WHAT (REALLY) GOES INTO LIFE OVER 50: Decide what you want

Knowing what's important to us is a key step in living with purpose.

Living a Purposeful Life Part 2 

What (Really) Goes into Life over 50 | Chapter 5

We’ve talked about why being purposeful works, now you get to decide what you want.

Let’s start with really looking at what is most important to you.  I devised this exercise some 34 years ago when a client came to me torn about whether to stay at her company or leave and start her own business. I made up an exercise we could try in hopes it would help her decide what she wanted.

Turns out I’ve used that same exercise with so many clients, I’ve lost count!  I even use it as a group activity when asked to help people get started on new directions and find their true, authentic paths.

There are two ways to do this: 

1) Talk while someone else writes down your list.

2) Do it by yourself. 

Asking someone else to write can sometimes help because it allows a sort of stream of consciousness to flow.  But if you are on your own, you can still benefit from it.

Get a pad or a few sheets of paper and a pen. 

Answer 3 Questions to Get Clear

Question 1:  What do you want?

Write a LONG list of everything you can think of, in every aspect of your life that you want to do, have, experience, create or enjoy.  When I say long, I really mean it!  At least 30 words are a good start but keep going until you can think of nothing else.  In a coaching session, I usually do the writing and help spark words because we’re working under a time frame.  If you have plenty of time, you can compile this list over a day or two.

Don’t edit the list based on what others might think of it!  Just write what comes to mind. 

It will help much more if you include simple things like feeling grass under your feet or smelling flowers along with intense things like art activities, subjects you enjoy studying, even ways you enjoy working.  This needs to run the gamut and include aspects of your whole life.

Once your list is compiled, take another sheet of paper and create 3 columns:

Vital/Love to           Very Important           Frivolous/Fun

Now divide the first long list into the 3 columns.  This is another time you might benefit from someone else’s help, to discern the difference among the titles.  For example, if you listed spending time with your grandchildren, it could go into any of the three.  The question is what is most vital to you?  For some, being with grandchildren is a top priority.  For others, it is just one of the fun things they do in life.  (Frivolous/Fun refers to things that are like the icing on the cake.)

Writing down your thoughts helps you decide what you want.

This is not about judging yourself based on anyone else’s values.  It is crucial for you to be completely honest with yourself here in order to really see what matters to you and how to consciously create a path of fulfillment for yourself.

The column to pay attention to is Vital/Love to.  This doesn’t mean we don’t care about the other two. However, I’ve found that if you focus on that one, the other things you enjoy take care of themselves.  You will fit them in more easily if you are being more purposeful about the vital things.  And, you won’t veer off your chosen path as easily by getting distracted from what matters most.

Once your 3 columns are complete, you will see clearly what gives you true “juice” in life.  Good to know!  Now let’s look at what’s in the way of living it!

Question 2:  What are you willing to give up to get it?

In helping people get clear about moving forward, I’ve found that what is in the way is rarely something tangible.  It is a mindset. Something I refer to as a “cherished belief.”  The client I created this exercise for in 1985 was trying to decide whether to leave the security of a steady job that she felt trapped in or take the risk of starting her own consulting firm. The intangible thing was security.  To go out on her own was scary!  When she saw her vital column, we were able to talk through the pros and cons of the risk vs. staying where she was miserable. She decided to leave.

The good news is that she made a calculated, educated choice. She thought it through and decided it was worth the risk.  She succeeded! She became a sought-after consultant, creating a life that worked for her.

The question of what you are willing to give up is not always easy to answer, so having a sounding board, close friend, coach, or wise counsel does help.  As before, given enough time and contemplation, you can also do this on your own. What people see themselves giving up mostly have to do with identity – how they see themselves in relation to others, what they believe they “should” do vs. what they COULD do, what they were taught about family obligations vs. self-fulfillment. 

When my health improved back in the mid-nineties, I could have pushed myself back into increasing my hours to run my company or continued doing the coaching and consulting work I truly loved.  I chose the latter and everyone benefited!  My employees grew, my business continued to grow, and I contributed my client fees back into the company to make sure I was paying my own way.  By 2006, when 2 of my top sales guys wanted to buy me out, the transition was smooth because I had built a company that did not rely on my daily presence to succeed.  A win-win for all concerned.

Question 3:  How are you going to get it?

This is where you create a step by step path for moving forward.  Strategic thinking is much easier when you clearly decide what you want!  For me, in my choice to keep coaching and consulting I:Author Margery Miller wrote a book to help other women decide what they want

  • Hired a coach to help me get clearer in my thinking about how to succeed
  • Made sure to be available each time I had an opportunity to speak in public
  • Let people know I wanted referrals
  • Attended conferences and meetings about new ways to approach business
  • Published a book on business and used it as a calling card to get new clients
  • Kept studying and learning about dialogue, innovative tools and ways to grow

Now, create a list of steps you’ll take to make your vitals a reality. Share with others if you need accountability, or put tasks or milestones on your calendar if you’re working alone.

In the next article, we’ll explore a variety of ways women can be purposeful in their lives.  And have fun doing it!   I would love to hear about your experiences doing this exercise!  Email me at





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