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How did he choose from a multitude of must-do tasks, should-do tasks, passions, and talents? “If your heart is fully in something, no matter how busy you are, you find a way,” says Internicola. “It just may have to be in a different way. I used to be able to spend hours at a time reading. I wasn’t doing that anymore, which was driving me crazy. But I realized there are several breaks during the day when I could read a few pages at a time, and now I may read even more than before.”
Still, the Internicolas sometimes imagine returning to a nontraditional working life, exchanging the income of Billy’s fulltime job for more time, freedom, and energy to weave the multifaceted web they crave. “I like my job,” he says, “but it does take a lot.”
Clarity of Hindsight, Now
A classic suggestion for identifying where you might be paying out too much time and energy is to consider what you want to do before you die. It sounds morbid, but imagine having to say good-bye to this lifetime right now. What seems a unique, thrilling expression of who you are but feels tragically ignored or unfinished? Then write those down and make them priorities. Doing so honors your life—now, not after you’ve died. You may have to make big changes, or perhaps only small ones. Maybe all you need is a weekly timesheet to keep on track.
Creating a list of life priorities is something Sharron Phillips, a life coach in Chester, helps her clients do. “There are so many opportunities today, for kids and adults, with a lot of pressure to be everything you can be, do every thing you can do. People are asking, ‘Where am I in all this? I’ve lost myself in this life.’ A lot of times they don’t think they have a choice about what they are doing. Women especially don’t know that they do have permission to let go of things, say no to things.” Phillips keeps her own perspective by asking about her life: Did I love? Did I live? Did I matter?
One practical tool Phillips likes is creating a vision board. On a large piece of cardboard or paper, depict what you want to aim for in the next five years by making drawings, gluing on photos from magazines, or creating other enticing visuals. Then hang the board where you will see it every day. “It really does work,” says Phillips, “to remind you of what’s important to you. The rewards are great. The first time I did a vision board [in a workshop setting] I was cranky about it and didn’t want to. But then I became so moved by it and engaged in it that I didn’t want to stop.”
You can get together with friends to create vision boards, and couples can create one together. “As a couple,” says Phillips, “you are having a real-time connection about what’s coming up as you make the board and figure out what’s important to you. The discussions may not always be easy. It takes commitment to get through the parts that may be uncomfortable and move past them.”
What Are We Teaching Our Kids?
Kids have lots to do too, and may struggle constantly to fit everything into their schedules. But the high demands of academic achievement may skew the balance, as Jim Handlin, head of Woodstock Day School, explains. “The danger in this wired-up society is that it’s so easy to reduce everything to academics and your computer, and lose sight of the arts, theater, music, community service—any of those things that give life richness and depth. It’s important not to lose those. More and more that’s something we have to teach, because kids can really lose their way from finding their inner calling, their voice. The more you know about your voice and how it works, the better you’ll be able to make choices.”
That voice is a precious guidance system toward a life of personal fulfillment. If you can help a youngster identify it, you can foster it. You can even use it to teach skills and knowledge. “As teachers, we’re interested in strengthening a kid’s voice,” says Handlin, “and in understanding their learning patterns. We find an area where the kid is passionate and can have success, and then put other skills onto that. If a kid’s passion is being a chef, then he has to learn some math to do the measurements, and he’s doing chemistry by freezing or cooking something.”