How to Improve your Life Story by Living Intentionally
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In order to improve your life story, you must become the author of it. You must decide to live intentionally.
A friend once told me that there are two kinds of people. Those that live passively, where life just happens to them. And, those that take charge of their lives by intentional living. This struck a chord with me and I hung on to that thought for quite some time. I started noticing the people in my life. There were the ones that were impatient, complained a lot, nothing seemed to go their way. And, there were those that were inspiring and intriguing. Was that the difference?
I met a woman a while back that I found absolutely fascinating. She was in her sixties, a professor at a university, bilingual, took yearly international trips, was in a band, volunteered at a local shelter, an avid reader, artist and the list just went on and on. She was the depiction of compassion and inspiration. It was clear that she was choosing the life she lived.
I looked at my life story. Am I a character in this book of my life with depth and intrigue that inspires others? Morbid, but I also wondered how my obituary would read. What has been my life story so far? I think most people would say I’m reasonably nice, but was I being the best version of me? Is life just happening to me or is there more depth to my character? Is my story one of significance — not for my own pride or bragging, but have I lived a life of purpose and compassion where I could be described as inspiring to others?
I’m 47 years old. Am I too old now to change? I thought about these things for weeks then decided the answer is “No.” I want to be a better version of myself, have better relationships, inspire others and make a difference in the world. I am not too old. This is not the end of my story. The “book” I’ve lived has been pretty good so far, but I am ready for that next thrilling, character-building, surprising chapter and I plan on making this one heck of a best-seller before it’s over. I decided that as the author of my life, I would get to decide the qualities of my character and the next chapter. That was exciting.
“To be significant, all you have to do is make a difference with others wherever you are, with whatever you have, day by day. – John Maxwell, author of Intentional Living
John Maxwell lays out the process and importance of getting into your own story in his book Intentional Living: Choosing a Life that Matters. He notes that unintentional people see the wrongs in the world, they say, “Something should be done about that.” They see or hear a story, and they react to it emotionally and intellectually. But, they go no further. People who live intentionally jump in and live the story. He also notes that most people do nothing because it just seems too overwhelming. The problems seem too big for one person to tackle. However, one person can inspire a second person to be intentional, and then another… and then change happens.
Sometimes we tend to think because of our current situation we cannot be significant or make a difference. However, John Maxwell states that regardless of nationality, opportunity, ethnicity, or capacity, each of us can live a life of significance. We can do things that matter and make the world a better place. Many successful people, such as Albert Einstein, Gahndi and Signmund Freud were born into adversity — poverty, dysfunction or with physical handicaps, but the adversity did not knock them out of their stories as it would have many. And the reason it didn’t is because they were highly intentional. They found a strong purpose that drew them forward even if it wasn’t an easy road to get there.
John Maxwell goes further to state that when you intentionally use your everyday life to bring about positive change in the lives of others, you begin to live a life that matters.
Everyone has a story and I’ve found that some of the more interesting ones have come from those with struggles.
Steve Jobs is quoted as saying “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently…. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones that do.”
To build a life story that matters you have to just start writing it. No matter your age or circumstances.
So how to jump in your story and make it significant?
1. Identify what an Ideal Chapter would Look Like
I have always kind had a creative side, but never tapped into it. Never had “time.” I’d explore someday when I retired. I’ve always dreamed of working remote where I could sit by my pond and write, draw or paint. Yet, I wasn’t an artist or a writer so it was sort of just a fantasy life for someone else. It wasn’t until I completed the Life Balance Wheel activity that I decided it was something I should explore.
At 46, I decided to take a low-commitment drawing class and see if it might be something I could do as a hobby. To my surprise the sketches weren’t too shabby! I posted a few on Facebook and an old friend commented “I didn’t know you were an artist!” I smiled at that thought thinking, “Neither did I.” That class led to pottery, painting classes, and writing this blog… and surprisingly, I found I felt a fulfillment by embracing that side that I didn’t know existed. Kelly, the artist. I may not be a professional writer or artist, but I do sit by water to draw or write and I really liked that description being added to my name.
In the past two years I’ve added homeless shelter volunteer, book club leader, drawer/ painter, blogger, international volunteer, and board member of the homeowners association to my story. All of which I have enjoyed, adding depth and passion to my life, simply by taking some intentional action. But, even more importantly, as I tell others of the new hobbies I’ve discovered, talents and interests — some have actually started to explore new passions of their own. I really liked the concept that simply by sharing my story someone else was inspired to improve their life.
My ideal chapter is filled with personal growth, new hobbies, improved relationships, compassion, creativity, and inspiration.
2. Set up an Intentional Calendar
I use the Family Calendar by Polestar. I like it because there’s a yearly lay out, monthly lay out, weekly and daily. It includes spots to add appointments, meals to plan and some ideas for the home. There is also a pocket folder in the back to save neat ideas I come across, a section to log new projects and ideas monthly.
I plot out on my calendar the things I “must-do” then plan intentional things I’d like to accomplish for the year to be that best version. I examine some service opportunities and intentional quality moments I’d like to schedule with my family and friends.
A. Establish Intentional Family Traditions
As my kids have gotten older and are busy with their own lives, I decided that it would be important to plan some new special traditions. We have a yearly girls weekend, shopping trip, cookie baking, and have at least one vacation together. I also plan out some fun date nights and trips with my husband. Having an intentional calendar makes that happen and I enjoy hearing my kids tell their friends they are going to the traditional “girls weekend” with mom and grandma.
B. Intentional Friendships
We are all super busy, but to keep friendships alive, you do need to invest in them. I have this amazing group of friends that were fondly nicknamed “The NMU Chics” while we were in college. This label has stuck for over 24 years. Years ago, this group of 5, decided that in order to keep the “NMU Chics” together after graduation, we’d have to schedule time to see each other and decide to make it a priority. Every year we have an annual fall trip and a summer weekend despite living states apart. Recently we’ve decided to add a winter get together as well. All of the weekends are the same time each year and go on my calendar. Not much would trump them and that’s how we’ve been able to maintain this priceless friendship.
C. Pick Intentional Projects to Finish
We all have that junk drawer or unfinished home improvement project. I make a list and plot them out month-to-month. Some months are busier than others so I look for openings. Sometimes I’ll pencil in a scrapbook day or the cleaning out of a closet, just because if I don’t then I will forget and it won’t get done. My train wreck of a garage got cleaned out by planning a few hours over a few weekends to dedicate to it. I don’t overfill the calendar, I make sure there plenty of open spaces for down time, but I do plot out my plans, projects and character-building ideas… and some major things have really started happening.
D. Establish an Intentional Morning Routine to set the Tone for the Day
After I plot out the basic month and week plan, each morning I also set my intentions for the day as well. What kind of day would I like today? For example, I may pick some day-to-day tasks like pay bills, wash my car or get groceries to keep things on track. But, my basic morning routine also includes a morning walk, quick devotion, and picking a virtue for the day — like kindness, gratitude or patience. By having some exercise, quiet time to myself, and by selecting what value I’d focus on for the day, it sets the tone. It makes it easier make it through difficult moments. At the end of the day, I feel better and more productive when I’ve done some pre-planning.
3. Be like Nike and “Just Do it”
The third step after identifying your ideal story and intentionally plotting out action days on the calendar in that direction, is simply following through and doing it. I have found when it’s on my calendar, I do it. Sometimes I may need to juggle things around because life happens and that’s why it’s an “intention.” But, if it’s on my calendar, it usually happens. In doing so, this chapter in my life has started taking some interesting twists and turns! I find it fun and exciting to come up with new crazy ideas turning my bucket list into reality and my story into significance.
Are you a bystander in your life story or are you the author? Are you living a life of significance? What intentional actions can you take to make your next chapter more intriguing?