The Infamous Question Mark
In my professional life, I’ve grown accustomed to working within a culture of questions – it’s good project management. Why now? Why ever? Why this process? Why this vendor? It helps ensure alignment with mission, goals, budgets, etc. so we aren’t all running around willy nilly stirring up ‘urgent’ projects. I embrace a culture of questions—it’s almost second nature to me. I’ve walked around with a head full of question marks for as long as I can remember. Not that I’m indecisive mind you. I prefer ‘curious.’ Most days the running conversation in my head is pretty basic. Should I wear my new jeans or a pencil skirt? Should I fill the car up now or wait until the commute home? Sometimes, however, the decisions are tougher and require hard choices in order to align with my goals and vision. Should I order the cheeseburger and fries? Probably not. Isn’t aligned with my goal of losing five pounds by vacation. Should I have another glass of wine? Want to, but doesn’t align with my goal of running two miles tomorrow morning.
Mind you—some questions are weightier and require some degree of navel gazing. I find that the older I get, the more navel gazing I require. What am I doing with my life? What’s my purpose? What’s my legacy? Color me middle aged. In my twenties, the questions were primarily around jobs (should I ask for more money?), skirt length (can it be shortened?) and dates (is he wearing a midriff?). In my thirties, they were around mortgages (what is PITI? What is escrow?), credit scores (what is a FICO and why do I care?), skirt length (is this too short?) and dating (is that his real hair?). In my early forties, they were around 401ks (is this the right amount of risk?), mortgages (should I refinance?), skirt length (can you make it longer?) and dating (do I have to?).
We have so many decisions to make every day. Don’t even get me started about all the decisions I have to make when I go to Whole Foods. Chunky or smooth? Pulp or pulp free? Skim or 2 percent? Cage free or free range? Holy guacamole. It’s overwhelming. In the heat of middle age (is it hot in here or is it me?), the questions I’m asking myself have shifted to the ones that require intense pondering—and yes, frequent navel gazing. They aren’t just related to blue cheese vs. ranch which will likely rattle me to the grave. They’re the Big Ones. What am I doing with my life? What impact am I making on the world? How am I giving back? For me, they’re the ones that are important because if you get them wrong, they lead to a dotted line of regrets and missed opportunities. If I have to go to my grave, I’d love to go regret free. Do I have some regrets? I think I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. I regret not going to college—not necessarily because of the education, although that’s a good reason. I’ve done pretty well in life so for me, it’s more about the fun and life experiences I missed out on by bypassing a more traditional four year plan. My continuing education was a little more freestyle and took a lot longer. Kids—if your parents are willing to pay for college, GO! Get an education and put off being an adult for as long as you can. It’s highly overrated!
I can live with most of my decisions (blue cheese with wings; ranch with fries), but what I think I wouldn’t be okay with, however, is not making a difference in the world. I don’t think it has to be in the form of a bestselling novel that every high school freshman is forced to read every year for decades to come (although that would be WAY cool – hello Catcher in the Rye). Nor does one’s legacy have to be a foundation to rival Bill and Melinda Gates’ – although, again – WAY COOL. If I had that much money to give away, can you imagine the desk in my Manhattan penthouse that I would be sitting at when I delegated my personal assistant, Miranda, with the task of wiring the money? “Miranda—do be a doll and wire $30 million to those cute little children in that country over there that I can’t pronounce so they can have some decent drinking water. Oh, throw in an extra $10 million so they can have shoes too. Good shoes are the hallmark of a successful life, dahling. And—Miranda–where’s my soy latte?! It’s after 10:00 AM! You know I can’t focus without my latte!!” I don’t think you have to build an orphanage in Uganda or roads in India to leave behind something important and noteworthy. I think the mark you leave can be measured by the people whose lives you touch within five miles of where you live. No passport required. The small daily gestures not only count, but they add up and multiply and spread. The number of smiles you make, the amount of laughter you create. Do you brighten the room more than you darken it? Do you make people laugh more than you make them cry? Do you hug as often as you could? Did you connect with the people you encountered today—your kid’s teacher? The cashier at Whole Foods? The guy who fixed your tire? Are you living life to the fullest? Did you set a goal or intention? Did you make today count? Did you love someone with all your heart? Did you wake up this morning with the intention of joyfulness? Did you think you deserved to be joyful? Those are the questions. Excuse me while I go navel gaze.
Written by: Lori Welch