100’s.
So I wondered–what do these vigorous elderly people have to teach us? A lot. Another researcher, Richard Leider, came to the same conclusion. He interviewed scores of people who were 65 and older and they kept telling him three things.
When asked what were the most important lessons they had learned, when asked what advice they’d give younger people, the answers of the elderly were quite consistent. I think their answers deserve our full attention and implementation.
First, PLAN YOUR LIFE. Many of the older folks said they never even thought of planning out their lives until they were hit with a crisis. They didn’t plan out a regimen for health, for example, until they got sick.
Don’t do that. Don’t wait for a crisis to happen before you figure out your priorities. Don’t wait for your spouse to leave before you realize the importance of your marriage. And don’t goof off on the job, giving 50 or 60% of what you could give, and then lose your job before you figure out how important your job is. You’ve got to plan your life.
On one level, you probably know that. Most business people would never think of creating a business without a plan. The really smart ones would create an organized plan for the next 6, 12, and 18 months as well as a long-term plan. They would establish some benchmarks and bring in some consultants to show them the best way to reach their goals.
When you’re decorating your house, you also have a plan. You wouldn’t throw a bunch of furniture into a room and hoped it looked good. No, you’d think about where people would sit, where the best lighting would be, and where the most convenient place for the TV would be.
The amazing thing is, most people plan for everything in their lives except their lives. But the real winners plan out their lives. That’s how they became the successful adults they dreamed of becoming.
Walt Disney knew that. He was a planner. One time he was walking through Disneyland with Mike Vance, the Dean of Disney University. They stopped at a little bay window on Main Street, and Walt asked, “Do you remember as a little boy looking out a bay window and dreaming of the kind of man you would become? Isn’t it great that we became that kind of man?”
Disney was right. It is great. In fact, one form of hell is when the person you’ve become meets the person you always dreamed of becoming — but never did.
Hopefully you’re sold on the need for life planning. It’s one of the three things the elderly folks are telling us to do. I’ll give you an assignment to get you started, and then I’ll write about the other two things in the next two issues of the “Tuesday Tip.”
So go ahead and plan out your life. And as you do, it doesn’t hurt to take your sense of humor along with you. Sister Esther kept hers right to the end. She said, “Hear no evil, see no evil, and you’ll never write a best selling novel.”
Action: I’ve got a longer assignment for you this week. I want you to do some life planning. So get out a pencil and paper. Write out your answers to the following.
1. List the things you would like to learn or master. Include areas of knowledge and areas of skill.
2. List the experiences you want to have. There may be certain relationships you would like to build. And there may be places you want to go and things you’d like to do in the upcoming years. Write them out.
3. List the things you want to stop doing. These may include bad habits that are getting in the way of your dreams, or they may be things you “have” to do but no longer want to. Life planning is partly going for what you want, but it’s also letting go of what you don’t want.
4. Write out your dream. Forgetting about money, a lack of education, or any number of other obstacles, write out what you’d like to do more than anything else.
According to most research, the act of thinking and writing is half the battle. Do that, and you’re well on your way to getting the life you want.