Back in college, my friends and I took a few weekend road trips on nothing more than a whim and a shoestring budget. We didn’t know where we were headed other than “west until we hit the Pacific,” or “somewhere north of the Canadian border.” The haphazard nature of those come-what-may adventures was a lot of fun, and made for some fond memories. They were a great way of blowing off a little juvenile steam, while simultaneously celebrating the freedom of our youth.
Fast forward to our family’s recent month-long trip to Europe. Traveling with three children is no simple task in and of itself, but for an entire month throughout France, Germany, and the Czech Republic? This journey took months of meticulous planning and advanced reservations – but it was well worth it. We were able to cover over 3000 km (1865 miles) without feeling harried. We took in the iconic sights of Paris, ferried up the Rhein river and hiked in the Bavarian Alps. We stood in Roman ruins in Trier and toured the medieval town of Rothenburg. We explored the castle in Prague, and stood with one foot on each side of the line where a wall once separated East- from West-Berlin.
It should be apparent that the first model, while exciting in it’s spontaneous and unrestricted nature, is a pretty ineffective method of living out our daily lives. Accomplishing great endeavors requires some forethought and planning. (Anybody that has traveled with kids knows exactly what I mean.) Yet there are folks who have never sat down and made a life plan; they’ve never invested the time and effort to think about what they really want and what they must do to make it a reality!
Begin with the end in mind.
We’re always asking children, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” We need to sit down and ask ourselves the same question. Seriously. The first step in getting anywhere is knowing where we’re headed, both in the short term and for the long haul.
In his seminal work, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey asks us to consider our own funeral. If there were to be four speakers from different spheres of your life, i.e. family, friends, professional, and community, what would you like them to say about you?
“Now think deeply. What would you like each of these speakers to say about you and your life? What kind of husband, wife, father or mother would you like their words to reflect? What kind of son or daughter or cousin? What kind of friend? What kind of working associate?
What Character would you like them to have seen in you? What contributions, what achievements would you want them to remember? Look carefully at the people around you. What difference would you like to have made in their lives?”Stephen R. Covey, (1989)
This exercise can help us recognize the root of our character, and what is truly important to us. Ultimately, this is our life’s work – our destination. All of our other goals, whether related to family, fame, or fortune, should align with this conceptualization of who we want to be.
Accomplishing tremendous undertakings is really just a number of smaller more manageable tasks chained together over time. Our life simply becomes a matter of making a good plan or detailed map of how we’re going to get to where we’re headed. We just have to decide where it is we wish to go. We must begin with the end in mind.
“Life is so strange, when you don’t know your destination.”Missing Persons, 1982.