Why the name “The Intentional Life”? This isn’t to suggest that any of us have complete control over our lives. That would just be delusional. If that could really happen, then none of us would feel gob smacked by the difficulties thrown at us. No one would wake up one day, look in the mirror, and say “How did I end up here?”
What I’m referring to is not having your life happen by accident.
Before I had children, I had a career hiring people. It was an absolute ball…until 2001 when the economy tanked. Then I started teaching human relations and career classes for adults. I can’t even begin to think of how many people I interviewed or career-counseled in that time span.
One idea kept coming up, over and over and over again.
People were living their lives by default.
By default, I mean that there wasn’t a lot of planning, or intentionality, going on. Sure, some people planned, but most were in such a reactive mode that they couldn’t take a breath and be mindful about where their lives were really going. These were smart people that were overwhelmed by the assembly line of life. This scenario happened to men and women, young and old, and those with all education levels. Many, many people had careers and lives that were in default mode.
In computer language, the word “default” refers to something that happens if other action isn’t taken. It just happens. Kind of like if I didn’t take action to brush my hair in the morning, I would look like a wild-partying hedgehog in the morning.
I remember the bright, personable 50-something I spoke with who said she really hated what she was doing. This woman could have done anything. But, instead, she got sucked into a career she hated because she took a job when she was 20, blinked, and suddenly was in her mid-50’s hating her job…and her life.
Usually it happened like this: People had events in their lives that often worked together to give them a feeling of helplessness and reactivity. Some of these events were (in no particular order):
- Car payment
- Replacing transmissions in the cars we have bought
- More babies
- Family stress due to a lousy economy
- Family stress due to the normal transitions we all go through
- More worry about layoffs
- Unpleasant neighbors
- Keeping up with the unpleasant neighbors
- Kids hit middle school and all hell breaks loose
- Maybe a divorce…or three
- Health scares
- Helping aging parents
- Planning kids’ weddings
- Figuring out what on earth you’re going to do when it’s just you and HER (or him) in the house after retirement.
And it’s not just careers that are affected….
It’s how we raise our kids
How we choose relationships
How we decide what will be important to us
How we spend our money
Sometimes I ask clients to tell me about themselves and they don’t even know where to start. They had jumped from the rock to the hard place to the frying pan to the fire…and forgotten who they were.
Other people tried to live intentionally and make decisions on purpose, but soon became defeated after life had slapped them around a few times…or maybe it was a significant other that slapped them around.
Still others tried to micro-control every aspect of their lives and were now having cardiovascular and gastrointestinal problems due to the stress.
Intentional living doesn’t mean:
- Being hyper-controlling of your circumstances
- Being self-centered
- Putting your needs above everyone else’s.
It does mean:
- Recognizing what you want to do in life and planning for it…yet still being flexible.
- Being able to say “no” when necessary…and dealing with the possible push-back.
- Recognizing that you may need to drastically change your plans to accommodate someone else’s valid needs.
- Remembering that while you want to live purposefully…so do others.
Sometimes we have competing interests.
There is the man that wants to quit his soul-killing job and start his own business but can’t due to factors including finances, family, and other issues. Just because he isn’t doing what he wants does not mean he isn’t being intentional. Instead, he discusses the issue at length with his family, expresses his desire, but then intentionally makes the decision to stay where he is. He isn’t just floating along and robotically following the wishes of others or just bobbing along the stream of least resistance. He has made a conscious decision.
Hopefully he even made the decision to re-visit the question in a few months.
Other times, living intentionally can look selfish, but it is not. Consider the woman that has for years hated the family drama at Christmas. She’s thought about this for a long time, until finally she and her husband decide just to stay home with their children and have a peaceful Christmas.
I certainly have had my share of living life by default and not by intention. And, I know we all still need some spontaneity in our lives. For me, this is just the start.
Don’t live life by default. Live intentionally.