I think there are about six keys to finishing well and without regret in life. Those keys involve growing clarity and determined action in light of
- Who you are (and not who someone else expects you to be). Live in integrity with this identity.
- What’s most important to you (your values).
- Your vocation or calling.
- Your reason for being, your mission or purpose in life.
- Your vision – snapshots of your preferred future. It is always based on the previous four keys and marks the next destination toward mission accomplishment. See it, hear it, taste it, touch it, smell it.
- What it means to be a learner-at-heart.
It’s important to live with growing clarity and determined action concerning these keys now because there will soon come a day when your possibilities will be limited and frustrated because of decreasing strength, physical decline (which, by the way, begins at age 20), and shortening of time to live.
Finding such clarity and discipline for action regarding these keys is not an easy thing since it requires much reflection and personal work, mentally and emotionally. Most people abort it all in the process for lack of discipline and creativity. Many are “emotionally bound, (clinging to life and denying death), sometimes intellectually over-structured, sticking to former ways and patterns of rigid behaviors, wanting to remain embedded in the security of the known.” Some are over-focused on “the end” and the “time they have left” rather than growing, learning, and stepping higher. They live in a narrow, static world often frozen in attitudes and patterns of living shaped long in the past.**
However, at True Course we support individuals (ages 20s–70s) in creatively and successfully advancing in clarity and the process of disciplined action related to these keys. They tell of improved focus, clearer and more efficient decision-making, less stress, and improved life satisfaction.
Let’s look at three of these keys with which we work – vocation, mission, learning – and your outcome if you implement them.
Sometimes you see it on an information form and sometimes people ask you, “What’s your vocation?” and they mean, “What is your job?” We use the term “vocational guidance” and we mean “advice or direction in choosing your occupation or profession.” We have wrongly reduced the idea of vocation to refer to endeavors in life such as your occupation that are not nearly as high and noble as your vocation.
Your vocation is not your occupation or profession; it is an umbrella under which you live all of life, including your occupation. The word vocation comes from a Latin word which means “to call.” A calling or sense of “call” comes from a higher source outside yourself and beyond human sources. It is an invitation to be involved in something much bigger than you and your world.
You may have an occupation, but it will quickly seem mundane and feelings of disappointment will arise unless you have a vocation to which your occupation is related. You need something nobler, higher, and more enduring—a calling on which to build a life that makes a difference and is without regret.
If you are to live well to the end, you must have a sense of vocation to define you rather than being defined by your shrinking world, “active years,” your job, retirement, or any other activities.
Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.
Alice: …so long as I get somewhere.
The Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.
—Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass
When setting out on a trip, it makes sense to know the destination. But, isn’t it interesting how, when it comes to the journey called “life,” we don’t practice the things that make sense, like deciding where we are going before we start or even deciding on the process.
You may be satisfied with having no real direction or sense of destination while being moved by whatever current of life comes your way. Unfortunately, one of those currents might be what another person thought we should do. Or, like Alice, you keep hoping you will run up on “somewhere” and that when you do, we will have achieved and experienced joy, success, and fulfillment. A good outcome of this approach is not likely. You’ll get “somewhere,” but it’s likely not where you want to be, you miss a lot along the way, and you will likely experience regret.
It is very important to do as Steven Covey encouraged readers of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to do – Begin with the end in mind. Decide now what you want to accomplish in life, what you believe to be your mission and be disciplined, focused, and determined to live every moment in light of it. You are never too old or too young to establish a written statement of your personal mission.
Your mission/purpose statement is a stable, enduring expression of what you powerfully believe must be the focus of your life. Goals are important and contribute to the fulfillment of your mission, but they come and go. If your goals do not fit under the umbrella of your mission statement, they are not your best goals.
Clarity about personal mission is built on vocation. A clear sense of personal mission will draw you. Staying true to your mission will enable you to finish with a sense of completeness at having done well what you were created to do.
Most adults are stuck. They are stuck in ways of thinking and believing that have long since ceased to serve them well for living and relating. Thus, their living and relating are well below its potential. They won’t change their ways until “hard knocks” teaches them or they are up against the wall for options because they are stuck in impenetrable, rigid ways of believing which do not and will not serve them any longer. They are painfully forced to change their minds and ways – to learn.
It need not be this way. You can choose to be a Learner-at-Heart. A Learner-at-Heart views each moment of life as an opportunity to
- Learn and grow
- Explore new possibilities
- Find new ways to look at the world
- Be creative
- Make new meaning
They know that even their most trusted ways of thinking and acting require adjustment and even transformation as they encounter new information, other opinions, gain more experience, and change personally. They know how to lower their biases to hear the thoughts and opinions of others clearly. They know that their perceptions of reality are limited and there is much more to learn.
Some of the most vibrant, flexible, resilient, and energetic adults I have known are learners-at-heart all their lives. As they draw their last breath they are still learning and discovering things they never knew before. I want to be one of these.
There is an enormous difference between contentment and complacency. Learners-at-Heart are content until they discover they can no longer be so, and they move to another place of contentment and then another, learning as they go. Complacency (disguised as or described as contentment) is the case for most – too comfortable that they know enough, satisfied they are right, believe they possess the truth of reality, and are hard-headed about it all. Unwelcomed surprises are waiting for those who only learn when they absolutely must.
An important task in adult growth (which I believe continues until the last breath), is to approach that last breath with wisdom.
You can end life with a sense of life integrity, the sense that all has come together to be true to your values, vocation, and mission; and you learned and became better having encountered the bumps in the road.
Or you can end with the sense of despair that your life, or parts of it, were wasted and a failure. “Shoulda,” “Coulda,” “oughta,” “woulda” will fill your thoughts and conversations.
Hopefully, when you reflect on your life you will be able to say, “There was what looked like the good and the not so good, but both have worked together for a very good life. I am proud of my accomplishments. I have a deep sense of satisfaction and completeness. I have no regrets.”
You can learn more about these and the other keys in my book, Without Regret: Be More, See More, Achieve More That Really Matters.
True Course Will Help
You can finish with integrity, completeness and no regrets. At True Course we will engage you in exercises, discussions, and support for clarifying the six keys and determined living in line with the keys you design. Contact us today. You’ll be glad you did.
** Landau, E. & Maoz B. (1978, January). Creativity and Self-actualization in the Aging Personality. In American Journal of Psychotherapy (32(1). Pp.117-127