To illustrate how expectations affect our ability to create life balance, let’s look at some myths and misconceptions: expectations that are not aligned with what is real and realistic. As you read, consider whether one or more of these reflects the way you think and impacts the things you do and the results you get. Consider the difference it would make if your expectations were more fully aligned.
Though we may not realize it, many of us live with the underlying assumption that the ideal life is problem-free. When things are difficult or they don’t work out the way we plan, we’re surprised. We live with the illusion that others—usually those whose lives we envy— don’t have difficulties, and we think we’re somehow lacking or marked by fate because we do. As a result, we see problems and challenges as “curve balls” that leave us scrambling to recover.
But think about it. Looking beyond the tabloids and media-created images, how many people do you personally know—really know—who don’t have problems or challenges in their lives? Have you had the experience of thinking someone was problem-free from a distance, but when you got to know that person, discovering that he or she had challenges of which you were unaware? Looking back over thousands of years of recorded human history, do you see any evidence that life on this earth has been “a breeze” for most people, or that challenge is not an inherent part of life?
As the noted author and psychologist Dr. M. Scott Peck has observed:
Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we know that life is difficult—then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.
Once we align our expectations and accept the reality that life, by nature, is both unpredictable and challenging, we remove much of the frustration we live with day by day. In fact, we can then find satisfaction—even joy—in facing the unknown and overcoming challenge.
Think about some of the great literature or profound thoughts you may have read over the years, or some of the classic movies you’ve seen. Do they not reflect this more realistic view of life? Don’t they make it clear that real satisfaction comes as we face difficulty and come to recognize or develop the character and capacity to solve problems and transcend challenge?
Again, M. Scott Peck has said:
Problems call forth our courage and our wisdom; indeed, they create our courage and our wisdom. It is only because of problems that we grow mentally or spiritually. When we desire to encourage the growth of the human spirit, we challenge and encourage the human capacity to solve problems.
Validating our expectations concerning the nature of life can free us of much of our frustration. It also empowers us to transform problems and challenges into opportunities to grow—and to find satisfaction and joy in the journey.
Some of us labor under the 18th-century notion that everything can be reduced to mechanical, mathematical terms. We see “balance” as allocating the same amount of time and energy to both sides of a scale to keep them even. We live with the expectation that there is some point at which we ought to be able to create this kind of “balance,” and that life ever after will be easier and more satisfying as a result. But we don’t ever seem to reach that point, so we’re frustrated most of the time.
Is life really like that—mechanical, static, sterile, cold?
Try another view.
Balance is staying upright on your surfboard when the waves are high and the ocean spray is in your face.
Balance is successfully maneuvering your kayak through white- water rapids.
Balance is maintaining the grace and agility of an Olympic ice skater or the steadiness of a tai chi master as you execute intricate moves with precision.
Considering what we know of human experience, how can we possibly think we can feel “balanced” by simply equalizing the time and energy we spend on work and family—especially during seasons of natural focus, such as when we’re starting a new business or we have a new baby or elderly parents who need care.
Life is not static—it’s dynamic. Balance in one season is not the same as balance in another. Balance for one person or family is not the same as balance for another. And there are times when seasonal imbalance contributes best to life balance as a whole.
The mechanical, equal-sides-of-the-scale notion of balance works in a mechanical situation. But life is not mechanical. And if we’re operating out of the expectation that “balance” is an event and that someday we’ll be able to allocate our time appropriately to achieve it once and for all, it’s likely that we’ll be sorely disappointed.
More aligned with what’s real and realistic is the view that life balance is a constantly changing, deeply personal dynamic equilibrium. Again, the challenge is not “balance,” it’s balancing. It’s creating the capacity to balance in the changing circumstances of life.
Some of us tend to see “balance” in terms of a baseball metaphor. The objective is to run around the diamond fast enough to touch each base each day. The expectation is, the faster we run, the higher our chance of succeeding; and the more bases we actually touch, the more balanced we’ll feel.
But the reality for most of us is that the faster we run, the more exhausted—and less satisfied—we feel. Somehow, additional bases keep popping up. And as we run faster and try harder to touch more of them, we still deal with a vague discomfort that we’re running in circles and still leaving vitally important things undone.
Suppose, for example, you know you need to exercise. So you tell yourself: “I’ll go to the gym for an hour after dinner tonight to work out.”
But you also realize that you need to spend time with your daughter. So you tell yourself, “Okay, I’ll take my daughter with me to the gym while I work out.”
But you also realize you need to catch up on some important new information in your professional field. So you think, “I’ll listen to that new book on tape while I take my daughter to the gym to work out.”
But you also realize you need to contribute to your community. So you add: “I’ll stop by the soup kitchen and help out for an hour before I listen to that new book on tape while I take my daughter to the gym for an hour after dinner to work out.”
On and on it goes, and we somehow think if we can just run fast enough and jam enough in, life will be better.
Imagine that you’re traveling down a road. The weather’s great, your car’s working fine, you’re getting 30 miles per gallon and feeling good. Suddenly, you come across a new freeway that wasn’t on your map. Instead of going 40 mph, you find you can now go 65. You’re elated.
But what if—in the midst of your highly efficient trip—you suddenly discover that you’ve been traveling south down the California coast, while your destination is New York City, over 3000 miles to the east?
Unless you’re headed in the right direction, increasing your speed will only get you to the wrong place faster. In addition, you’ll miss many of the rich, satisfying moments of living along the way.
Consider your own life experience. Are you getting more done now than you did a year ago? Five years ago? Ten? You probably are. But how much more balanced do you feel as a result?
Speed isn’t everything. In fact, it’s worse than nothing if it moves you in the wrong direction faster and cheats you out of some of the best moments of the journey.
When we’re feeling pulled between work and home, it’s hard not to view them as enemies in competition for our limited available time. It appears that we can only satisfy one at the expense of the other.
But in fact, this is a distorted 20th-century—and primarily Western—view. As we consider work/home balance, there’s a much bigger picture of “work” and “home” we need to see.
Professor Kathleen Bahr and Cheri Loveless have provided insightful contributions in this area. As they point out, until the 20th century “work” was “family work.” Rather than pulling families apart, work was something that, by its very nature, bonded families together. Children worked beside—and talked to and listened to and learned from—their parents as they labored at the workbench and in the fields to accomplish the life-sustaining tasks that drew them close.
But as the 20th century unfolded, dramatic change began taking place. Historian John Demos observes:
The wrenching apart of work and home life is one of the great themes in social history. And for father, in particular, the conse quences can hardly be overestimated . . . Of course, fathers had always been involved in the provision of goods and services to their families; but before the nineteenth century such activity was embedded in a larger matrix of domestic sharing. With modernization, it became “differentiated” as the chief, if not the exclusive, province of adult men. Now, for the first time, the central activity of fatherhood was sited outside one’s immediate household. Now, being fully a father meant being separated from one’s children for a considerable part of every working day.
“As the century wore on,” Bahr and Loveless observe, “fathers were home less and less with their children until, during the 1950s, father became a guest in his own home—someone who was catered to when present and had little to do with the day-to-day family work.”
With industrialization, the role of women also changed. “Labor saving” devices made work more efficient, noisy, and isolated. Tasks that used to provide opportunities for rich interaction, deep discussion, and shared contribution became basically isolated and boring.
With husbands at work and older children in school, care of the house and young children now fell almost exclusively to mothers, actually lengthening their workday.
. . . Tasks once performed to nurture and care for each other in response to life itself were reduced to “housework” and ...the homemaking arts dwindled into dull, efficient routine . . .
Much of a mother’s work began to be done in isolation. Work that was once enjoyable because it was social became lonely, boring, and monotonous. More seriously, the labor of caring for a family increasingly lost value in the sight of society. Our culture began to determine worth by “exchange value,” or the dollar value something would bring in the marketplace. Since work in the home had only “use value,” it remained outside the market economy and its worth became invisible. No wonder women eventually followed men into the workplace to labor for money, weakening the one remaining connection of any depth between parents and their children.
Industrialization also changed the nature of family life for children.
Prior to modernization, children shared much of the hard work, laboring alongside their fathers and mothers in the house and on the farm or in a family business. This work was considered good for them—part of their education for adulthood. Children were expected to learn all things necessary for a good life by precept and example, and it was assumed that the lives of the adults surrounding them would be worthy of imitation.
But industrialization drew children out of the home and into parentally unsupervised and abusive labor. Laws designed to protect children and prevent such abuse in effect ended child labor.
Eventually, the relationship of children and work inside the family completely reversed itself: children went from economic asset to pampered consumer. What it meant to be a loving parent was even revised. Loving parents were once those who taught their children to contribute their labor and their income to the support of the whole family; now loving parents were those who gave their children advantages in life and enhanced their self-esteem . . .
Over the course of the century, parents internalized this message until, in 1970, Kenneth Kenniston could state in the report of the Carnegie Council on Children that “[Today] children rarely work at all.” More recent time-use studies show children do some work around the home, such as cleaning their bedrooms, fixing their own snacks (though not usually cleaning up the mess), and shopping, including recreational shopping. Meanwhile, when children do earn wages outside of the home, they usually keep the money as their own and primarily use it for recreational “needs.”
We live in an isolated time in history, one in which men, women, and children try to interact from the distant ends of the universe where they have been flung as a result of the “big bang” of social “advancement.” Yet, we yearn for family togetherness and we try to achieve it apart from the “enemy” of work.
We “bond” with our children by getting the housework out of the way so the family can participate in structured “play.” We improve our marriages by getting away from the house and kids, from responsibility altogether, to communicate uninterrupted as if work, love, and living were not inseparably connected. We are so thoroughly convinced that the relationship itself, abstract and apart from life, is what matters that a relationship free from last ing obligations—to marriage, children, or family labor—is fast becoming the ideal.
For most of the world throughout most of history, “work” and “family” have not been at odds with each other; they have been complementary parts of a whole life perspective that bonds families in love, contribution, and victory in the struggle to survive. Even though we live in a challenging, perspective-limiting time, we need to understand that work is a principle and family is a principle, and genuine life balance demands that we create a synergy—rather than a chasm—between the two.
Consider the four myths we’ve just explored:
The ideal life is worry free.
Balance means equalizing the scale.
Faster is better.
Work and family are natural enemies.
Clearly, paradigms such as these can have a significant influence on our ability to create life balance.
And these are only a few of many such paradigms. As we move on in the book, we’ll take a look at other myths that deal specifically with work, family, time, and money. We’ll explore how they skew our effectiveness in each of these arenas of life, and in life as a whole. We’ll also identify some of the more “real” and “realistic” paradigms that lead to life balance success.
The point we want to make here is that it’s vital to life balance to validate expectations in terms of what is both “real” and “realistic.” This will ensure that the fundamental beliefs that give birth to our thinking, doing, and getting are a firm foundation in which we can have confidence and trust.
Begin to take a hard look at your expectations. Get them out in the open so you can evaluate them. Are they based on any criteria that would indicate they are “real”? (On “wisdom literature,” the lessons of history, your own experience, or the experiences of those you trust?) Do they take into honest consideration the realities of your own situation?
As you read through this book and live through the experiences of each day, keep working constantly to examine and validate your expectations.Throughout the day, if you feel frustrated, stop and ask yourself why. What expectation do you have that’s not being fulfilled? Is it real? Is it realistic? Look for specific areas of misalignment you can correct for greater effectiveness.
Once you’ve created valid expectations, there may be hundreds—even thousands—of things you can do to improve in a particular area or move toward a goal. But unless your efforts are (1) aligned with valid expectations and (2) leveraged for maximum results, you will never get the greatest return on your investment.
In the late 1970s, when Roger first suggested buying a computer, I was against it. I don’t particularly relate to technical “gadgets” and I was far from convinced that it would (or should) fit into our budget.
But then Roger showed me an amazing thing. He showed me how I could take words, sentences, even whole paragraphs, and change them, move them around, or even delete them—without having to retype the page. What a dramatic change from the type-writer I was used to! I couldn’t believe the freedom and increased efficiency that one feature would offer.
We bought the computer. We really had to pinch the budget to do it, but it turned out to be one of the best investments we ever made. It dramatically affected my ability to write. It also provided a far more efficient way to keep track of our finances. In addition, it enriched our lives (in the pre-Nintendo days) with hours of family fun and games.
We’ve come a long way since that first Atari computer some 25 years ago. I still don’t particularly relate to the technical aspects of computers and communication systems. But I love the results! I can write, research, pay bills, organize my life, work on family genealogy, communicate with family and friends, and surf the Net! And I really can’t even begin to calculate the increase in efficiency and effectiveness because of it.
Different from Rebecca, I love gadgets. I read the magazines, scour the research, and try to keep up on the development of almost any technology that promises to genuinely increase effectiveness.
However, I’ve discovered that there is a significant price attached to the learning curve. I’ve spent hours laboring with new software, only to finally end up calling product support to have them tell me there’s a “glitch” in the program, they’re working on it, and they will be coming out with the next version in a few weeks. I’ve finally determined in most cases to wait until version 2.0 comes out to even invest time and money. That way, I may not be on the very cutting edge, but with the rate of technological change, I’m not far from it. And I believe the significant savings—especially in time—is worth the wait.
I’ve also discovered that, even with our lifelong focus on time management, it’s easy to get sucked into the “black hole” of cyberspace. It’s far too easy to click from one site to another on the Internet, pursuing paths that are interesting, but may only be a four or a five on a top-10 priority list. The “Web,” it appears, was well named.
As we indicated at the beginning of this chapter, we live in a time when we’re literally inundated by good things we can do to improve our lives. Global awareness and dramatic and rapid changes in technology significantly increase our options for increasing effectiveness. But they also increase the complexity of our lives and can create “black holes” in which time, money, and many good things in life— including relationships—can disappear.
So out of all the possibilities, how do we determine the most effective things we can do with our money and our time?
Gotta Do 2—optimize efforts—deals with deciding on and planning to accomplish the most aligned, high-leverage activities that grow out of valid expectations.
Suppose you’ve validated an expectation in the area of money. For example, you’ve determined that having financial security is important. It’s “real.” It’s based on the principles of self-reliance and sustaining a life that creates satisfaction, happiness, and peace.
But you’ve also determined that, “realistically,” you’re a long way from where you want to be. You have an expensive house, two cars, and a boat. You have four credit cards with a combined balance of $16,027, and a $15,688 home equity loan—all of which you’re making minimum monthly payments on. You have two children in grade school and one in junior high. You have no money set aside for their education, and the only retirement assets you have are in a mutual fund account that recently lost half its value.
Now today is Friday, and you and your spouse have the weekend off. So how are you going to spend your time and/or money?
Go on an “overnighter” at an expensive resort to get away from it all.
Buy a new big screen TV so you can enjoy the Saturday afternoon football game.
Go to the zoo with your children.
Attend a financial planning seminar some friends told you was really good.
Take some time to discuss ways you can get out of consumer debt.
Obviously, some options are aligned with your principle-based expectation of achieving financial security . . . and some are not. You may have important reasons for choosing to do things that are not directly aligned with this specific expectation—for example, maybe you have another expectation around “family” and it’s more timely to spend the weekend building those relationships (though, as we’ll explain in the chapter on money, building financial strength is a fantastic way to build relationships with your spouse and children).
But if you really want to get the benefits of financial security in your life, sooner or later you’ve “gotta do” the things that are aligned with that expectation. (And, no, that doesn’t mean win the lottery or inherit a fortune.As we’ll explore in greater depth later, those “windfalls” often only exacerbate financial problems. Research shows that the vast majority of people we would probably consider “financially secure”—who have a net worth of over $1 million—did not win the lottery or a game show prize or inherit someone else’s money; they are simply ordinary people who have learned and lived the “real” principles of creating and sustaining wealth.)
So the first thing to do to optimize your effort is to make sure it’s aligned with what is both real and realistic. In the above example, you might attend that financial seminar your friends recommended. Often, such seminars are accompanied by a free dinner, which would make it a fun date for you and your spouse. Or you might take your kids to the zoo in the afternoon and then let them watch a video at home while you and your spouse spend some time talking about ways you could get out of consumer debt. Either of these things would be good things to do.
What probably would not be helpful is spending money on an expensive resort or big screen TV. In your situation, those choices would not be aligned with valid expectations about financial well-being.
The second thing to do to optimize your efforts is to make sure the effort is leveraged—that you’re getting the most results for the effort you put in. And that involves both what you do and how you do it.
Consider the what.
Going back to our example, if that financial seminar is a onetime event being taught by a highly reputable financial counselor who is only in your city that day, you might prioritize the seminar. On the other hand, if there are other time options and you and your spouse feel you need to create shared vision around your goal of being debt- free, you might prioritize time together instead. Or you could do one of a number of other aligned activities—balance your checkbook, sign up for online banking, review retirement plan options, check into the probable cost of college for your kids, or read a few chapters in a book on the principles of sound financial management.
There are usually a number of activities that are aligned with valid expectations. The key is to prioritize the one or two aligned activities you feel will bring the greatest return in your situation.
Then consider the how.
Let’s say you prioritize time with your spouse discussing options for getting out of consumer debt. You sit down together, and after reviewing the facts, determine that if you charge nothing else and simply continue to make your current minimum payments on your credit card and home equity debt, it’s going to take you 13 years and one month to get out of debt, and you’ll end up having to pay $14,380.91 in interest, for a total payoff of $46,075.91.
Credit Card 1
Credit Card 2
Credit Card 3
Credit Card 4
Total credit card debt
Home Equity Loan
Time In Debt
13 yrs 1 month
As you consider alternatives, you conclude that the best option would be to sell your boat and apply the money toward your debts. Since you made a healthy down payment on it, you think you’ll be able to find someone to take over the payments. That will give you $375 more a month to put toward your debt.
One way you could implement that decision would be to divide the $375 each month into five equal payments of $75 each, which you could then apply toward the four credit cards and home equity loan. With that one simple decision, you could save $7998.52 in interest and reduce the time it would take you to get out of debt by eight years and four months!
Time In Debt
+ $75 to each debt
4 years 9 months
That would be fantastic! It would be a great step toward reaching your expectation of financial security.
But is that the highest leverage way to do it?
What if, instead of dividing the $375 equally between your five debts, you followed the more high leverage debt elimination strategy suggested by our friends at themoneyplanner.com and applied the entire $375 to the debt with the highest interest rate until that was paid off . . . and then added the payment you’d been making on that debt to the $375 and applied both to the second highest interest debt until it was paid off . . . and then added the payment you’d been making on that debt to the other two figures and attacked the third highest interest debt . . . and so on until all your debts were paid?
That one adjustment to your approach would enable you to save an additional $1,148.06 in interest and be out of debt an additional one year and 10 months sooner!
Time In Debt
+ $375 roll down
2 years, 11 months
Just compare the difference!
Adding $75 to each payment
8 years, 4 months
$375 roll down
10 years, 2 months
In today’s fast-paced world, it’s not only what you do, but also how you do it that makes the difference. The smarter you work, the more traction you’ll create to move ahead.
As we move into the following chapters, we’ll share with you more aligned, high leverage ways you can increase your effectiveness in each of the four major areas—work, family, time, and money—and also generate a positive, balancing synergy between the four.
Begin to think about what you do in terms of alignment and leverage. Make sure you’re not wasting time or money on activities that don’t grow out of what matters most to you, or activities that don’t maximize the time and money you invest.
Start a “perhaps” list. As you continue to read this book and as you live through the experiences of each day, when you come across an idea you like and might want to implement, write it down. You might find it helpful to organize your list by “role”: individual, spouse, parent, manager, PTA president, etc. This will enable you to capture good ideas without becoming distracted or overwhelmed by them. It will also provide a rich resource to help you sort through alignment and to leverage priorities when it’s time to plan.
Your expectations may be real and realistic; your effort may be aligned and leveraged. But you still need to deal effectively with the challenges and opportunities of living each day. So how do you tell if the unanticipated is opportunity or opposition? How do you deal with the tension between the need to focus and the need to be open to the unexpected? The key is to develop your gift of discernment—the gift that empowers you to consistently recognize and respond to what matters most.
Most of us tend to think life would be a lot easier if we could simply plan and execute the plan—no interruptions, no changes, no surprises; just do exactly what we set out to do.
There’s just one problem: Life is unpredictable. There’s no way we can know in advance everything that’s going to happen. We can do our best to anticipate, but we really don’t know for sure what challenges, problems, or opportunities any day or any moment will bring.
That’s why success in life balance is more than simply planning and executing—it’s also developing the wisdom and judgment to make good choices in “decision moments.” It’s learning to navigate effectively through the myriad challenges we face each day.
“Navigational intelligence” is the ability to make good judgments in these decision moments. It’s the ability to plot a good course, ride the waves, weather the storms, respond to the currents, and effectively course-correct. It involves the ability to know and do what matters most in life as a whole and also to know what matters most now—when you’re working on a project and your daughter calls with a problem she wants to discuss, when you’re sitting down to work on your taxes and you suddenly feel like going to a movie instead, when you’re in the middle of your annual garage cleaning and your neighbor’s car breaks down in the driveway, when you finish your low-fat lunch and you smell the aroma of fresh-baked chocolate cake.
This is where we face the real, gut-level, rubber-meets-the-road challenges of wisdom and life balance. And this is where we face one of the most difficult life balance dichotomies: the tension between focus and awareness.
If we totally immerse ourselves in a project, we’re afraid we’ll lose awareness of the people and opportunities around us. On the other hand, if we try to be aware, we can’t give projects the intense focus they require for successful completion. As a result, we often live suspended in a mediocre middle world, only moderately aware, essentially unfocused, feeling victimized by the things coming at us and guilty about what’s not getting done.
The solution to this dilemma—and to the problem of making good decisions in all moments of choice—lies in discovering, calibrating, and regularly using a wonderful gift we have called the gift of discernment. Properly developed, this gift empowers us to constantly scan for, recognize, and respond to what is most important— even when we’re focused on something else.
I work at home—and so does Roger, much of the time. We have home offices across the hall from each other. We also have two children living at home, one in a nearby university, and four married children and 15 grandchildren, all living within 10 minutes of our house, and my mother living next door. Three of our children have significant health problems and sometimes require additional attention or help.
One of my biggest challenges is balancing the need for intense focus needed for writing with the flexibility of “being there” for the people I love.
I learned long ago that there are “teaching moments” with children that never come again. There are grandchildren whose births and special birthdays only come once. There are singular times when helping my mom or responding to a question from my college age daughter, helping my husband with a project or being available to tend grandchildren, really makes a difference.
I don’t want to miss those opportunities. I don’t want to shut the door and shut out the important people in my life. At the same time, there’s no way I can write without times of intense focus.
So I try to plan based on the importance of the projects I’m working on and the needs of the people I love. I schedule regular writing times. I also plan special birthday “sneak-outs” with the grandchildren, regular dinners, family nights and other activities with the children at home, and a date with my husband once a week. I try to call my mother or see her every day.
But in the process of carrying out my plans, I find that nearly all the time—even when I’m engaged in high focus work—I have available a sort of subconscious “background scanning” capacity that can alert me to higher priority opportunities and needs that may arise. This capacity often allows me to quickly shift focus when Roger or one of the children comes into my office, or prompts me to prioritize a day differently than I had planned.
Learning to recognize this “auto scan” capacity and quickly shift gears is something that’s been hard for me to do. By nature, I’m singularly focused. (I’m one of those people who finds it challenging to even cook and talk to someone at the same time!)
But it’s not been nearly as hard as struggling with the discomfort that I may be missing important things, which I may later regret.
As long as my overall life values are in place and my scanning sensors are on, I find that responding effectively in the moment is generally much easier to do.
This “background scanning” is one of the ways the gift of discernment works in our lives. It doesn’t take much bandwidth when it’s on automatic. The key is to learn to recognize it and respond to it . . . and to “calibrate”—to adjust, regulate, or attune—it for maximum results.
A few years ago I took our youngest son to Alaska. We went out on a fishing boat, and as we got farther out to sea, the shoreline became less visible and finally disappeared from view.
The captain of the boat showed us how to fish for the 50-pound halibut lurking below. As we fished, we could hear various beeps and other noises coming from the radar, sonar, and GPS (global positioning system) equipment on the boat.
The captain appeared to essentially ignore the sounds. But at one point a beep sounded that was different from the others. To this sound, the captain responded instantly. He immediately went in the cabin to check it out.
A few minutes later he was back. He informed us that his equipment indicated that there was a small weather disturbance moving into the area. After checking all the facts, however, he had concluded that it wasn’t bad enough to return to shore. So we continued fishing. After a while, the winds came, but they passed with out cause for concern.
The response of the captain to that particular sound illustrates the ideal response to impressions that come to us through our gift of discernment. There are many noises around us all the time, but our ability to hear and respond to the particular sound of our own inner “radar” is what empowers us to be aware of and act upon what matters most.
So how do we calibrate this inner radar? By doing three things:
We’ve already talked about the importance of validating our expectations in terms of the “real” principles that govern in all of life. As we gain confidence in the existence of these timeless principles and come to personally value, seek, and embrace them, we calibrate our discernment capacity. We adjust the settings so our automatic default mode reflects the natural laws and priorities that bring the greatest life balance results. In this way, we are constantly and naturally “scanning” for priorities aligned with principles that create positive results.
One powerful way to calibrate is by creating a personal mission statement, a process we’ve taught for years and written about in First Things First. Such a statement will create a basic framework against which the value of goals and unexpected opportunities can be quickly and naturally measured.[15 ]
Another way is to create a constant input of “wisdom literature”—that portion of world literature that embodies principles dealing specifically with the art of living. This is another process we’ve taught and written about, and we’ll give this concept some additional attention and development in the chapter on wisdom.
When we clearly identify and frequently review principles and values, they become the foundation of our discernment and a standard against which the value of any activity is automatically measured.
A good friend recently related her experience some years ago as a first year public school teacher. Having just received her degree, she was anxious to do well and was concerned about her lack of experience. As she talked with her father—a school principal—she expressed the sense of awe she felt about a teacher in his school who had taught for 35 years.
“How wonderful it must be to have 35 years of experience!” she exclaimed.
Her father thought for a moment, then replied, “There’s a difference between 35 years of experience . . . and one year of experience 35 times!”
Sometimes it seems we go through life making the same dumb mistakes, getting the same negative consequences, over and over. And we never “learn.” If you’ve seen the movie Groundhog Day, you’ve probably laughed at the character played by Bill Murray who—through some quirk of fate—actually did live the same day over and over until he finally realized the consequences of his choices and learned to make better ones. In repeated and often comical efforts to live through the day, he gradually changes from a self- centered, arrogant, offensive, “what’s in it for me?” schlock to an honest, humble, genuinely nice guy who spends his time reading good literature, developing his talents, and helping others. In making the change, he’s finally able to develop enough character to create a quality relationship with a wonderful woman who would never have considered him otherwise.
Sometimes it’s easy to laugh when we watch a funny movie and see someone making the same stupid mistakes over and over again. But the reality in our own lives is not so funny. In fact, it’s inefficient, ineffective—and often painful.
So why do we do it? Experience is supposed to be the great teacher. Why don’t we learn?
The answer is that most of us don’t take the time to evaluate and course-correct. We live with the invalid expectation that “success” somehow does not involve making mistakes, and so we see our mistakes as failures, and they make us feel disillusioned and weary. As a result, we fail to tap into the power of our mistakes as high leverage feedback and course-correction tools.
In his book, Peak Performers, achievement expert Charles Garfield refers to a study conducted by Warren Bennis of ninety leaders in “business, politics, sports, and the arts, including sixty board chairmen and CEOs of major corporations.” Garfield observes:
With their attention on achieving their mission, the word failure seldom enters a conversation unless someone else brings it in. The scores of synonyms for it—glitch, bug, hitch, miss, bungle, false start, to name just a few—convey their view that what someone else might call a failure is something from which they intend to learn. As one of them said, “A mistake is simply another way of doing things.”
As anyone who’s every tried to navigate a boat or a plane can tell you, arriving at a particular destination is a function of making constant course corrections.You have to allow for the impact of the currents, the weather, and other elements, and you have to adjust for them.
It’s only when we don’t expect to course-correct that we run into trouble. Then we’re afraid of feedback—of the very information that can best empower us to get on track and reach our goal.
One excellent way to evaluate experience is to keep a personal learning journal. We’ll look at this and more high leverage ideas in the chapter on wisdom.
Even beyond what we can learn about principles and from experience is a quiet but powerful insight that gives specific personal direction and highlights what we need to work on or respond to at any given time. But we only receive the full benefit of this insight when we open ourselves to it.
If you’ve ever been on a personal retreat, gone through the process of writing a personal mission statement, or taken a quiet moment to reflect before setting a goal, you’ve probably felt this kind of inspiration. If you’ve learned to pay attention to it on a regular basis, you probably found yourself doing things that bring a great deal of satisfaction in your life.
In the words of the poet John Greenleaf Whittier:
He is wisest, who only gives,
True to himself, the best he can:
Who drifting on the winds of praise,
The inward monitor obeys.
And with the boldness that confuses fear
Takes in the crowded sail, and lets his conscience steer.
We have one friend who has a firm grasp on what’s important in life. He plans and executes and accomplishes a great deal. But a real key to his inner peace and life satisfaction is symbolized by the small notebook he keeps with him at all times. He’s constantly on the alert for inspiration. When he receives an impression, he immediately writes it down and he holds himself accountable to follow through with whatever it was he felt impressed to do. As one by one these things are carried out, little by little this man adds to his store of personal strength and confidence in his ability to recognize and respond to the whisperings of his conscience . . . and to his sense of deep, personal fulfillment.
As we go through the chapters on work, family, time, and money, we will identify principles in each of these four areas with the goal of helping you build your discernment capacity. We’ll also focus—particularly in the chapter on wisdom—on evaluating experience, course-correcting, and inviting inspiration.
Begin paying attention to your discernment capacity. Nurture it with meditation and wisdom literature; exercise it and strengthen it by using it. Notice that the more you pay attention to it, the more active it becomes.
Peck, M. Scott. The Road Less Traveled. Touchstone, New York, 1978, p. 15.
Ibid., p. 16.
This summary of the work of Kathleen S. Bahr and Cheri A. Loveless is used with their permission. Portions are available in Bahr, Kathleen’s “The Power of the Home Economy,” World Congress of Families II, Geneva, Switzerland, November 1417, 1999. See also note 8.
Demos, John. “The Changing Faces of Fatherhood.” In Past, Present, Personal: The Family and the Life Course in American History. Oxford University Press, New York, 1986. Also quoted in Bahr and Loveless (1998), see note 8.
Bahr, Kathleen S., and Loveless, Cheri A., “Family Work in the 21st Century.” In Charting a New Millennium, edited by Maurine Proctor and Scot Proctor, Aspen Books, Salt Lake City, UT, 1998, p. 184.
Ibid., pp. 185–187.
Ibid., p. 187.
Ibid., pp. 188–189.
Ibid., p. 177.
Stanley, Thomas J., and Danko, William D. The Millionaire Next Door. Longstreet Press, Marietta, GA, 1997.
Thanks to Marci and Ken Redding at www.themoneyplanner.com for their help with this example.
[15 ]Covey, Stephen R.; Merrill, A. Roger; and Merrill, Rebecca R. First Things First: to Live, to Learn, to Love, to Leave a Legacy. Simon and Schuster, New York, 1994. See Chapter 5, “The Passion of Vision” and Appendix A, “Mission Statement Workshop.”
Garfield, Charles. Peak Performers: The New Heroes of American Business. Avon Books, New York, reprint edition, 1991, p. 102.
Whittier, John Greenleaf. “The Grave by the Lake.” The Complete Poetical Works of John Greenleaf Whittier. Houghton, Mifflin, Boston, 1904.