12 Most Revealing Questions to Consider About Your Future
Recently I met with a group of young adults who will be making a number of significant decisions over the next few years. Although we typically think about next steps at events like graduation or milestone birthdays, it’s a good idea to keep asking questions about your future. Here are some things you might ask yourself as you look forward to the next months and years.
1.What are the most important things in my life?
What really matters most to you? Focus on your true answers, not what you think others want or expect you to say. From your gut now: What is really important?
2. What values matter most to me?
Values are beliefs that drive actions. They govern decisions. For example, if one of your values is honesty, you won’t pretend you worked on a project and claim credit when you don’t deserve it. If security is a top value, you might not leave a high-paying job to start a risky business. You need to know which values govern you.
3. Who embodies these values?
Think about someone who truly is governed by the values she proclaims. Perhaps a family member or close friend seems to automatically make decisions and take steps that flow naturally from top values. Someone like this integrity in action. You can learn a great deal from people who live according to values that are similar to yours.
4. How do I want my life to be different?
If you could wave a magic want before tomorrow morning, what is something you would like to be different? Be specific! “Be happier” is hard to imagine, hard to schedule, hard to assess. “Schedule an activity I really enjoy once a month” can mean scheduling time for a movie, dinner at a favorite restaurant, lunch with a friend — all things that will make you happier. But “schedule and activity I really enjoy once a month” is easy to imagine, schedule, and assess.
5. What is one thing I could change that would make a big difference in my life?
It’s easy to become overwhelmed by all the changes we’d like to make. When there are so many, it’s difficult to take any action at all. Choose one thing. Need a new, more reliable car? Want to go visit a family member? Thinking about going back to school? Choose one thing to work on right now.
6. What would be different if I changed that one thing?
Imagine what would happen if you accomplished that one change. The car starts every morning without incident and you arrive on time to work. You build a stronger relationship with a member of your family as a result of the visit. You earn a graduate degree and now are qualified for new opportunities. What would your life look and feel like? What’s the result of that one change?
7. What has kept me from changing it so far?
If it were easy, we’d all change, look perfect, and be millionaires. Stuff gets in the way. Think about the one thing you want to change and dig deep into the reasons you don’t make the change? Not enough money (which often means spending too much on daily Starbucks runs instead of saving toward a long-term goal)? Not enough time (what about the time you spend online playing games or checking Facebook one more time)? What are you ready to sacrifice or change about your “now” life to get your “then” life?
8. What decisions have I spent time worrying about today?
It’s easy to get caught up in day-to-day worries. Should I get gas tonight or can I wait until tomorrow? What color should I paint the kitchen? What should I plant this year? Where will the kids go to college in 12 years when they’re old enough? What have you worried about today? Articulate worries can help deflate the emotion that causes so much anxiety.
9. How important will those decisions be in six months?
Clients are often surprised when they realize the decisions they are agonizing over will matter very little in six months or a year. If you are spending time researching, thinking, and agonizing over a decision, give it the future test: will it matter in 6 months? 12 months? 2 years? If the answer is that 10 years from now this decision will still matter, give it all the time and emotional energy you need to. If it won’t matter in six months, think about spending your energy elsewhere.
10. What important decisions deserve more time than I give them?
Spending all that time worrying about things that don’t matter sometimes takes time away from thinking about things that do matter. In a society that tends to value “busy-ness,” getting caught up in details seems to prove we are working hard. Some important decisions are really hard to think about (“Will my parents need more care over the next decade than I am able to give them?”) so we use up our time thinking about things that don’t trouble us all that much (“Should I hire a neighbor to mow the lawn or keep doing it myself?”). Identify the really important decisions — it’s the first step in taking care of them.
11. How will I make things different today? Tomorrow?
What is one step you can take that will make today better in some way? Exercise? Start a project you’ve been putting off? Make a phone call to a friend or family member who could really use some help? And what’s one thing you can do tomorrow? Asking yourself these questions each day can build the habit of making important (even though relatively small) productive decisions every day. The cumulative effect is amazing.
This is possibly the most important question of all. Why go back to school? Why apply for a different position? Why make more of an effort to get along with your mother-in-law? In our busy lives, the doing of the task often becomes more clear than the reason. When things get tough, it really helps to know why.
The future looms large for high school graduates like the ones I met with. But it looms large for all of us (even if my future is probably shorter). Asking yourself questions is a great way to see if course-correction is needed to get you where you want to go. What other questions would be helpful in planning for the future?
Featured image courtesy of milos milosevic licensed via Creative Commons.