Christmas at the lakefront: A fond farewell

When I set off to Bali earlier this year, I had planned to spend Christmas Day on the beach drinking pina coladas. It was one for my bucket list – and a beautiful white sand beach on the Indonesian island seemed like a perfect setting to soak up some sun over the holidays while sipping on a sweet, tropical cocktail.

Life is not always kind. Sometimes it is just downright cruel. Never in a million years would I have anticipated being back home in wintry Canada on Christmas Day, grieving over the sudden loss of my dear father. After a short illness, he entered into eternal rest on December 23rd at the age of 70.

It happened all too quickly, especially the final few days. So fast, it was difficult to process everything. I wasn’t ready or prepared to say goodbye, but not sure more time would have fixed that. I have comfort in knowing he was so happy to be surrounded with love from family, and many good friends, right to the end. We even got to open some Christmas gifts with him on the 22nd, in what would turn out to be his last full day before he passed. This gave him, and us, a moment of joy.

My father was a kind and loving man, always there to help others without asking anything in return. He taught me many things in life, not the least of which is what it means to be truly selfless. Dad touched the Earth with a gentle grace, and had the most extraordinary gift of integrity. His actions spoke volumes, and to this day I still have a lot to learn from his quiet example.

To pay tribute to his spirit of playfulness and love of the outdoors, on Christmas Day my family visited the beach at a lakeside park not far from my parent’s home in the Okanagan Valley. On a cold and clear afternoon, with pina coladas in hand, we honoured him with a short Irish blessing and a reading of the poem, He Is Gone, by David Harkins.

I know in years to come, I’ll remember this as one of the most meaningful experiences from my bucket list, and a fitting way to pay tribute and bid a fond farewell to my beloved father.

I’ll keep on smiling, dad, for you will always be in my heart.

Dad relaxing lakeside in the Okanagan Valley, 2009 (Photo by Marty Kelly)
Dad relaxing lakeside in the Okanagan Valley, 2009 (Photo by Marty Kelly)

 

He Is Gone

You can shed tears that he is gone
Or you can smile because he has lived

You can close your eyes and pray that he will come back
Or you can open your eyes and see all that he has left

Your heart can be empty because you can’t see him
Or you can be full of the love that you shared

You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday

You can remember him and only that he is gone
Or you can cherish his memory and let it live on

You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back
Or you can do what he would want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.

Written 1981
David Harkins 1959 –
Silloth, Cumbria, UK

How to set life goals that are meaningful and effective

As the end of the year approaches, it’s natural to start contemplating the year ahead. Like many people do at this time of year, I usually take a few moments to set some goals for the twelve months to come.

In the past, I didn’t bother with much formality in carrying out this task. I simply wrote down a handful of things I wanted to do or accomplish, both professionally and personally. This year, however, I decided to put a lot more effort and thought into my annual goal-setting practice. My aim was to create more meaningful and effective goals that would help me to achieve the life I want. Here’s how I did it.

Align goals with your values and life purpose

I previously wrote a post on the merits of living a life that’s grounded on a larger purpose. I made the case that living in harmony with your values and purpose is one of the surest routes to happiness and fulfillment in life.

That’s all very well in theory, but how do you go about this in practice? Once you’ve clarified your values and overall life purpose, living them everyday can be tricky business. Here’s where goals can help. Setting and working towards concrete and actionable goals can help to translate your values and purpose into real life.

Aligning your goals with your values and a greater purpose means that you’ll take action on things that are important and worthwhile to you. Your goals will be inherently meaningful, and achieving them will bring a deep sense of fulfilment.

However, creating value-based goals doesn’t mean they all have to be profound and lofty pursuits. Sure, some of your values may be highly principled, but others can be quite carefree. For example, two of my values are “adventure” and “fun.” This leaves a lot of room for lighthearted goals too.

Seek balance amongst all areas in life

It’s fair to say that most of us have set goals before, at least in some areas of life. Perhaps you have created goals for your career, finances, or even your health. But have you ever created a romantic goal, or what about a goal focused on your spiritual practice?

Goal setting is a powerful tool. It helps you to focus your energy and efforts on achieving the things you want out of life. This is all well and good, but creating goals that focus only on certain aspects of life may mean that other areas are neglected. My advice: create a breadth of goals that encompass all the important areas of your life. Balance your professional, financial, and health related aspirations with goals that focus on family, friendships, romance, spirituality, and more.

As for me, here are the categories I decided to use for my goals this year:

  • Professional
  • Writing
  • Leadership, Service and Contribution
  • Family and Friends
  • Romance
  • Fun
  • Health
  • Learning
  • Spirituality
  • Travel and Adventure
  • Financial

While there’s no magic number, I recommend creating at least 2-3 goals per category. Try not to overload any one category; instead, strive for a healthy balance amongst all the different areas. As well, don’t overdo it by creating a huge number of goals overall. You don’t want to force so much structure onto your life that you rob yourself of the joy that comes from spontaneity and happenstance.

Create goals that are effective

Some goals are better than others. In fact, how a goal is expressed can sometimes be the difference between accomplishing your objectives and falling short.

One of the best ways to ensure your goals are effective is to use the aptly named S.M.A.R.T. criteria for goal-setting. First presented in a paper in the November 1981 issue of Management Review, the criteria have been modified and adopted in a wide range of contexts. The five criteria are often defined as follows:

  • Specific – Make sure the goal is clear and concrete, rather than ambiguous and general. It should be something you can easily take action on and doesn’t leave any wiggle room (“take the stairs at work” is better than “lose weight”). Check out this post for more on the power of using concrete goals.
  • Measurable – Make the goal quantifiable. In other words, you should be able to measure progress towards it, and know when it has been completed (“read at least 20 books” is measurable; “read more books” is not).
  • Attainable – The goal is realistic and achievable (“go to the opera” appears on my list; “sing opera” does not). Tip: It’s okay to include some easy goals, but make sure to stretch yourself too. If a goal is ambitious, however, don’t make it so extreme that it’s impossible to achieve.
  • Relevant – The goal should matter to you; it should be meaningful and worthwhile. Notice that by aligning your goals with your values and life purpose, they will be relevant by design.
  • Time-bound – Ground the goal within a clear timeframe. I gave myself a year to complete most of my goals, though many can be finished in shorter order.

Using these criteria, here are a few examples of goals I created for the year ahead:

  • Publish at least five articles in major news outlets [Writing]
  • Start a charitable foundation [Leadership, Service and Contribution]
  • Take an acting class [Fun]
  • Spend at least an hour in nature every week [Health]
  • Read at least 20 books [Learning]

When creating your own goals, remember that wording matters. Strive to craft goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. It’s a sure-fire recipe for developing goals that work.

In review

With the fresh start of a new year comes optimism for the future, making it a perfect time to set some new goals for the twelve months ahead. Here’s my advice for creating goals that are meaningful, balanced, and effective:

  1. Identify your personal values and overall life purpose. Aligning your goals with your values and purpose will make them more meaningful and inspiring to you, and make achieving them more fulfilling. Need some guidance? Check out this past post on living with purpose.
  2. List all the areas in your life for which you want to develop goals. Convert this list to 8-12 general categories. Strive for balance: make sure all key areas of your life are captured, without over-representing any one realm.
  3. For each category, create at least 2-3 goals. Use the S.M.A.R.T. criteria to ensure your goals are effectively stated. Remember, your goals should be worthwhile pursuits. You should feel compelled to complete them, even if they are ambitious.
  4. Start mapping out a plan for achieving your goals, especially the more involved ones. A big goal can appear less daunting once you break it down into smaller, actionable steps.

Living with purpose: Or why I dislike the term work-life balance

Work-life balance. I don’t like the term.

It conjures up an image of a two-sided scale, with one side labelled “work” and the other “everything else.” As if the secret to achieving a satisfying and fulfilling life is to carefully apportion your time between the two opposing sides.

I don’t buy it. I don’t believe that overall well-being depends on allocating just the right amount of time between different areas of your life. A scale isn’t the right analogy here. Instead, it’s better to evoke the image of a sandbox.

In my childhood, I loved to play in the sandbox in our backyard. I would build elaborate sand cities, complete with buildings, roads, and other golden hued structures. I might have even made an airport once. Sure, I was hard at play. But I was also doing work to give shape and form to all that sand.

In a sandbox, there is no division between work and play. I was doing both, in pursuit of a larger purpose: to create something special, to accomplish something. Even if that something was a city made from sand, it was an important and worthwhile cause to me.

The morale of the story is this: when you have a clear purpose, and it guides your life, the dividing line between work and everything else fades away. Guided by a larger purpose, there is a oneness to all you do. And when you fill your days doing things that align with that purpose, the different areas of your life weave together in support of a greater cause. I call this living with purpose.

So how do you determine your life purpose?

The best way I know is to first identify your personal values. These are the principles or standards of behaviours that guide how you want to behave in your life. As an example, here are the values I try to uphold in my own life:

  • Adventure – be open to new opportunities
  • Boldness – think big and take risks
  • Community – connect with others
  • Contribution – make the world a better place
  • Creativity – bring new ideas to life
  • Fun – enjoy myself and my work
  • Growth – develop and expand my mindset, knowledge and abilities
  • Integrity – be true to my word and walk the talk
  • Leadership – lead by example, engage and empower others
  • Respect – show consideration for people and the planet

Collectively, I like to think of these values as providing a character sketch of the best possible version of me. I know that if I stay true to my values for more days than not, I will be the type of person I truly want to be, the type of person I can be proud of.

Your values will be different from mine. That’s okay. Values are highly personal, but here’s the thing, you need to believe in them. You need to feel they are important and worthwhile qualities that you can aspire to. You need to feel they paint a portrait of the type of person you want to be in the world. You will know your values are true when they make you feel that you’re looking at a reflection of an ideal version of you.

You can find a lot of examples of personal values on the Internet (here is one list). These samples provide a good starting point, but, from my experience, your values will be more authentic and empowering if you express them in your own words. This will take some time, but the investment is worth it.

Your life purpose should flow from your values. I have found the best way to express a life purpose is with a personal mission statement. Shaped by your values, a mission statement should succinctly describe your purpose, or, more bluntly, your reason for being. It’s like a blueprint for what you want your life to represent. Here’s mine:

My mission is to live with courage, compassion and contribution. I will have the courage to follow my heart and pursue my dreams. I will have compassion for myself and for others. I will contribute to my community and strive to make the world a better place. Every day, I will live with integrity to my values.

A mission statement provides a guiding light, or a true north, to guide your actions, decisions, and interactions with others. By grounding your life on your mission and values, you create a sense of unity in all that you do.

Getting clarity about your values and purpose, and then living them everyday, is one of the most powerful ways to gain lasting happiness and fulfillment. No longer will your job seem like it’s on one side of a scale, separate from everything else. Instead, all areas of your life – from work to family, friendships, leisure, service and spirituality – will feel interconnected and aligned in support of a higher moral code.

Just like a kid who creates cities out of sand, fulfillment comes from living in harmony with a larger purpose.