Talking with a friend this morning, I started thinking about just how much we all balance. Working as nurse practitioners and physician assistants, we’ve got busy careers with a reasonably high stress level and demanding schedules. In addition, we fit in all that goes on with spouses, kids, extended family and our social lives. Not to mention, its nice to take time away for yourself once in a while. Looking at all of these obligations, how do you fit them all in? Can you really have an ideal life?
Waiting to ‘live’ until I retire is simply not an option. I’m a firm believer that far too many of us put our heads down and tell ourselves that if we can just work 15 or 20 more years, then we can quit working and finally start to enjoy ourselves. Life is just too short not to live fully the interim. We’ve got to find a way to relish our working years (even though I can say that spending more time at the beach in my 60’s will be a welcome change).
I attended a seminar a few years ago that revolutionized my approach to the day-to-day drudgeries we often face in the working world – especially in the clinical setting. This goal setting exercise was presented with a fresh approach and really helped me think in a way that allows for intentional planning and therefore enjoyment of whatever my current circumstances might be (overall at least – I do still have bad days…). Here’s the gist:
- Think about what you want your life to look like in 15-20 years. Write a few thoughts down for each of the following categories: family, social/friends, personal, spiritual, leisure/hobbies, health, and financial. Add any other major categories you want to consider.
- Looking at what you want your life to look like in 15-20 years, write down what needs to happen for you to reach your ideals in each of these categories. For example, if one aspect of your ideal life is to maintain close friendships, than spending regular time with friends now will be required. If you want to have an active lifestyle, then maintaining a certain level of fitness with regular exercise is necessary. Maybe adventure is important to you. If you yearn for a life of adventure, then taking a number of international vacations over the next several years might fit the bill.
- Once you’ve written down generally what will be required to build your ideal life, break these things down into 10-year, 5-year and one-year goals by working backwards. So, for instance, if you want to have an active lifestyle and acknowledge that maintaining a level of fitness is necessary, then maybe a 10-year goal would be to continue exercising at least 3 times per week. Or, to have hiked the tallest mountain in each state. Think as big – remember, you’re building your ideal life, not a set of obligations.
- After you have an idea of what you need to do 10 years out to match the picture of your ideal life, distill this down again for five years out. Within the next 5 years, what steps do you need to take to meet your 10-year goals?
- Finally, look at what you need to do this year to reach your 5-year milestones. Make a list and get to work!
Taking a look at your ideal life, determining what needs to be done to create this reality, and setting long and short term goals to reach this reality ensures that you don’t wake up in 20 years regretting wasted time. Setting such goals allows you to live now without feeling guilty for ditching work to spend time with your kids, to name one example. It permits you to fit each of these important aspects of life in at present rather than biding your time until retirement.
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