Full Speed Ahead in the Wrong Direction by John Izzo

A friend’s grandfather used to say: “I’m going at full speed, but I’m heading in the wrong direction.” His words could be the inscription that describes many people’s lives: lots of activity, plenty of busyness, full speed ahead, but not focused on what really matters. What really matters to us is often harder to realize than we might suppose, buried under years of habit, should do’s, inherited beliefs, societal values and a plain old lack of paying attention. Trying to discover what really matters to us and unearthing what our truest priorities are often takes some very intentional digging.

Meister Eckhart, the Christian mystic and writer, once wrote: “As human beings, we have so many skins and know so many things, but, we do not know ourselves.” Sadly, many of us never really ask what matters most until we get a wake-up call: a health scare, a relationship breakup or a job loss. How can one become clear on what is truly important to us or rediscover our deepest values and desires? One way is to make a list before we have to. Pretend this is your last day of living and all you have time to do is complete one final assignment. Answer these questions on an index card:

1) What do you regret not doing because of fear? 2) What do you wish you had put more time & energy into? 3) What do you wish you had put a lot less time & energy into? 4) What was always on your “someday” list that you now wish you had done? 5) As you think about your daily experience of life, what qualities do you wish there were more of and what qualities do you wish there had been less of (more time for self, more community, more kindness, more play, more service)? 6) What is your deepest regret in terms of the type of person you never became (a kind person, a generous person, a truthful person, a strong person, a courageous person)? 7) Answer this: If I had more time I would love to learn to...

Take your time and put some thought and effort into the list; watch the pattern that emerges and informs you as to what really matters to you. Carry the card around with you and make sure you look at it as often as you look at your daily to-do list. When your life is going full throttle and your calendar is full, without a moment to spare, make sure you are focused on the things that really matter.

There is a story about a man who became very ill and was told he might suddenly die. Lying on a gurney in a dark hospital room, he did what thousands of human beings have done in similar circumstances: he made his list. The man had a very fortunate turn of events. The doctors were proven wrong, he was not dying and now he had a bigger problem: he was going to live and now had his list to fulfill! The list became the focus of his life and time. He started a foundation in his father’s name (while his father was still alive), adopted a 10-year old boy and found ways to achieve his biggest claim: Give back to the world.

Returning from one of his many business trips away from home, a wife announced to her husband that she decided to start a chicken farm. Taken aback, the husband inquired further. “Yes,” his wife added, “and I will begin with two roosters and a hen.” A bit confused, the husband said, “Honey, I don’t know much about chicken farming, but doesn’t it take just one rooster to service one hen?” “Not if one of the roosters travels a lot,” the wife answered. Why does a man wait until his wife announces she is leaving to think deeply about the kind of husband he has become?

A great mentor once claimed: “The answers we find at mid-life don’t matter very much, but that we ask the questions is profoundly important.” Knowing what energizes us and awareness of the big things and the little things is critical if we are to reclaim the wonder of life. Are you enjoying the moments of your life fully or waiting for some future sunset when life will be what you desire it to be?

How much of our lives are lived with the future as our focus: saving for retirement, waiting for the weekend, counting the days until vacation, looking forward to graduation, the next promotion. We seem destined to believe life will be better when we finally get there. When we choose to believe that each moment, however simple, offers as much to us as the great shining moments of ecstasy, we begin to experience our lives in a different way.

Dr. John Izzo is the author of "Second Innocence" (Berrett-Koehler; 2004; $14.95) based on his advising, speaking and fostering positive corporate & lifestyle changes. Some clients include the Mayo Clinic, Hewlett Packard and the Dept. of National Defense. For more info, (877) 913-0645 www.izzoconsulting.com; email: info@izzoconsulting.com