Written by: Flora Morris Brown
For years I frequently shared with my friends my plans to travel the world, visiting every continent (except Antarctica) at least once. I browsed through travel magazines, read travel books, and watched travel shows. I even considered signing up for retreats held in exotic locations as a way to travel.
My friends listened patiently to my daydreams. Then, when my youngest daughter was in her junior year at UCLA, she announced her plan to enroll in an Education Abroad program in Spain that spring. Part of me loved the idea and thought it was a wonderful opportunity for her. Another part of me rebelled. How could I agree to her making an international trip before I did, when it was my lifelong dream?
When I lodged my objection, my quick-thinking daughter fired back with a solution. Since I was still teaching full-time, she proposed that I plan to meet her in Europe when school was out for both of us. That way we could explore Europe together, and I would finally have begun my international travel.
Great! I was happy with that solution. We began deciding where we’d meet and what places we would visit. With excitement, I shared our plans with friends. Again, they patiently listened, but one of them asked, “Do you have a passport?” I let out an embarrassed gasp. After all those years of talking about traveling abroad, I hadn’t even taken the very first and doable step of applying for a passport. That was when I fully understood the Chinese proverb originated by Laozi: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
That realization led me to get my passport and finally begin my lifelong plan to travel the world. Although I continued to teach a few more years and enjoy other activities, I traveled often. Now I’m almost finished; just one continent left to visit.
Too often we fantasize about what we’d like to do in our lives without realizing that we haven’t even taken the first step.
Other times we envy those who seem to be happily enjoying their lives, as if by magic, when in fact they are taking thousands of little steps.
There is no one right way to create your unique path, but here are three ways to help you find it.
1. Take full responsibility for your life.
If there is something you want to achieve, don’t wait for what you think is the right time or expect someone else to take the lead. Begin the smallest step you can take toward it, like I had to do by applying for my passport. As you begin this process, if you become disenchanted with the goal, modify or change it.
When things go wrong, don’t go with them. Seek a positive change that will move you away from what you don’t want and toward what you do want for your life. Avoid rubbernecking at events and activities that don’t enhance your life or bring you joy. You slow your own progress and risk your success.
There are many circumstances outside of your control, such as birthplace, genetics, and others’ behavior. Seek a positive way to manage the part of your life over which you do have control. This includes not only your reaction to circumstances but your choice of thoughts, words, and attitudes that fill your mind.
Avoid letting your inner critic drown out your intuition. It’s unlikely you’ll get rid of your inner critic, but learn to put her on timeout and get quiet enough for your intuition to develop and come through. For some, this results from meditation, prayer, and reflection; for others, it results just by allowing quiet time to open the way for intuition. Find out what works best for you and practice it.
2. Give yourself permission to say “yes” to your life.
This requires making choices that lead to your good. You are where you are this very minute because of all the tiny choices you made, minute by minute, throughout your life. Commit to making choices on purpose, not by default.
Sometimes you must say no to other people and situations to pursue your own goals. This is not selfish, it’s sensible. Think back to the flight attendant’s safety message to put on your oxygen mask first before you help anyone else. Only when you are living your best life are you available to help others.
Just as you wouldn’t knowingly stay in your home if you detected a gas leak, avoid allowing toxic people into your life. You know who they are. They enjoy complaining, griping, and pointing out the negative side of everything. They take pleasure in seeing others fail, and they sabotage their own success and blame it on someone else. It’s difficult to maintain harmony and tranquility with them around, and you can count on them to discourage and derail your goals.
3. Look for the lessons and blessings in your life.
Embrace happiness in all its dimensions. Happiness is not the absence of sadness or adversity. Happy people live here and now, allowing themselves to feel the array of emotions but not be crushed by them. It’s normal to grieve with the loss of a loved one or pet or to feel disappointed when something you worked hard to achieve is lost. When we accept and manage the inevitable so-called dark side of our lives, we build up our resilience and our confidence that we can handle whatever comes up.
Look for what is good about any situation and be grateful for that part. When my 40-year-old son died of a massive heart attack, I was grief stricken. But even as I tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate him, I thanked God that he had died at home and not as the victim of an assault in the street somewhere. I was also thankful that it was I, and not his sisters, who discovered him.
Look for what lessons you can learn from situations and make those lessons part of your toolbox for the future. In the days after my son’s death, I discovered how impossible it was to access his phone and computer since I didn’t know his passwords. Since then I’ve taken steps to ensure my daughters can access my passwords and other digital information. I also finally set up a trust I had until then neglected.
Where does this lead?
Following these three steps will help you create your unique path not only to serve you well during your lifetime but also to impact the legacy you leave for your family, friends, and many people you will never meet. Regardless of how your life is remembered, it is a story woven together by the tiny choices you made every day. Workshops to help you write your life story are available in many communities where participants are guided to capture their memories and share them in writing and other formats.
The unique path you create for your life inspires others. They are encouraged by the way you managed the twists and turns, faced challenges, and overcame adversity. They feel a connection to you as they see their lives mirrored in yours.
Your authenticity, joyful living, integrity, courage, and positive energy make an impact and leave a priceless legacy that extends far beyond your immediate world and time.
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