What do you want your epitaph to say? And are you actively writing it every day?
Think about it for a minute.
After hundreds of conversations with people about what they want out of life, I believe this is a fundamental human desire.
Some of us call it living in alignment or living our values. Others call it finding purpose. And others think of it as making dreams come true, or achieving big.
No matter the language we use, it boils down to the epitaph question: Am I living the life I want to look back on?
And so many of us find ourselves — situationally or persistently — out of step with that vision.
We either find our days filled with doing things that don’t matter to us, like my clients who come to me with their company’s strategic plan in one hand and their 1,000 emails in the other . . . they want to go after the impact, but feel challenged by the reality of their day-to-day commitments.
Or we spend our time on things that do very much matter to us, but without enjoyment . . . like my clients who go after ever-bigger stretches in their growth and leadership, but at every new venture or level, they feel like they have to check out from the rest of their lives and go through a period of force, hustle, and anxious startup mode.
What’s the problem? Why does it feel like living the lives we want can be so elusive?
Our society creates a link between performance and hours worked. How many of us have the experience of long hours earning us prestige points? Or seeing others who work the longest revered for their dedication?
This same society teaches us that “getting it all done” is the gold standard. Task management systems surround us, and maximization + optimization messages are everywhere. How can we do everything, and then add a few more things to the list?
So problem one is that many of us, consciously or unconsciously, are operating with a belief that more is better — the more things we get done, and the more hours we work, the better we are and the more likely we are to achieve whatever we’ve set out to achieve.
And underneath that, many of us unconsciously link our achievements to our worth as humans, + our value to others, and deny ourselves the title of “successful” if we’re not doing everything and working all the time.
This is especially true since many of us, of course, want to be perceived as valuable — by our colleagues, clients, bosses, boards, and families. And if more makes us more valuable, we just keep doing more.
Add to this that we live in a world of distraction + reaction. Wherever you are at this exact moment, there are likely multiple devices in your immediate vicinity designed to try to pull your eyes away from what’s in front of you. And in fact, each of those devices is running multiple eyeball-pulling programs simultaneously.
Email was amazing until it became overwhelming and not real-time enough, so many offices switched to instant messaging options, implying or explicitly stating that the standard of work is now constant access and immediate response.
If we add all of these up and look at how most humans respond under these circumstances + norms, we see exactly what so many of us have witnessed, if not experience ourselves: frantic people trying to get everything done with more and more flying at them, working longer and longer hours, too exhausted to actually live outside of work. And trying to keep on a brave face of un-fluster-ability.
What’s the solution?
It starts by giving yourself a break.
If balancing all the things in your life has felt overwhelming, you’re not alone.
If you’ve ever been in a dark room at 2 AM with only the glow of your laptop illuminating your sallow face wondering why you bother starting companies when you clearly can’t figure out how to do it without killing yourself, you’re not alone.
If you’ve ever really wanted to end work on time to prioritize hanging out with your kids/family but then found yourself working two hours after the end time you decided, you’re not alone.
If you’ve ended your week unable to do anything but sit down and unplug, despite wanting to socialize, go to an event, make art, or work in the garden, you’re not alone.
If you’ve ever found yourself backing away from that big dream you have because you thought it would take too much work, mean that you had to transform into a person you wouldn’t like, or just that you wouldn’t even know where to begin, you’re not alone.
You’re not alone in any of these situations because the current state of affairs (do everything, perfectly, right now + there’s no success without sacrifice) isn’t great for humans. Specifically, because of the way the human brain works, it makes it very very easy to do what is immediately in front of us, constantly react to new incoming information, and second guess ourselves.
The solution is to turn this default way of reacting, processing and working into something deliberate.
Because the truth is, we always have control over our days, our achievements, our goals, and our lives. We’re just not set up to see exactly how much that’s true.
By way of example, I’ll tell you the story of my email inbox.
Several years ago, I was at my wit’s end. I was staring at my inbox, looking at 100 or so unread messages, and thinking about how I spent an unacceptable amount of time on email. I was writing the epitaph: Here lies Mimi, who responded to all the email. I wasn’t in.
So, in a moment of comic irony that absolutely didn’t occur to me in the moment, I emailed my boss to tell him that I thought we had an email problem. I told him that I ran the count and that on average, I was getting 800 emails a week.
After hitting send, there was a moment. It seems profound now, but at the time was just a tiny shift in my thinking. I saw the path where I waited for my email situation to solve itself and remained frustrated until a solution emerged. And I saw the path where I took on the problem and solved it myself. I had no idea how at the time.
And the shift was that I chose option B. I saw that waiting felt awful, and that I’d rather try and fail than sit around waiting and feeling frustrated.
So I added a block of time to my calendar to diagnose and treat the email problem.
A couple of months later, my emails were down to 200/week.
I took multiple steps to create this result, but the most important was deciding to find a solution.
Up until that moment of decision, everyone but me was in charge of my day. Other people who emailed me had all the power over my work experience. And I had to wait for other people, the culture of my office, and about 1,000 other things to change before I could get what I wanted.
When I decided to take the path where I didn’t have to wait, I changed my own experience.
I had learned the beta version of the skill I now teach my clients — designing for impact. When you know how to design for impact, your time is spent on your most important work, and not on things that don’t matter.
When we have the skills to make deliberate decisions that move us toward what we want, and we practice those skills every day, we completely revolutionize our own experience of life and work. We live the lives we want, writing our epitaphs actively, with love, and with enthusiasm. And we give other people permission to do the same thing.
I can’t think of a better gift to give the world, can you?
If you are willing to redefine a few terms and practice living with those new definitions, you can have a different experience . . .
One where you achieve your biggest goals.
In the amount of time you want.
And love both your work life and your life outside of work.
Learn how to take control of your time, design your life for impact, and remove all the busy + chatter. Register for my free class, Design Your Day for Done. You’ll learn . . .
- The three phases your brain goes through to achieve anything — from a single task to a great day, to a huge goal.
- The steps to take to make your time, achievement, and enjoyment deliberate, and as good as done.
- How to apply these steps right away and have a different day tomorrow.
+/or Speak directly to me by scheduling a consultation. You’ll get immediate insight from an expert coach, and I’ll tell you how we can work together.