What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?


We’ve spent the first week of 2014 making resolutions  about things we wish to achieve in the coming year. Even if we have framed them less as resolutions, and more as words to guide us, the outcome is still the same. We want to change something in our lives.

What could prevent this happening?

One of the ways in which we sabotage our own growth is through pay-offs – the perceived reward for staying in a certain situation. You know – the job you hate, but which you can’t leave because there’s a recession on, and you won’t get another job; the relationship that isn’t working anymore, but if you break-up, you will be on your own forever – or at least this is what you tell yourself.  I have even known of women for whom cancer has carried its own pay-offs.  These are often the hidden saboteurs in our lives. It is much easier to blame the economy or our illness than to take personal responsibility for our lives.  And let’s face it, pay-offs are comfortable. You know where you are with a pay-off. It keeps you safe from disappointment or failure. I know that I am tempted to settle for less-than in my own life, because I don’t want to fail at something new.

But we, more than most, know that life is too short and too precious to be ruled by payoffs. Playing safe may no longer be enough for us. In order to truly live our lives, not merely exist, we have to dig deeper and be ready to shake off the payoffs.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”, asks Mary Oliver in her poem The Summer Day.

I can never read these words, without thinking of my friend Terri Wingham, who took them to heart. She gave up everything to pursue her dream of A Fresh Chapter – the pay-offs of her job, her apartment, her life were no longer enough for her after cancer.

We may not all have Terri’s courage to make such a radical change in our lives, but we can start somewhere. Is there an area you would like to change in your life? What is the pay-off for staying stuck in this situation? Look at your answer honestly and ask yourself what would you have to give up in order to let go of this situation? Now consider what you would gain if you decide to let go?

Which will you choose? The answer is up to you. Maybe you are content to live with the payoff. At least after this exercise you recognize it for what it is. Or maybe you decide that the pay-off isn’t worth it anymore. You want to change the situation. How do you go about doing this?

If the task seems too overwhelming, start small. On one side of a page, write down all the steps that you will need to take to reach your goal. For example, if you want to change your job, the first step will be to update your resume, followed by creating a professional profile on LinkedIn, researching the job market, up-skilling, and so on.  On the other side of the page, list all the pay-offs you get from your current situation that is keeping you from taking that step.

Now is the time to be brave. Take that first step, and as you check it off your list, draw a line through the corresponding payoff. I promise you this exercise will help you feel in more control of the direction you want your life to go this year.  Just remember to keep each step small, and attainable, and if you choose to add a time-frame to the goal, make it a realistic one.

Now tell me, what is it YOU plan to do with your one wild and precious life?