Why It’s Time to Prioritize Leading Your Life

by Alli Polin on August 11, 2015

leading your life

My son walked into my room, awake from a nightmare, crying.

“How many days?”

“How many days until what?” I asked.

“How many days will you be alive?”

Wow. That was not a math question I could answer with a quick swoosh of my fingertips across the keyboard. 

“Will you be alive for a million?  Will I?”

Oh, honey.

I told him I’d like 36,500, at least, but I couldn’t promise a number.

“Where are you now?” he asked.

“In my bedroom.”

“No, how many days.”

I thought about it for a moment and grabbed my iPad to use the calculator app. It was late, and my brain wasn’t up to the mental gymnastics. 

“In the 16,000’s.”

“That’s not enough.” he insisted.

“Let’s make every day enough.”

I walked him back to his bedroom to tuck him in and promised that today was special and tomorrow would be too –  especially if we don’t take it for granted. It was a promise we could make together, every day, day by day. 

Choices (the secret sauce to leading your life)

What choices are you making? Intentionally. With thought. And care. 

Are you leading your life or are you blindly following, by rote.

Do you eat breakfast while checking your email, go from meeting to meeting at work, pick up dinner, eat in 15 minutes, clean up, sit near your family for together time while you’re on your laptop googling nothing and everything, go to bed and start again. 

or…

Do you make time in your day for reflection and connection?

Do you have quiet moments with life’s bigger questions and loud, boisterous, happy moments with the people in your life?

Are you doing something every day that makes you feel fulfilled? Even a super tiny thing counts. It could be a kiss, a hug, a phone call, journaling, exercise, your work, on and on. 

It took me a long time to realize that nothing happens TO us. We choose our experience. 

 

My Aunt, a vibrant woman for most of her life, had a degenerative disease that left her immobile in a wheelchair for years. Early on in her downward spiral, she had an acute awareness of what was next, but she was always happy to be alive, always. She chose her experience and championed over her body and her circumstances. 

Every self-help book will tell you that it’s up to you to choose for yourself the life that you want. I know as well as you, that can feel big and intimidating (and not remotely helpful).  A life plan – whew. Instead of looking to the end, start small, with this minute, hour or day. 

Now

Yes, we all know that today will only be here once, but does that change anything for you? It should. 

(Yup, it goes back to choice.) 

    

What if, instead of constant tweaking and tinkering and beating the crap out of yourself to make today positively perfect, you paused? (Hint: like now.) Seriously. Hit the pause button. Use the pause to recalibrate. The pause button is available to you all day every day.

Lost your temper? Pause.

Told your child you would play catch later so you could finally beat your latest round of Candy Crush? Pause.

Cut someone off in a meeting? Pause.

Ate five cookies when you meant only to have one? Pause.

Get sucked into a few more hours in front of the TV instead of making progress on your book? Pause.

Go on. Press it. Make it your friend. A crappy start does not have to mandate a crappy finish. 

Tomorrow, when you look back, today will either be a vague memory with a nasty aftertaste that lingers or one that you savor. 

Tomorrow

Tomorrow is a hope, not a given, and that thought drives me, and my son, bonkers when we let it. Still, it’s a great reminder to go back to point #2… NOW. Hello, leading your life starts with this moment, it’s more powerful than making a wish for tomorrow.

 

Here’s the deal: Look toward tomorrow too much, the days become a blur, and the best is always ahead. Goals and dreams are critical to a robust life but use tomorrow as motivation to fuel your inspiration and action today. It’s a balance.

Don’t wait to cross some made-up finish line in a race that you can never win (because it never ends).

Overwhelm

Alright, I’m not gonna lie, today you can make amazing choices and still fall flat. Sucks, right? You did all the right things, why didn’t it turn out just like you wanted?

 

I often hear from people in my work, “I don’t know what else to do.” That’s because they’re confusing doing with being; they’re sisters, not the same. 

When you’re constantly in a state of doing, you leave no time for the spontaneous sweetness of life. 

I’m planning a big 13th birthday celebration for my daughter and have been driving myself crazy trying to find the right venue in NYC all the way from Australia. My daughter wanted to cuddle before bed, and I was in a bitter mood. There were still hundreds of restaurants I still needed to investigate… who had time for a cuddle? She’d lean on my arm, and my clicking would be challenged. 

Oy.

Talk about missing the mark. The way out of overwhelm is through your WHY, not the WHAT. 

Legacy

You don’t have to do “it all” and, honestly, it’s impossible. Most people I know who try to be masters of the universe are the most stressed-out, stretched and short-fused people I know.

It’s your choices that create your legacy. Not only your doing choices… but also your way of being. 

Will you be remembered as…

A yeller?

A thinker?

Obstinate?

Open?

Loving?

Annoyed?

(You pick… you know where you’re headed.)

The Unknown

How many days do you have left?

1?

10?

100?

1000?

10,000?

Not one of us knows our ending. It’s an impossible question to answer (if you have a crystal ball that tells you about my final day, I don’t want to know.) Somehow, not knowing makes this moment richer. 

Let’s Get Real

I want to be honest with you; I’m not a poster child for filling every day with deep meaning and intentional choices. I have a temper and have been known to hold a grudge or two. I’ve also made lousy choices that have created walls instead of connection.  I’m a blogger, coach, and human who is far from perfect.

My track record doesn’t mean I can’t change (or at least keep trying). We can all make the decision to do better, be better, try harder. That choice is always available. Our choices create change.

I want more than to have lived a life, but to appreciate the life I’ve lived. You?

Break the Frame Action:

It’s too overwhelming to say I’ll always or I’ll never. Life and leadership are often muddy, messy and chaotic and have little room for absolutes. 

What about now? Are you leading your life or along for the ride? In this moment, what will you commit to doing differently? Who do you want to be? 

“I am a person who ____________”

Start there. Do that.

The path to change, getting unstuck from your default behaviors and being a leader in your life starts today. Own it.

If you’re no longer willing to wait for your life to match your dreams and aspirations, I have an eCourse for you. It’s designed to help you  get unstuck and choose to move forward, leading the life you most want.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Chery Gegelman August 11, 2015 at 6:36 am

Alli – I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this post!

Yesterday – One of my expat neighbors shared how hard it is to be here 8 years and have to do another two. She is in a state of limbo, waiting for life to begin again.

My heart has been aching since we talked as I’ve thought about the pain that is surrounding her and making her feel webbed in place. I am praying that she will be able to break free of the web and be able to make choices that will help her learn to LIVE – HERE – for as long as life keeps them here. …With more peace, more joy and more hope.

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Alli Polin August 11, 2015 at 7:10 am

Oh how I can relate.

Before I moved overseas, I told a good friend of mine that I was moving for two years and I’d be back. She asked me a powerful question: “What would change if you just allowed yourself to move? What if it didn’t have to be two years or five years or ten, but you could just be there?” Well, three years in I cherish her words, allowing myself to have the permission to not live as a temp but to engage in my life instead of waiting for it to begin again stateside.

Grateful for your feedback and that story. Thanks, Chery!

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Jon Mertz August 11, 2015 at 9:02 am

A great call to make choices intentionally and with full awareness, Alli! Life is short, and we do not know the number of our days. As tough as it is, we need to stop making reasons for not doing what is most important. There is a balance or tempo between making a living and living in full purpose. We need to find our tempo and engage it.

Thanks for the insightful and energizing post! Jon

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Alli Polin August 11, 2015 at 9:25 am

I agree, Jon. We put off so many things… as if we have forever.

Always love your metaphor of tempo – resonates.

Thanks, Jon!

~ Alli

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Terri Klass August 11, 2015 at 9:40 am

As always Alli, you ask us the hard questions and challenge us to really think about the journeys we have chosen. And children can often ignite profound introspection for all of us.

I love your idea of not just doing but being. Yes we need to take a pause at times and just breathe and rethink. I found that when I stopped labeling what I should be doing, but instead followed what is meaningful and reasonable for me, that I became energized. I connect with people who bring me up and not tear me down. I blog about topics in my unique way, not worrying how others write. We just need to be honest of who we are and what makes us get out of bed in the morning.

Thanks Alli and I can’t wait to share this with colleagues!

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Alli Polin August 12, 2015 at 3:54 am

Terri –

You bring up such a great point! It’s all of the “should be doings” in our lives that get in the way. What’s reasonable for one is not right or reasonable for another person.

Feels AMAZING to finally decide to do it (whatever it is!) like you instead of like you think you need to or have to or like anyone else.

Thanks for that jolt of energy 🙂 Great reminder.

~ Alli

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LaRae Quy August 11, 2015 at 10:56 am

LOVED this post and loved this question: Are you leading your life or along for the ride?

I fell face down onto cement steps a couple of weeks ago—got a concussion, cracked my jaw, and lost major amounts of skin. But I was lucky: I could have broken my neck.

It was the sort of epiphany you are talking about. Our life can change in an instant! Enjoy and savor every moment you can. Live intentionally. Form deep relationships—especially with yourself!

Great list of questions here…

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Alli Polin August 12, 2015 at 3:57 am

Oh my gosh!! I’m so glad to hear that you’re recovering.

My mother had a good friend who left work and went home to grab lunch since she had to run an errand before heading back to the office. She choked on what she was eating and died; young, vibrant and healthy.

Form deep relationships – absolutely! Thanks for the addition to not only do that with others but with ourselves too. Essential.

Thanks, LaRae!

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John Bennett August 11, 2015 at 11:47 am

Love this quote: “What choices are you making? Intentionally. With thought. And care.” It’s not enough to make choices – they need to be intentional with thought and care!!!

And then we must engage to do our best to invest in those choices. Of course they won’t always go well: Perfect won’t ever happen and failure will some times happen. If the choice is a considered one, we’ll not be blinded by the impossibility of perfection and we will be dedicated to learning from those mistakes!

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Alli Polin August 12, 2015 at 4:00 am

John,

I always love your insights on choice and today I appreciate your reminder to invest in them. It’s hard to do much with one foot in and one foot out. When we go all-in we can still fail, but there is something deeply satisfying about giving it your all.

Grateful!

~ Alli

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Karin Hurt August 11, 2015 at 4:57 pm

Okay, I have a new favorite post of yours. What a powerful story. We do need to get our children’s leadership book out there!

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Alli Polin August 12, 2015 at 4:01 am

Thanks, Karin! Means a lot!

As for the book… I’m not giving up on it! There are a lot of agents out there looking for new picture books and I believe that the right one is going to get our manuscript in their hands. (it may already be there!)

~ Alli

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Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™ August 12, 2015 at 12:11 pm

Hi Alli,
Wonderful post that cuts through all excuses and helps people to focus. My favorite is your final question/statement: I am a person who __________.

Years back when I was trying to cut through all my confusion to find the life I was meant to live, I did an exercise which basically (in different words) helped me answer your question.

This post is transformative and will help all who are in the search I was in years ago.

Bravo!!
Kate

Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™

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Alli Polin August 13, 2015 at 5:27 am

Thanks, Kate! I’m so glad you figured out your calling. The world needs stronger People Skills and love that you’re leading the charge!

I sincerely hope that people who are struggling or putting off a critical look at their direction and choices find this useful.

Appreciate you!

~ Alli

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Brenda Lee August 12, 2015 at 3:24 pm

Oh my gosh, your poor son to think these things. Ever since I was 11 and lost my mother suddenly, I live for today for that is enough until I awake the next day. Inspiring post Alli!

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Alli Polin August 13, 2015 at 5:24 am

I can only imagine what that was like for you. When tragedy hits, one of the most positive outcomes is a joy filled life. That’s what I’d want for my son. For some reason, the death of his parents is his greatest fear. He can’t even watch movies where a parent dies. I hope to have many, many years ahead with him.

Thanks so much for sharing, B!!

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