I tend toward organization. I like things neat and orderly. Still, in the latter part of my 30’s, I have reconciled with the fact that life is messy and often resistant to the organization I so love. People don’t fit nicely into boxes and relationships are rarely categorized succinctly. I often say that we never really know what goes on in someone elses marriage. The same is true for the formation of someone’s identity and sense of self. Most people’s career paths are full of twists and turns and fateful encounters. Still, this doesn’t keep me from trying to make sense of people and their lives.
Um, no, NOT in some taudry, gossipy way. I believe we have a purpose in this life – each of us, and some feel called to more than one purpose. Still, the messier life gets, the harder it may be to keep manifest that sense of purpose and our movement toward or within it. That’s where I come in: I help sift through the noise of life and amp up the “purpose” signal in people’s lives around areas of their work and relationships. (Since my husband is a techy guy, I like the signal-to-noise metaphor.)
As a PhD student, I am studying identity and occupations and how they intertwine and impact each other throughout a person’s lifespan. Throw in the companies people work for (we call these “organizations”, of course) and you’ve got quite a bit of signal to noise information to work with. Then toss in marriage and kids and the economy–oh, and one of my fave’s – our foundational models – well, it gets messy pretty fast.
That said, I think it’s really important that we teach and have tools for how to CHOOSE WISELY. Unfortunately, I don’t think we do this well as a society. We may give kids the raw materials (learn to read and do some math, google stuff and fill out a job application – okay I’m being a bit glib here) but we don’t show them how to bridge that information with consequences and choices. In economics, it’s called Game Theory and all the day long game theorists look at the end game and figure out which choices to make at the start of the game. In business we often say “begin with the end in mind” when starting a new project, initiative, or launching a new product or service. In program evaluation this is called measuring the end goals. Yet, we don’t often model these ideas at fundamental levels. As a whole, we tend to act as if this information, the ability to move from raw material to consequential decision making, is a given. It isn’t.
To prove my point, ask yourself how many divorced couples you know, how many kids have you come across that are struggling through college or figuring out what to do with their lives, single women who want to be married but aren’t quite sure how to go about it today, or how many companies are dealing with high turnover or lackluster sales performance (even when the economy is good)? The statistics about these questions all point to the need to “model” choice-making and how to do so wisely and with good information. This is as true for the single woman or parent as it is for the CEO or sales manager.
So, how do we set about choosing wisely for ourselves and modeling this for others?
It isn’t as easy as a bullet pointed list, but in a bullet point society, here’s an organized outline of where to start:
- Envision the End Game. In the end, what do you want from the relationship/college degree/job/product/service/project? Don’t list frilly superlatives like “I want to be happier”. It isn’t helpful when you get to the end and ask yourself if you got what you wanted. Are you happier? How will you know? This brings us to the next bullet point:
- Develop Measures. If you want to be happier when looking at the end game – if that is your goal – then how will you measure increased happiness? Measures are concrete and, well, measurable. Perhaps you would say that one measure of increased happiness would be reduced anxiety. Again, how do you measure that? Well, if you bite your nails because you are anxious, a measure of reduced anxiety and THUS of increased happiness might be that you no longer bite your nails. Obviously, this is an example. If it doesn’t fit, try one of your own. Remember: measures are concrete.
- Align the Design. So, once you’ve figured out your measures, review your purpose and goal and make sure your measures match your goals – that they are in alignment. It’s easy to get off track when developing measures. If the two are misaligned, go through the process again: determine your end goals and design appropriately fitting measures that you will use to determine whether you have achieved the end goal. Also, when aligning, bounce your ideas off of a trusted colleague, friend or mentor and let them weigh in on your goal and measures. Other perspectives help keep us honest. Be sure you let them know that you want to choose wisely and this is your method for doing so. They may start by asking whether your end goal is a wise one, so be sure you’ve already clearly established that for yourself!
- Build the Bridge. Now that you know the end game and how to make sure you get what you want in the end (I would call these “intended consequences”), you need to build a bridge from the NOW to the END. What steps do you need to take today, tomorrow, the next day, to get to that end goal? Write down the big things and the little things. Put a timeline around them. If you need resources to do them, add “find resources” as a big step and under that list “call rich Uncle Bernie” as a little step, maybe along with “convince Uncle Bernie to fork over some cash for my project”.
- Walk Your Walk. Now do those things you’ve outlined. If you forgot a few steps you’ll need to take, keep adding them to your list as you go.
If you do the things that will intentionally lead you to your end goals with the desired results,YOU WILL HAVE CHOSEN WISELY day in and day out and will have only yourself (and maybe Uncle Bernie) to thank.
Frankly, choosing wisely isn’t rocket science -it just takes some thought, some organization, and the determination to move through life’s messiness with intention and purpose. From choosing a life partner or your next job to choosing how to move forward with a project, a clear approach to the wise choice starts at the end.
2 thoughts on “Choose Wisely”
Interesting article. I am finding in my early thirties that I am coming across many of the discoveries that you speak of. I believe one issue is that most of society categorizes aspects of their life in absolutes. In a business sense an employer may expect an employee to be all things to all people, when in reality they focus on harnessing the individuals strengths and compensating for their weakness through another aspect of the business. I believe that either personal or professional if individuals look at the positive rather than the negative they will view a whole new world.
I loved your comparison of life issues to economic theory! My teenager is studying economics right now and has been noting of late the myriad ways his day-to-day mirrors many of the theories he’s learning. The kind of thinking you’ve outlined here should be mandatory instruction for teens. Too often caught up in the “now”, they end up suffering in the “later”. That said, I can think of quite a few adults who could benefit from such a paradigm shift, too!
And yes, life is messy. The trick seems to be in knowing when to stop cleaning, and start embracing.