If you want to know what matters to you, sometimes it helps to look to the future.
In Juliet’s School of Possibilities, my time management fable, the heroine sees two possible visions of her future while she walks on the beach during a weekend retreat.
One is bleak. Not horrible, but just the result of shuttling through life with a lack of impact. Riley works hard, but never with any direction. So she feels burned out and disappointed.
The second vision is different. Riley, two decades in the future, attends a dinner given in her honor. Her best friend stands up to talk about Riley’s impact on the world, and her impact on her, too. She is surrounded by a family that is thrilled to support her.
The words of her friend’s toast cover the nature of this impact. These are all projects Riley has talked about supporting, but she’s convinced herself that she has no time. This vision is about what might happen if she found (made!) the time. Basically, she is wildly successful, professionally and personally, and this vision of future success gives her clues about what she needs to focus on now.
I like this visualization so much that I put it in the back of Juliet’s School of Possibilities as an exercise for readers to do. Like Riley, you can picture yourself a few years (or decades) in the future. You are at a dinner being given in your honor. Professional and personal friends are standing up to toast you.
What are they saying?
Fair is fair, so I have done this exercise. In my case, what I see is people standing up to say that my books (and however words are shared decades in the future!) have changed their lives. While I see both women and men saying this, probably my favorite toasts are from women who say that I helped them see that they could have the families they wanted while throwing themselves fully into careers they love. There is no contradiction here. People tell me they’ve changed their perception of time — from never having enough to having more than enough for what matters to them. Then there’s my fiction, which people also talk about, because it creates the impact of pleasure, which is a good in its own right.
Somebody reads from my book of sonnets, which I finally got around to writing.
As they are giving their toasts, I’m sitting with my husband and grown children. The children are all still close to me and each other. I don’t know what they’re doing professionally, because I don’t care. They are their own people. I want them to be doing something they enjoy and find meaningful. What matters to me is that they are interesting people, and in between toasts we have great conversations: about the future, and our myriad adventures from the past.
Speeches get boring (future me hasn’t actually developed a longer attention span), so I’d like there to be music. Maybe a choir sings something celebratory — music I commissioned. The audience is filled with my friends, of course, but many of the guests are founders of companies that I invested in during the early stages. Other guests have been involved in the policy/advocacy/thought leadership work I funded (seems the angel investing paid off!) after discovering that my brand of free market feminism is not well-represented out there.
We are all having a grand old time. The food is amazing, because one of the women who decided she could have a big Career with a capital C has a Michelin star at her restaurant and she’s catering.
In any case, this is my vision. It reminds me — as I think about how I spend my hours each week — to make sure some of my hours are spent in ways that align with this vision.
(Like…maybe I should get around to writing those sonnets!)
I challenge you to try this. Picture yourself at a celebratory dinner some number of years from now. What are people saying about you? This is a way to hone in on what you care about. Once you know this, you can shape your current schedule to contain more of what you care about…and a lot less of what you don’t.
Maybe some of the toasts you envision will be surprising. If they are, let me know about it! Or do this exercise and post it on your own blog, and send me a link!
In other news: Sarah and I had several requests for Emily Oster as a Best of Both Worlds podcast guest, and we may be able to deliver. So what would you like to ask her? Please let me know!