I’ve heard it said that most people spend more time planning a vacation than they do designing their lives. I’m guessing that is particularly relevant as we get older. Sure we might plan for retirement, but once we get there, then what? And I don’t know about you, but have you noticed that if you just let one day follow the other without any particular intention, the next thing you notice is that a week, month or year has gone by and not much has changed? Of course we all have a good excuse with the pandemic. And while things are looking more optimistic on that front, we aren’t completely out of the woods yet either. So while I’m all for going with the flow and not fighting what we can’t change, this morning during a podcast interview I heard something that struck me as very important—and that was the habit of reviewing and reflecting on our lives on a regular basis. After all, if we saying personal growth, life-long learning and other core values are important to us, don’t we owe it to ourselves to at least reflect and review on where we are—especially if there is a simple way to do that?
Something I’ve read on more than one retirement blog is that most people pre-retirement, long for a time when they don’t have a schedule. That they can just do what they want on the spur of the moment—or just do nothing at all. I get that, especially if you have worked very hard at your career for decades. In some way I’m guessing people often think of retirement as one long vacation without the added responsibilities or pressures of everyday work. But once you’ve been on vacation a while, what then? Perhaps it is time to reflect and review where you are and where you want to go (mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically) next.
But don’t get me wrong, I’m not just talking about those who have retired—I’m talking about us all. It doesn’t matter what age you are or whether you are still working or retired. At some point we have to decide if we are just going to let life happen to us—or we are going to do our best to design the kind of life we say we prefer. And like it or not, that choice to either just accept what we are given or to actively design our future happens over and over again—that’s where reflection and review comes into it.
Last night Thom and I selected a new tv series that looked promising. Unfortunately it wasn’t that great so I won’t even mention the name. However, during the first 15-20 minutes of the show the story was unfolding quickly over several generations and it was clear that time passes much more quickly than most of us realize. People are born, grow up, sometimes marry and have children, sometimes not, then grow older and eventually pass on. In the scope of life it isn’t that long a time. I think most of us are aware of that, especially as we get older, but we often forget it. Again, as Mary Oliver sort of says in her poem, “Just what are we doing with our one wild and precious, not to mention short, life?”
I’m not saying I am an expert in this. In fact, when I heard the recommendation of this particular practice during this morning’s podcast I realized how it could benefit my life. The practice is to pick a regular time, usually toward the end of your week like a Friday afternoon before you wind down from the day. Then take the time to ask yourself and then journal on these three questions:
- What did I learn this week?
- What went well this week?
- What would I have changed?
I tend to think I’m the sort of person who spends a lot of time thinking about things from a lot of angles. Certainly this blog makes that not only necessary, but also offers a great benefit to my life in many ways. But even then when I thought about making the above weekly practice a part of my life, I realized that while I often think a lot about different subjects, I don’t always “review” where and how my thoughts and actions fit into my concept the kind of life I want to be living. Surely any of us who want to be around 20-30-40 more years would benefit by consciously taking the time to reflect and review on their week on a regular basis?
Of course, another suggestion offered in the podcast was to remember that nothing is written in stone. It is very tempting for many people to avoid saying they want to do or become anything in particular because they then think they can never change their mind. Wrong! We can always change our mind. Setting an intention or making a plan doesn’t mean you are stuck with it if something better comes along. What it does is set the course of your day/week/month toward something you believe is beneficial, knowing you can always recalibrate that direction any time you want.
Lately I have been noticing how easy it is to say we want to have an extraordinary life. And most of us don’t like thinking of ourselves as just ordinary either. But as I grow older I have also noticed that we often are just that—living ordinary lives like mostly ordinary people. Obviously there is nothing at all wrong with either of those states. However, I think it is equally valid to ask ourselves, is that just the life we have been given or is it the life we have designed for ourselves? Do we want more of the same or different? The SMART perspective just might be to reflect and review that option while we still have plenty of days left to make a choice.