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Are you a "check the box" person?
Get a good paying job--check
Find a boyfriend/girlfriend--check
Move towards commitment, maybe move in together--check
Have that incredible wedding--check
Buy a home--check
Start a family--check
For many of us, our goals may seem somewhat predetermined or at least not too hard to predict. We have certain milestones in mind that we move towards and sometimes are nudged into when our friends and other peers start achieving them. After all if everyone else is doing it, it must be the right way to go, right? I think you know the answer to this one, even if you tell yourself otherwise. How fast can you come up with one example of someone you know who followed the predictable path and later on found their life wanting or worse because of it? Someone who perhaps wasted money, years, and other possibilities in pursuit of the "should." There's an old expression that is so right on here. "More haste and less speed." Everyone is at risk for making that mistake, but by stepping back and taking your time to decide what is right for you, you are less likely to do so.
This does not mean that traditionally favored lifestyles, educational and career pursuits and social/familial roles don't present good options or reap happiness for those who seek them. What it means is that we should move consciously towards them, instead of setting our course on auto-pilot and going along for the ride. When we make goals using this latter option, we often end up with unsatisfying careers, relationships, and/or lifestyles--and feel anger at having done all the right things yet ended up in the wrong place. If instead you look forward and ask yourself "what is my real passion," a whole different set of options could materialize and sow the seeds for a future that you might never have imagined.
You might be wondering if these options only exist for the young, those who have yet to finish school or decide on a specific career path or relationship. Even though it is always easier to make changes at a younger age, anyone can decided on a course correction at any point along life's continuum--and many older people are doing just that. The key to this lies in being able to vision the life you want, set practical and achievable objectives and goals and then make a plan. OK, so your life is complicated. You borrowed money to earn a degree in a field that really doesn't excite you and wish you had made another choice. Perhaps you are engaged to someone that you care a lot about, but are not sure if they are the one. However, you are engaged, plans are going forward, so what can you do now? You might feel trapped in a dead-end marriage and/or unhappy family life. You have kids you love, you have limited financial resources, you need to honor your commitments and keep things as they are--and you believe it's too late now to make a change and you just have to suffer on until the kids are grown.
If any of the above scenarios describe or hint at your present life, you are incorrect in thinking that there is nothing you can do. Options exist, but you need to give some real thought to them and to what would allow you to be true to yourself right now, but to do so with decency and honor. For instance, engagements can be postponed until you have participated in premarital counseling, discussed your concerns and doubts and worked on any issues that might become deal breakers down the road. You might lose a deposit or two, but think of how much more you would lose if you married the wrong person. If your career is the issue, you could explore options like night school, a community college for at least some credits and/or changing your living situation to cut expenses so you can put that money towards paying down old debt and getting different training or another degree. Yes, it will take time and determination--but if you just soldier on in a career you dislike, five, ten or fifteen years from now, where will you be as compared with where you could have been? If you are struggling in a troubled marriage and strained family situation, where can you get some help in addressing it? Do you have options for counseling through your work EAP, your regular insurance or your church or other place of worship? Can't you strive to improve your marriage, be a better parent, and pursue some individual interests and passions? Maybe what is missing is that all-important you time--if so, what have you thought about pursuing but believed it just wasn't possible? It is, you just need a plan.
A conscious life is what you want to live--one that is driven by choice, not by following the well-worn path of those who went before or even your present traveling companions. Ever read a great story in the paper or online about someone who has an incredible career, passion, lifestyle, or who has pursued some unique and exciting experience? If you do, make sure you read the fine print. They started out life with the same kinds of parameters, expectations and/or goals we all do. However, somewhere along the way they took a leap of faith and decided to take a risk and go for it, and for them it made all the difference.
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Toni Coleman, LCSW
© Copyright 2008 Antoinette Coleman. All rights reserved.
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