It’s a very good thing to have dreams and aspirations. The problem is, which ones do you chase? Which ones do you lock in as a goal, and work toward? For some people this is a no-brainer, but for others — especially creative types who have a very large range of interests — choosing can be difficult. So difficult, in fact, that you end up making no choice at all.
Another pitfall is choosing to pursue something that, in the end, you lose interest in. The time in your life is finite, and it’s a shame to waste that time and energy chasing something that turns out to be a whim. That’s why it’s best to take some time up front, studying, to discover what it is you really want out of life, before you dedicate a lot more time working toward it.
It’s like that Talking Heads song Seen and Not Seen, where the guy spends years slowly changing the shape of his own face to an ideal, which — halfway through — he decides isn’t what he really wants.
Here’s what I did, and it worked for me. Maybe it will work for you as well.
Spend a couple weeks making a list of the things you really want out of life. Don’t be afraid to think big. What is it you really want?
Don’t worry about listing them in order, and if you think of something else later, you can add it in at any time.
My [highly edited] personal example:
- See Europe
- Get a pro camera
- Write for a living
- Become a gourmet chef
- Paint pictures
- Pursue photography
- Own a Starbucks
- Live in a beach house
- Own a Bookstore
- Learn computer programming
- Learn database programming
Make sure you don’t lose this list. I kept mine on a Palm Pilot, because iPhones weren’t around yet and I carried my PDA with me everywhere. You can keep it on your computer, in the cloud, or in a paper notebook you know you won’t lose. It doesn’t matter where just as long as it’s accessible and safe.
Now, over the course of the next 6 months to a year (or even longer if you’d like), go down this list and rate your desire for each one on a scale from zero to ten, using decimals if you so choose. Do it at least once a month. When you’re done, you’ll have a list of numbers beside each:
- See Europe – 8 / 3 / 5 / 9 / 9 / 6 / 7 / 7 / 8 / 10
- Get a pro camera – 8 / 9 / 9 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 3 / 7 / 8 / 10
- Write for a living – 7 / 9 / 8 / 9 / 7 / 6 / 9 / 10 / 9 / 10
- Become a gourmet chef – 7 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 3 / 4 / 8 / 4 / 5 / 4
- Paint pictures – 7 / 8 / 4 / 3 / 0 / 2 / 4 / 3 / 7 / 0
- Pursue professional photography – 6 / 10 / 8 / 2 / 0 / 2 / 3
- Own a Starbucks – 5 / 0 / 1 / 0 / 0
- Live in a beach house – 9 / 8 / 10 / 8 / 9 / 8 / 7 / 8 / 10
- Own a Bookstore – 4 / 0 / 3 / 0 / 2 / 2
- Learn computer programming – 1 / 1 / 0 / 2 / 4 / 0 / 0
- Learn database programming – 1 / 3 / 0 / 1 / 2 / 4 / 1 / 1
You can see immediately the goals I’ve consistently craved over time are things like a beach house and a really cool camera. One of the things obviously a whim was my desire to open a Starbucks of my very own.
Now, average each one up and sort them highest to lowest:
- Write for a living – 8.5 Average
- Live in a beach house – 8.4 Average
- See Europe – 7.3 Average
- Get a pro camera – 6.9 Average
- Become a gourmet chef – 4.5 Average
- Pursue professional photography – 4.5 Average
- Paint pictures – 3.8 Average
- Own a Bookstore – 2.0 Average
- Learn database programming – 1.8 Average
- Own a Starbucks – 1.2 Average
- Learn computer programming – 1.1 Average
And there you go. You have a well researched list of what you want out of life. Concentrate on the top of the list, and forget about everything averaging below a six in your ratings.
I did this about 12 years ago. I’m now writing for a living, I’ve saved up for and bought the camera (more than one, actually), and I’ve made it to Europe several times. And while I don’t live on a beach, I have an office with a beautiful view of the Mississippi River.
The lesson here, though, is once you’ve set your goals you know what to focus on and work toward — you can achieve them.
Now right in the middle of all this you may stumble into something else that fires your rockets. Add it in. Pursue it a bit. Study it as well. Times change, interests change … if I were to do this list now, it would look substantially different.
The most important thing is to make sure you enjoy life, and keep enjoying it. It could turn out that something on your list (that you’ve wanted for over a year) will suddenly drop off after you’ve started pursing it. Maybe something you pursued while you were making your list takes its place.
It’s okay. If you feel a passion for something, and the passion doesn’t fade, you may not even need to make a list or study your long term desires.
If that happens, then go for it!
If not, then at least you have a solid place to start. And everything you do, learn from it. If you can do that then nothing is wasted, and you’re living your life to its fullest.