This seems like a pretty dumb ass (or too smart by half) kind of thing to say. After all, don’t we all make the most of what we have? After all, we’ve all been there when we were disappointed with the outcome of something that mattered to us — may be a particularly challenging assignment on the job, or making time for the kids or playing a competitive sport. And of all these times there would have been times we feel, “Damn! If I could only have had the option of doing ‘X’!”
And then there are the times when we think, “Oh! I’d like to do this, but …” The buts in our mind are memories of similar experiences in the past where things turned sour, or of the compromises that we — and others around us — had to make, and so on. Sometimes it is just an Inner Voice or a close friend, or a spouse or parent warning us against doing something that otherwise we’d want to do.
The reason I thought of penning this post is because I wanted to see if there is a “framework”, a handy guide to help me along when faced with such a situation in my life. I’ve had my fair share of disappointments and while at the time I may or may not have taken them all with equanimity and zen-like calm, I wanted to reflect and see if I could use those experiences and try to evolve this framework that might help me in making choices down the road. After all, like Jason Statham’s character says in The Mechanic
Good judgment comes from experience; experience comes from bad judgment
So what are the objectives that this framework — if one can be evolved — should try and optimize for? For me:
- Avoid or minimize regrets later in life. You could, in a way, call this the FOMO — Fear of Missing Out — factor. May be it is. But more than that, when I look back at life when I’m old and grey, I don’t want to be bitter or cynical at not having done something that I really wanted to, or would like to.
- Get a peaceful night’s sleep mostly regardless of the outcome of the endeavor. I think that that is the best thing that one can aspire for, in life. Sure, I want — like most everyone — my share of success, fame, or heck, even adulation. But if that is not coupled with contentment, then the puzzle just won’t be complete!
Alright, so what does such a framework look like? Here are some pointers that define, or help evolve such a framework.
- Know you cannot have everything. This is super critical, because often we make the mistake of thinking that we can have it all. “I just need to stretch a little bit, for a few days (weeks/months)”, you tell yourself. Believe me, that might lead you to achieve some immediate- or short-term goals, but eventually you’re gonna get burned out, or confused, or both.
- Prioritize, Prioritize, Prioritize. Pick what you want to do, and pick wisely. This follows from the first idiom of knowing you cannot have everything. Since you cannot do everything be selective and pick what you really think your time is worth. How do you pick wisely? That can be the topic of another post, but it all begins with knowing what your end goal for setting your sight on something is. Talk to friends, your family, a mentor or coach to help you with prioritizing, if in doubt and you need help breaking a tie.
- Set very clear objectives. A goal that is very ambiguous will, inevitably, fall by the wayside. You may not even realize it, but it begins slowly, where you initially think it’s okay to occasionally not do whatever it is gonna take to move toward the goal. When you set a very clear goal, you make it that much harder for yourself to come up with excuses for skipping things that will take you toward your goal.
- Routine, Discipline and Focus. This is immensely important. Build a routine that you stick to like clockwork. Again, that makes it harder to skip, or come up with an excuse for skimping on something in the pursuit of your goal. Sticking to a routine requires discipline. If you’re not disciplined, you’ll often find yourself getting pushed about, figuratively speaking. You’ll just be reacting to stuff happening than proactively anticipating and being ready for things; being ready to seize the initiative when the moment arrives. Finally, focus. Blank out distractions, stay in the present, but never lose sight of your goal(s).
- Embrace constraints. While they may feel like bottlenecks, constraints actually force you to think of ways that you may have never otherwise thought of. Embrace constraints and you’ll find yourself finding creative ways to get around them.
- Take stock regularly. Evaluate at a reasonable intervals how you’re doing on your goals. Ask feedback from friends, family, folks you’re close to, or your mentor or coach. Ask for hard truths, or help in identifying blind spots. Listen to that feedback and realign and see if you need to be doing different things or same things differently. Always be Learning. Learn from how you did on your past goals, apply those learnings to shape and execute your future ones.
These are a set of things that you can try and base your framework on. Some may work for you, some may work with some tweaks. And of course there will be others as well — the list above is hardly exhaustive!
So go on, make the most of what life serves you! You win some, you lose some. But at least you’ll be at peace with yourself and get a good night’s sleep knowing that you tried and tried well!