“The ability to choose cannot be taken away or even given away – it can only be forgotten.” Greg McKeown
“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” This quote summarizes the advice from the Cheshire Cat to Alice, in Lewis Carroll’s beloved Alice in Wonderland. This quote is also such a great metaphor for our lives. Without clear direction and focus, any road will take us where we need to go. Greg McKeown, modern day thought leader on essentialism (the art of doing less but better), supports Carroll’s idea with his own version: “If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.”
Perhaps one of the greatest gifts and responsibilities of our lives is to decide what to focus on and where we want to put our energy. If you are spending a lot of time focused on things that you wish you could divest yourself from and yet only a little time on what is most essential to you, keep reading.
The “busy”ness trap, a common obstacle to essentialism, can make folks feel like they are trapped and their life is not their own. But in reality, we always have a choice.
When it comes to making difficult choices, I’ve observed that it’s hard for people to make tradeoffs. We often want to have it all, and that’s not actually possible. Trying to have it all is like taking two roads at the same time: you head down one, then run back and make a little progress down another, ultimately making an inch of progress on many paths vs. a mile of progress on the most meaningful one.
The most meaningful and essential paths generally align with our values and personal vision. Living in alignment with our values and vision requires choices and tradeoffs. We can choose to intentionally make those, in alignment with our values and vision, or we can decide not to decide and let someone else make them for us. The first requires taking 100% accountability for our outcomes, and the latter allows us to blame others when things don’t turn out well. Perhaps you see the allure of option two, but the rewards at the end of option one’s road are worth getting uncomfortable for.
When deciding which road you want to take, you’ll want to start by making a map. Think about your personal vision as the final destination. Then outline your personal values: these will serve as your guideposts and ensure you don’t take the wrong metaphorical exit. When you get to a fork in the road, a.k.a. a choice point in life, try asking yourself, Will this choice get me closer to my personal vision? Every choice we make gets us closer to or further from the outcomes we want. If you make a choice that takes you away from that path, it should be done with intention. There are times in life when we take a circuitous route due to necessity or to help a friend or family member in need. It’s only when we make those choices too frequently that we risk ending up at a destination we didn’t want.
This same practice can be applied to your professional life as well. Consider your professional vision for your work life. What is the destination that you are seeking? When offered an opportunity, consider whether it gets you closer to your most essential goals at work or takes you further from them. Even if it seems like a good opportunity, if it takes you further from your goals, you may want to say no and wait for something better.
When you are clear about your values and vision in life and work, it becomes easier to decide where to focus your energy for the highest impact. Where will you choose to focus your energy and attention today, this week, this year?
Not sure what your personal vision or values are?
You probably already know a lot more than you think. Begin by answering these questions …
These questions will help you uncover your personal vision and your set of values.
Additional Resource: www.viacharacter.org values assessment
About the Author: Alexis Robin, COO of pLink Leadership, lives in Truckee, CA with her husband and 13-year-old twins. She’s spent years working to implement the habits of essentialism into her work and life. The values / guideposts that keep her on the essential path are Hope, Bravery, Creativity, Gratitude, and Zest & Enthusiasm.