When we look at our lives, we cannot help but notice that they form paths. The Path is simply defined by the things that happened to us in our lives: the decisions we made, the locations we visited, the people we met, the lessons we learned, and the habits we developed. It is only ever visible in retrospect, not while we are following and shaping it. It is when we look back at our lives that we start to connect the dots and tell a story.
Now, I don't know what it takes to live a meaningful life, but I know that it is easy to live a meaningless life. There are no "right" or "wrong" turns — since The Path is only visible in retrospect —, but there are many ways to get lost. It is far too easy not to do the things we love and are passionate about.
That also happens, by the way, to people who believe that they are by definition doing something meaningful. Entrepreneurs, in particular, often feel different simply because of the fact that they are entrepreneurs. But most newly created companies never create anything meaningful. And once you enter that echo chamber and read all the blogs, you start to follow the herd inside that little subculture, and all of a sudden you are building 10-slide pitch decks, organizing fundraising roadshows, doing senseless HR interviews — in short, being "busy", without making meaning.
Here are three simple truths about The Path which I like to remind myself of:
- Look far ahead. You can concentrate on three things: the past, the present, and the future. Of the three, I value the present the most. But whenever my thoughts leave the present, I direct them towards the future. Our past shapes us already more than we would ever admit. If it were not for our ability to imagine our future, we would be our past. Looking behind is invaluable to remember, but it does not help us widen our horizon beyond what we know.
When you look far ahead and beyond the current moment, you will construct an identity of yourself and the things you want to bring to this world that will be consistent with how you imagine a good and meaningful life to be. It will help you avoid directions that are misaligned with your values, your talents, your passions, your ideas, your personality, your self.
Imagine you are driving a car and constantly looking at the piece of the road right in front of your vehicle, not seeing the bigger picture, not thinking about where you are ultimately going. You could easily end up in an oasis, for sure. But it could also be a desert. Looking far ahead into the future helps you shape the direction of where you are going in your life. Micro-managing your daily duties does not.
- Choose your own path. This is maybe the most important piece of advice I know, and if you are not truly living the life you chose to live, please pause and think about it. Actually, to be honest, I don't think that anyone on Earth truly does that. Even the choosers of their own lives, and I consider myself one, follow so many addictive patterns and long-trained habits that it is incredibly hard to imagine how we might have truly and deliberately chosen the various aspects of our lives.
Choosing your own path, however, means to understand that all people are different, and that My Path is not the same as Your Path. What makes sense for me might not make sense for you. A talent I have might not be a talent you have. A passion I care about might not be a passion you care about. We are truly different, and we need to use our own minds to imagine the future we want to shape for ourselves.
The family you are starting, the organization you are building, the product you are creating — nobody has ever done that before. You, and you alone, need to digest all the information around you and all the input from other people — and then find your own way. It might be similar to what other people have done before, but it may be totally unique and special. As entrepreneurs, we create truly new things. And when we are changing the game, how can we do that while playing by the rules?
- Take step by step. The last truth about The Path is focus. It is "first things first". Following your path is only rewarding when you can concentrate on the most important thing at a time, and invest all your love and all your time and all your energy until you took that step whole-heartedly, fully, and passionately. It is then when you look back that you feel you did well.
When you do a thousand things at once, however, you will never have that sense of reward. You will have done everyhing in an unsatisfactory way, and you will not have the feeling that you did anything at all with your full heart and passion. Also, the mediocre things you created will fade rapidly and disappear. The Path you are constructing will look brittle and bleak.
Taking one step after another enables you to work on the truly important things in your life. It forces you to focus and stop worrying about all the unimportant things you could also do. Sometimes, the next step might be to spend time with your friends or your family, with no goal in mind, not worrying about anything else. That is beautiful, and whenever you do that, do it whole-heartedly, just like anything else.
It is when you feel that you cannot be passionate about what you are doing, whenever you sense that something is wrong because it feels devoid of meaning or purpose, that you are off the track.
Then pause. And change course.
If you liked this post or if it gave you new food for thought, then please be so kind to leave a comment below (no registration required) or share it with your network. Your feedback is what keeps me going. Thanks!Tuesday, January 29, 2013 at 02:14AM | David Link