It’s getting to be that time of year – now that we are officially into the holiday season, people will start reflecting on the year behind us and planning resolutions for the year ahead of us. Journalists will start publishing the “year in review” stories and the news shows will start hosting experts to talk about 2012 goal setting.
This year I didn’t set specific goals. Instead I picked a 3 word theme for my year. My theme this year was “love, act, publish.” I chose this theme because I wanted to take more action in my life, around the activities I truly love, and I wanted to write and publish more. I’m sure I’ll do my own year in review analysis sometime soon, but for now it’s sufficient to say I found it helpful to have this type of theme as a way of guiding my year. This theme reminded me of what was important to me. It was short and simple and it helped keep me focused. That being said, sometimes our theme can get blown out of the water by events we did not predict.
I’ve been thinking more about themes and goals and resolutions to figure out what really works best for myself and for other people. Now I’ve finally recovered from the trauma and turmoil of this year, I find myself wondering “what’s next?” Because honestly, I have room and space in my life for new adventures. And so I’ve been wondering about which adventures I want to pursue. Do I want to pick a new fitness goal? I just watched Ironman Arizona in Tempe last weekend and it was definitely inspiring. Do I want to travel to new countries? Do I want to start a new business? Do I want to do some significant fundraising for non-profit organizations? Because I am not encumbered by young children, I have a stable and enjoyable career, and I’m still relatively young and healthy, I have infinite options for adventure. And infinite options can be overwhelming.
So I’ve been doing two things lately: (1) reflecting on my past to determine what previously made me the most happy, and (2) looking around online to see what other people are pursuing. Here’s the brilliant insight I recently discovered:
The people who are happiest have decided on a story they want to tell about their life. The story they are telling provides a structure and a narrative arc to their journey and their life. There are a million stories we could tell about our life, but the people who are happiest have chosen the story they want to tell about themselves. The story they have chosen provides both structure and meaning to their life. The happiest people are not wandering aimlessly through the desert. The happiest people have consciously decided how they want to organize their life around a meaningful story.
In my own recent past, I decided I wanted to tell a story about becoming an Ironman. And so for four long years, my life was organized around becoming an Ironman. My free time, my work schedule, my financial priorities and my travel plans all revolved around becoming an Ironman. When I decided I wanted to become an Ironman, everything in my life had to get organized around that pursuit. How I spent my time changed, my nutrition changed, my social life changed, and my fitness changed. When I decided I wanted my life story to be about becoming an Ironman, then my life got rearranged around that story. During those four years I was incredibly focused and happy.
Here’s a few other examples from around the internet:
Chris Guillebeau is organizing his life around travel. He’s decided to visit every country on earth before he turns 35. This journey shapes many aspects of his life.
Britt Reints is organizing her life around living in an RV with her family and seeing the entire USA. In June of 2011 they began their one year RV journey with their two kids. She blogs about all the adventures they are having this year in their RV.
Matt Cheuvront is organizing his life around starting a business and being an entrepreneur. In 2010 he co-founded Proof Branding, and he’s organizing his life around being a business owner.
The Fat Cyclist has organized the majority of his adult life around riding bikes and racing bikes. He was literally born to ride bikes.
There are a million other examples you can find on the web. And all of these examples are people who have diverse, balanced lives. The thing they organize their life around is NOT the only thing in their life. They are so very NOT one dimensional. Instead, the thing they organize their life around provides a structure that helps them organize the rest of their life. Chris Guillebeau is now a published book author, speaker and workshop leader. Britt Reints is also a freelance writer. Matt Cheuvront became a runner and a homeowner this year. The Fat Cyclist has become a mega-fundraiser for cancer research. All four examples are people who are creating lives that fit them and provide them happiness and balance. The thing they organize their life around is like the hub in the center of their life wheel. Everything else is a spoke that shoots off from the hub. But the hub is central for defining the rest of their life. And because of the wonderful internet, we can all learn from the wisdom they share along their journeys.
When I look back at my own adult life, I have typically had that type of hub, that central thing that organized my life.
- From 2001 – 2002 my life was organized around graduate school
- From 2003 – 2005 my life was largely organized around running the Tucson Tri Girls – the local triathlon club
- From 2005 – 2009 my life was very much organized around Ironman. I finished 3 Ironmans, in 2006, 2007, and 2009
- From 2009 – 2010 my life was organized around graduate school, and commuting to graduate school in Philadelphia
- From 2010 – 2011 my life was organized around my relationship with the ex, and trying (in vain) to manage his temper
And now here I am in 2011, about to be 2012, and I think I need to decide what my next hub will be. What will I organize my life around next? I am honestly torn between three or four different options. I’m smart enough to know there are no wrong answers to this, but each different answer will likely take my life in a different direction. And the real question is about which story I want to tell about my life in the years to come.
We cannot choose the circumstances in our life. Good things happen and shitty things happen. You might get cancer, your spouse might cheat on you, you might lose your job. But no matter what happens in your life, you get to choose the story you tell about your life. You can’t choose your circumstances, but you can choose to turn those circumstances into an awesome story. You can always choose the story you want to tell about your life.
And you can become the hero of that story, if you make that choice.
Then again, you can also choose to watch a lot of television and play video games all day. There really are infinite options.
As for me, I plan to spend the last few weeks of this year evaluating some potential choices and comparing different paths. I’m currently considering a fitness goal, a business goal and a relationship goal. All three could be interesting.
What I hope for you is that you make the choice this next year to tell your very own story. Please don’t tell someone else’s story that doesn’t fit you. You are the best person in the world to choose the story you tell about your life. You have infinite options in front of you every day, so remember that every story needs a hero and that hero could be you.