May 2020 was a difficult time for me. The pandemic was raging with no end in sight. My job—once focused on fostering and sharing a vibrant, senior living community—transformed overnight into navigating and enforcing COVID-19 safety protocols. My partner (and now husband) and I were living between two cities, trying to balance two residences while staying healthy. The world was changing, and it was becoming clear nothing would be the same again.
This article is not about COVID-19, however, it’s important to note how it served as a catalyst for re-evaluating my life and honing my coping skills. The pandemic introduced new types of uncertainty into my life and brought with it high levels of stress and anxiety. The more uncertainty mounted, the more I realized that the peace I sought must come from within.
To cope, I began reading Viktor Frankl’s, “Man’s Search for Meaning” and studying stoic philosophy, both of which valued mindset and focusing our energies on what we are able to control (our thoughts and our actions) in a world full of uncontrollable events (pandemics, wars, recessions). I was wasting substantial mental and emotional energy worrying about things I had no power to change instead of directing this energy toward things I could control, such as my mindset and how I processed events. The following maxims struck a chord:
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Viktor Frankl
“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…” – Epictetus
I also began to take a closer look at my life and my goals. What mattered to me most? What did I wish to accomplish with this one life of mine? What kind of person did I want to be? Why? I came across the following nine questions, each to be completed within 90-seconds. The goal was to answer candidly without preparation.
Here are the questions that helped me re-align myself to what matters most:
1. If time and money were no issue, what would you want to experience?
2. How do you want to grow?
3. What do you want to contribute to the world?
4. Who are you?
5. Why are you here?
6. Where are you going?
7. How do you want to be remembered when you’re gone?
8. If you achieve all your life’s goals, how will you feel?
9. How can you work to feel this way along the way?
The goal of this exercise is to identify what matters most to you and how to find the path which leads to your desired outcome. The time limit provides a gut-check. What were the first things that came to mind?
There are no wrong answers, just your answers. Look for recurring themes and ask yourself why you answered each question as you did and how your answers fit into your current goals and your daily life. Do you need to make adjustments to your current life to become better-aligned with your goals? What do those changes involve?
Exercises like this can be useful when we’re experiencing change, feeling lost, or wanting to reconnect with what matters most to us. Wayfinding questions can uncover what makes us tick and help us re-prioritize where we focus our time and energies. They can also be reaffirming to ask when things are going well and we want a reminder about what we value.
Where you’re looking is where you’re going. Find your North Star and chart a course with intention. Knowing where to steer will help you right the ship during turbulent times and make the voyage worthwhile.
Afterthoughts: For me, my goals were to help others trust their ability and strength, support my loved ones, learn as much as possible, see sights which move me, pursue creative outlets (art, music), deepen my laugh lines, and share my life. I want to grow to be a better partner and friend, increase my self-awareness, and work on being more comfortable with taking things day by day. I want to be remembered for helping others find themselves and be seen for their greatest abilities and I want to always be growing.