In pre-revolutionary Russia, a rabbi was walking to the synagogue. A Russian soldier stopped him and asked, "Who are you and what are you doing here?" The rabbi answered, "How much do they pay you for doing this job?" The soldier replied, "Twenty kopeks." The rabbi then said, "I'll pay you twenty-five to ask me those same two questions every day."
Ask yourself those two questions "Who am I? What am I doing?" One of the best ways to live your life with intention is to listen to yourself deeply. Living each day with intention can be energizing and fulfilling. Too often we find ourselves waiting for some outside influence to come along and give our lives meaning.
What kind of choices do I need to be making now to live out the life I want to live?
It's easy to get to the point where your work (or your business) is running you, rather than your work (or business) actually serving what you genuinely want for your life as a whole. Another question you might ask yourself is, "How can I design my business to serve my life and not just have my life serve the company?"
I imagine that we all have been moved by a friend's death or illness to re-think our own lives and decide that we need to be more intentional about moving from the life we live to the kind of life we want to live. So we make resolutions and plans? and then something happens that we have no control over. (My hunch is that many of us re-evaluated after the events of September 11, 2001.) We get attached to life happening exactly as we have planned. The challenge, though, is how to become more comfortable with the both/and way of living our lives. Most of us have been taught that choices we make must be either/or choices. And yet, it's by embracing the paradox that we can begin to live as comfortably in the not-knowing as in the knowing.
The poet, David Whyte, describes this as being able to contain both the "Ah!" of discovery and revelation, and also the "Argh!" of driving to work through slow traffic on a gray Monday morning. It's like recognizing the grief of losing a client while simultaneously experiencing the joy of gaining a new client. It means allowing ourselves to experience the richness of the both/and.
It's about making plans and at the same time not growing so attached to them that we overlook opportunities placed in front of us-opportunities that are much greater than we could have imagined in our planning. Or about making plans and becoming so attached to them that we are devastated when they don't unfold as we have imagined. This is a way to approach what life hands us in our personal lives, as well as our business lives.
I have a friend who is a good example of living one's life with intention. She has made choices that have taken her out of the hurry and scurry to a very simple life in the country. Her choices have been simple, and yet the process was not without pain and grief. When she was very young, she'd made her "life list." Knowing what she wanted her life to look like, she married her best friend. It wasn't on their "life list" to have him die at the age of 29. Recovering from the blow, however, she eventually re-grouped, made necessary and appropriate adjustments and constructed a new "life list." She never stopped living intentionally; she accepted life's realities and re-directed her intentions. That is the essence of adaptation; and adaptation is the essence of growth.
In her book, The Female Advantage, Sally Helgeson focuses on the strategies and organization theories of four successful leaders. These women know how to plan strategically and, at the same time, not get so attached to those plans that they miss emerging opportunities and threats that necessitate changing those plans. They are flexible enough to notice opportunities and respond to threats in a timely way. They trust that the opportunities which come their way will unlock their futures. They understand that the future cannot be reduced to a simple matter of objectives, nor achieved by the mere application of will.
Living your life with intention won't be the same as your co-worker or friend might do it. I keep thinking I'm eventually going to get there. It's constantly being demonstrated, though, that it's a never-ending process. It's about being authentic; having a consistency between our words and our actions; between who we say we are and how we live. Having said that, though, we are all "inauthentic" from time to time. We have to be thoughtful in certain situations. For example, if speaking your mind to someone with the power to fire you could result in your getting fired, and if you are not prepared to suffer the consequences of speaking your mind, you might decide not to say anything. That doesn't mean you're not being authentic. It means you're being intentional about your choices at this particular time.
SUGGESTIONS FOR LIVING INTENTIONALLY
? Listen deeply to yourself; work on developing self-awareness.
? Ask yourself "What are my choices, and what are the trade-offs?"
? Take action, and trust yourself.
? Find support; have a coach, a group or family to talk with.
I started this piece thinking and writing about paradox and making choices, and I find myself back at the beginning. We all have made choices for which we are responsible-choices that may have hurt ourselves or someone else, though we didn't know we were making flawed choices at the time.
So even though we may not make decisions perfectly, it is somehow refreshing to realize that we don't really know who we are in every situation, and we can have only so much control.
Living intentionally does not spare us from mistakes or suffering; however it does mean that we have been actively engaged in making our lives more fulfilling.
Julane Borth is co-founder of EWF International?, an Oklahoma based firm providing personal advisory boards for women business owners and executives. EWF International franchises are available throughout the Southwest.