Sometimes I feel as if I have several separate lives.
I have my life as a mom of four kids, my life as a single woman working full time, my life as an elected official, my life as a friend and a partner and a community member and an elementary school parent, and, and, and…
I’m not sure how most people manage the juggling act that comes with adulthood, but for me, I seem to be best at addressing things in bite-sized pieces. Often this works great — I dig in, chewing each individual bite of my many separate lives as I tackle one challenge at a time. Occasionally, though, these small, easy-to-manage bits come at me all at once, and I end up with a mouth so full of bite-sized pieces of my life that I am worried I will choke on the sheer volume of them.
It is precisely at these moments that I wonder how realistic it is to try to unravel the many interconnected and complicated parts of my life into seemingly easy-to-tackle buckets, and why I prefer this over taking the broad view of my life in all its messiness and plotting a more strategic path forward. In my professional and volunteer leadership positions, I advocate goal-setting, benchmarking, and making data-driven decisions. But somehow when it comes to managing my own life (personal and professional together), long ago I fell into survival mode and haven’t yet begun to plan to strategically and methodically meet my life goals, year after year.
I recognize, of course, that future planning is a luxury that some who are struggling to survive don’t have. Perhaps this is why it’s taken me so long to begin to flirt with the idea, beginning only now, at a point where I am not (currently) struggling with all of the overwhelming hardships that keep a person frantically paddling to stay afloat rather than adjusting the sails for slight course-correction. And knowing that I could be thrown back into the deep end at any time is just as good a reason as any to attempt to tackle this question right now, while I have, in theory anyway, some time to map out what I really want my life to look like.
It’s funny, in a way, to think about your daily existence in terms of a strategic plan, but, then again, don’t we all have bucket lists? The real question is how these lists of things we hope to do before we die tie in to our life goals. Are these our measurable outcomes? Are they perhaps a reflection of our priorities?
Instead of checking specific things off our list, which feels great but seems all too similar to approaching separate parts of our life in bite-sized pieces without regulating the pace, why can’t we instead plan for the achievement of our life goals in a more methodical and strategic manner?
If my bucket list consists of things like eat at this place, travel to that place, and experience that amazing adventure, my strategic life plan probably would contain more all-encompassing goals, like “make meaningful memories and create solid relationships with my children” and “ensure that I surround myself with people who make life happy and joyful.” Essentially, when I break it down, to-do lists — even really awesome and awe-inspiring bucket lists — are more about things and experiences, whereas goal-based life plans trend more to issues of the overall quality of living.
I imagine I am in good company when I say that when I think about what I truly want for my life, it is more about people and relationships than it is about things that can be checked off a bucket list.
Strategic planning for a business or an organization is mostly about measurable impact and financial sustainability or success. To relate this to our lives, I imagine we similarly would want to measure in terms of how we impact others — our families, our friends, and the sustainability of positive relationships. I have started to map out a plan for my goals in life, and it looks much less like a bucket list and much more like a Venn diagram — one where family and relationship goals, grand achievements, and world surroundings overlap in the middle, in a place defined as joy.
I am choosing to pursue happiness and joy with the same kind of aggressive plan I would use to achieve higher profits for a business, and I hope that others will join me in taking a leadership role in choosing the quality of the life they want to lead and live.