A few years ago I wrote a book titled Save the World and Still be Home for Dinner. The title came from a running conversation I was having with a woman executive client who was trying to start a new purpose-driven business while she raised her two young daughters, helped her aging mother and stayed engaged as a loving wife. When I asked her what she really wanted she responded, “I just want to save the world and still be home for dinner.”
I don’t think anyone has defined a well-lived life better than that statement. Yet turning that aspiration into reality is a constant challenge. Today more than ever. Many times I am asked to summarize the practical principles that makes her request achievable. Here is a menu of 10 actions you can take that capture what my happiest and most successful clients do. If you want more from your life than you’re currently getting choose 1 or 2 of the items that would make the most difference and commit to do them for 21 days. If they produce the change you are seeking you will have a new positive habit. Then reload. Try another new habit and then another. The cumulative impact is transformational.
1. Decide to stand for something.
Make a promise to yourself to make your difference…a commitment to live your life in a meaningful, fulfilling way. This will change your priorities, what you’re willing to say “yes” to…and what you must say “no” to. I call this your personal promise. Write it down, take a picture of it and make it your home screen on your cell phone. When you pick up your phone and the screen lights up look at what you’ve written and ask yourself “Am I making my difference right now?”
2. Change your theory of life.
Many of the most challenging things that will ever happen to you are beyond your control. (Death, divorce, sickness, job loss, bankruptcy, caring for loved ones…) It is difficult to be happy if your expectations are that your life should be full of endless days of sunny weather. For most of us life is frequently stormy. A major part of life’s purpose is to learn to be resilient, resourceful, agile, and be able to transcend the drive for pleasure with the quest for meaning. I have found that life is not easy for anyone. It isn’t meant to be. We live to become stronger, better and to help others along their path. Align your expectations with reality and master the art of resilience.
3. Don’t allow the powerful, greedy, and stupid people who make our society and our world worse than it should be, to ruin your peace of mind.
Resist expending your energy on blame and focus on leading your own life. Be an activist by stopping the fight against bad ideas and invest all your energy in good ones.
4. ‘Saving the World’ does not mean you have to hold an important job at a nonprofit.
Saving the world does not have to be starting a new socially conscious business. For most of us it is the genius of turning our values in value for other that is seen in the way you do your work, love your loved ones and inconvenience yourself every day to make your difference. Never forget, sometimes the best way to change the world is to change a diaper.
5. Be proud of your employer.
Is your company valued and respected? Are its values aligned with yours? Are you encouraged to grow and express your authentic, best self? Are you paid and treated respectfully? Refuse to be exploited. Invest your time and effort in working for a great enterprise. Lists like ‘A Great Place to Work’ and websites like Glass Door offer unprecedented information about the quality of potential employers. Don’t work for jerks… it will make you feel small. Honor yourself by working for a great organization. Or start one!
6. Create a life-list of activities you most enjoy.
To make this list, pay attention to your true feelings. What activities consistently light up your passion and ignite your energy from the inside out? Write these activities down. Post them on your bathroom mirror. And take time to do them weekly. Hike, paint, bike, garden, play a musical instrument, do yoga… do something that fires-up your joy at least three times per week. Make it possible by making it easy to do. Just 20 minutes a day of doing something you love is a daily vacation.
7. Use creativity to solve your problems.
Don’t be an either/or thinker. Ask yourself “how” instead of “if.” Somebody with far bigger problems and fewer resources have solved the problem you’re facing. You can too.
8. Be intensely present with people.
Listen without an inner agenda…without formulating what you’re going to say next. Don’t allow your mind to wander. Quit pretending to listen while you’re having a second conversation in your mind or saying “uh huh” while you’re texting someone else. Keep bringing your total concentration back to the conversation in front of you. Do this with everyone…your family, friends, coworkers, cabdrivers and cashiers…just watch what happens to your own happiness.
9. Get off the Grid for three hours a day.
Be radical about this. No smartphones, computers, TV, or news. Think, reflect, journal, study, talk, walk, eat, help, love with no distractions. Fully engage yourself in the interests of the person you love the most. Take back your inner life and invest in your love life.
10. Eat wisely, exercise daily, sleep peacefully and spend wisely.
In order to save the world and still be home for dinner, what you value should be reflected in your day-to-day choices. So value your personal vitality and your health. As far as wealth, you will feel rich if you buy a few high-quality things that you will continue to relish long after you purchase them. For everything else, make do with what you have or buy the cheapest acceptable option. The temporary pleasure of buying something you cannot afford will never exceed the stress of financial bondage.
So travel light because you will have many more opportunities to do what you really want to do and live the life you will find most deeply satisfying…that’s the greatest wealth of all. These are 10 big life changers. As I said, it’s better to choose one or two of these actions and do them with your full energy…otherwise they won’t have much impact. The great thing about positive behavior change is that it’s infectious. One good thing, we do a second thing and a third.
Also, sometimes changing 5% of your life will change the way you feel about the other 95%.
Life is a long journey on a path covered with thorns and broken glass. These actions are like grippy-soled hiking boots. Slip them on and keep climbing.