Janet Walkow Christine Jacobs

Whose Life is This Anyway?

In the book, Out of Africa, pioneer Karen Blixen ponders life, “My biggest fear was that I would come to the end of my life and realize that I had lived someone else’s dream.”

I have read this snippet several times in recent years.  Each time it makes me stop and think about my own life and my own dreams.  Am I living a deliberate life to meet my own dreams?

It is easy to get mentally tied up in knots.  There are just so many layers to this question.  Do I know my dreams?  Can I separate who I am and what I am from the person that others think I am and what others think I should do? We all have people in our lives—parents, teachers, mentors, friends, advisors—who want to guide us in the answers to these questions. When do they stop guiding and start projecting?

You, From Another View

Many years ago, I did an exercise recommended by Stephen Covey in his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  He suggests that you think of imagine that your life ended quickly.  Many people have gathered to eulogize you. I know that this sounds grim, but stick with me! Now write this tribute from the point of view of your spouse or partner, your parents, your children, your college friends and / or your employees.  They do not have to be long but it is important to think of this from their personal points of view.

This process helped me to understand how I was viewed by everyone in my life and I did not like what they said—or rather what I thought they would all say.  I realized that it was time to adjust my life and behaviors so that I would be happier with my effect on others.

Getting In Touch

This was a wonderful opportunity to look at my accomplishments.  I felt good about some but others were not going so well.  Most importantly, I was not fully in touch with my hopes and dreams for my own life.  So this process required much more work and once defined, I realized that I had made achieved personal growth.

The next time I did this exercise was about five years later and I had made enough progress on my quest for self knowledge that the mythical tributes sounded much better. And the quest continues.

My hopes and dreams are not stagnant and my progress has fits and starts.  But I fully accept that it is my life.

Christine Jacobs is an experienced corporate executive and a co-founder of Leading Women. Read her full bio.

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