It's easy to forget that we are all perfect in our own design. Sometimes we muck it up with habits and choices that do not serve us.
In every age there has been a dominant worldview that people tried to conform to. In an age of faith, everyone asked how they could better serve God. This was their daily concern. In the Industrial Age the question shifted to economics and improving one's lot in life. In an age dominated by science the question shifted again--people asked every day how they could keep up with progress and add to it. As times change, so do people's vision of what is important, and usually they thought they had a better vision than the one which preceded them.
Yet if you back away to see the bigger picture, each age had one thing in common, and it wasn't God, economics, or progress. It was the fundamental idea that life is well lived only if you have a vision. Without one, purpose and meaning are limited.
It turns out that the one question you should ask every day is this: How can I fulfill my vision today? Whether they put it exactly in these words, this is the secret behind the greatest success stories. Someone dedicated his or her life to a plan, project, or set of values larger than any individual. A worthy vision, I think, needs to fulfill certain criteria.
1. Your vision should be suited to who you really are. It can't be borrowed from someone else, and it can't be chosen out of obligation. Your parents may desperately have wanted you to follow the family business or go to medical school because they weren't able to. Those are laudable motives, but it's risky to adopt a vision that isn't really your own.
2. Your vision should be valuable no matter how much money you expect to make. Of course, you can always make it your vision to get rich, but there are two problems with that. First, the day you arrive at a financial goal, it will tend to feel empty. Second, a life totally devoted to money never stops. Making more and more--greed and competition fuel an insatiable desire.
3. You should compare the visions that seem most appealing, which means doing research and dipping your toe into more than one pool. Philosophy, religion, science, business, and scholarship are rich with potential, and you owe it to yourself at least to sample what they are like.
4. Your vision should be ambitious. the old saying that a man's reach should exceed his grasp still holds true (or a woman's reach). Settling isn't visionary. Pick something that will feel like a challenge every day for as long as you can see into the future.
5. Finally, don't lose sight of two words that often escape notice when someone has burning ambition and drive: happiness and love. The more you can increase these two qualities, in your life and the lives of others, the more worthwhile your life will seem as it unfolds. A hugely successful life devoid of happiness and love is what Scrooges are made of.
Reprinted from San Francisco Chronicle with permission
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