By Scott Westerman

One of the biggest challenges of living The Spartan Life is that we’re too close to it. It’s easy to get caught up in the drama of the day-to-day and miss the big picture. Life is fired at us point-blank and we’re constantly making those little decisions that add up to game plans we didn’t necessarily intend.

During my time at MSU, my laser beam focus was on my broadcasting career. I worked my way through school on the air at WILS and WVIC. I got good enough at it to think it might sustain my career. It took some close friends to whack me on the side of the head and challenge me to leave my body and view my life from 10,000 feet.

That’s a terrific exercise, one I regularly recommend to everyone I care about. Here’s how you do it.

Imagine you’ve been hired as an expert consultant, a life coach to a person you know very well. Your job is to coldly and objectively look at this individual’s current toolbox and behavior patterns to see if they are in sync with two fundamental objectives:

Continually bracketing and chasing your passion.

Creating a game plan to get you from where you are now, to where you think you want to be.

Your client is you.

Have you ever really given any thought to what really makes you happy? Have you ever considered how you might get paid to do it, or at least bring more of it into your life right now?

Try writing those things down and considering them without throwing obstacles in your own way. We’re often quick to discount our dreams based on unreasonable fears and incorrect assumptions. Paint your dreams in living color and in as much detail as possible. Now leave the body you know so well and look at those dreams from a distance. Insights on how to move in the direction of your destiny will eventually come to you.

Now comes the hard work. When I say be cold about your current self assessment, I mean it. Envision saying this to your best friend. “Look, be honest with me, am I doing the right things to seek happiness? What behaviors are getting in my way? What should I start doing? Stop doing? Continue doing? Which of my current friendships are unproductive and need to be de-emphasized? What relationships should I be nurturing? Are my physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual dimensions in the right balance? Don’t sugar coat it, give it to me straight.”

Even if you have the courage to honestly answer these questions on your own, pick a trusted accountability buddy and speak your answers out loud to them, inviting them to ask clarifying questions and call you out on your “bs” as needed. We all like to lie to ourselves and it’s often refreshing to have somebody point it out.

Part of what makes this the hard work is deciding what to do about the feedback. As the old saying goes, “lessons are repeated until learned” and one definition of insanity is maintaining the same behaviors and expecting deferent results.

Bring back that piece of paper on which you wrote about your passion from 10,000 feet and line it up against your feedback loop. Are you really willing to make the fundamental changes in your life to move you in the direction of happiness? This may mean breaking up with somebody you thought you cared deeply for, having the courage to remove yourself from an unacceptable work environment, change your major from what your parents expect to what you really want to do, or cutting back on the alcohol and fried food and getting up an hour early to work out your marvelous machine.

Don’t put your physical health at the bottom of the list. Being fit helps you better cope with stress, make better decisions and have the energy to enjoy a longer day. If you take care of your body, you are more likely to get to keep it longer.

Same goes for your psyche. 33% of the kids that are at MSU right now have some symptoms of depression. Many of us are clinically depressed and need a professional to guide us out of it. Our brain chemistry may well be screwed up and getting in the way of us doing the things we want to do. Get help. Don’t worry about what others may think. Truth is, everybody is screwed up to some extent, some of us are just better at hiding it than others. The people you may think will make fun of you are likely envious that you had the guts to get well.

Do yourself a favor and commit to doing the daily things that will allow you to live the life you were born to live. Here’s an unlikely maxim: There is just as much hard work, stress and pain in an unfulfilled life as there is in one that is self-actualized and rewarding. You’re going to have to endure it one way of the other, so why not figure out what your mission is and pursue it with reckless abandon. Choose happiness and go for it!

Visualize this amazing life from 10,000 feet. Jump into an imaginary time machine and fast forward 5 years, 10 years and look back. What have you accomplished? Where do you live? Who are your friends? What does your typical day look like? Now come back to the present and act now just like the person you desire to become. If you do this consistently, getting to where you want to be is the inevitable outcome.

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Scott Westerman is Associate Vice President for Alumni Affairs and Executive Vice President of the MSU Alumni Association, but he prefers being thought of as “the head servant”. Write to him at wsw@msu.edu or via @MSUScottW on Twitter.

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