Saturday, April 30, 2011

Begin with the End in Mind

This phrase has long been touted as a pathway to success (some of you may recognize it as Step #2 of Stephen Covey’s seven for “Highly Effective People”) and there’s a reason for it. There’s a whole lot of meat to this phrase that’s worth weighing into.

Begin with the end in mind
This is the real heart of this phrase. It emphasizes the importance of being strategic about our lives, and developing that mindset as early as possible. As we tumble out of high school and choose whether to go to college or begin working, that decision must be founded in our ultimate goal. When we choose a major, many of us do so with a career in mind. When we begin dating seriously (which is different ages for different people and, for some of us, never at all) many of us go on dates only with individuals that might be marriage material. 

An acquaintance recently lamented, “I didn’t think I’d be where I am now, at age 26.”
I commiserated: “Well, where did you think you’d be?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. Just not here.”

And all my inklings of empathy ceased.

We cannot allow ourselves to be driftwood in our own lives. If we want certain things, we must actively pursue them. You want to be a millionaire by 40? Nobody is going to hand you a check at 39. If that is your end goal, you must pursue paths that will lead you there (not least of which is: save some of your income.) If you want to publish a book, write one. If you want to weigh 30 pounds less, stop eating heaps of pasta and burgers. (And maybe hit the gym?) Lay out a plan. It doesn’t have to be etched in stone – nobody has all the answers – but having metrics penciled along a general timeline allows us to evaluate how effective we’re being at achieving our end goals. 

Begin with the end in mind
Once we have given some thought to our ultimate goals and established a direction our lifestyles, we must also strive to be patient in realizing them. People have terrific ambitions, but some of us make the mistake of pursuing them too fast. (I am pretty guilty of making this mistake, and did so in the last month.) We want to be multi-millionaires, so we play the lottery; we want big, beautiful homes, so we bind ourselves with mortgages we can’t afford; we want luxury cars, so we take out car payments that amount to more than our rent; we want to ultimately run the show, and make the mistake of hinting this to our new boss.  

We rush things that should take time; we try to prove something – either to ourselves or to each other – by willing things to happen before they should or biting off more, financially, than we can chew. And so, it would behoove all of us to really think about what we want in life, to lay out a plan, to periodically revisit our progress along it, and to have patience with that progress.

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