Inspiration! Five exercises to live wisely


There was an article in the NY Times this past summer (yes, my log of inspirational articles to write about goes back a long way) called Live Wisely.  It describes a 5-week course that exists at Harvard University called Reflecting on Your Life, intended to help students figure out how to spend and make the most out of their time at school.

The exercises are obviously geared towards university life (choosing courses, for example), but can easily transfer into the lives of us work-a-day mundanes as well.  Below I'll summarize the exercise as given by Harvard, and then offer some modifications for "real life".  (As if real life is a thing)

1) How do you want to spend your time?

If you're at Harvard: For this exercise, students list how they would like to spend their time at college and what their goals are.  What do they want to have done at the end of their time at school.  Then they list what they are actually doing with their time.  Next the question comes: how do your commitments match up with your goals?

If you're not: The life application seems pretty obvious.  What do you want out of life, and how are you spending your time?  Since university provides an excellent four year span of time to measure, it might be helpful to break off a smaller chunk of time than "your entire life".  You pick what makes sense for you: maybe you want to pick a season, like what you'll do over summer.  Maybe a year, maybe four years.  Maybe you're in a time of transition - how are you going to use that time?

2) Choose a major

If you're at Harvard: Then you actually have a major to choose.  If you have a couple things you're deciding between, ask yourself what you like to do in your spare time.  What do you enjoy?  What books or clubs do you want to join?  Where do you want to make a difference?  Maybe try studying that.

If you're not: The concept of "major" most easily transfers into the idea of what kind of job you should pursue.  Do you feel like there's room for a change in your professional life but you don't know where to turn?  Again, what do you care about?  What kinds of things do you want to in your spare time?  Where are you volunteering, or what online courses are you taking, just for fun?

If you're so wiped out from work that all you have energy for in your spare time is watching TV and drinking with your friends, then reframe the question: imagine you are on a one year paid sabbatical.  You've already taken a month to vacation and are well-rested and maybe getting a bit bored.  What next?  How would you choose to fill that time?  Do you start tinkering and building things?  Making movies?  Volunteering for an animal shelter?

3) Broad vs. Deep

If you're at Harvard: Would you rather be extraordinarily good at one thing or fairly good at a lot of things?  Structure your courses and life to suit that.

If you're not: Same question.  Then delve into professional and personal development as you see fit.

4) Core Values

If you're at Harvard: Take a sheet with 25 values on it and circle the five that best describe your own core values.  Next, mentally play out what will happen if two of your values come up against each other.  The given example is a student who wants to be a surgeon but also wants a large family - the core values of usefulness and family will come into conflict at some point.

If you're not: You still have values and they will still come into conflict with each other.  While they don't explicitly say it here, I don't think the goal here is to solve your upcoming value conflicts in advance, but to play out some scenarios in your mind and think about what you might do in those situations.

I found the list of values they use for the exercise from Ethical Leaders here.

5) The Fisher Parable

If you're at Harvard: You are presented with a parable of a fisher who has a simple life.  In the morning they (I'm going gender-neutral here, deal with it) fish for a few hours, sell them, and then enjoy a relaxed day with friends and family.  An MBA student approaches and sees how the fisher could become rich by starting up a proper business, opening a cannery, and even donating free fish to the poor.  They would then be able to spend more time with their family, knowing they had been successful and made a difference.

The question is: which fisher do you want to be?  The one with the simple, relaxed life that doesn't make an impact on a broader level but is happy and family-oriented, or the one who works harder, runs a business, and makes a bigger dent on the planet?

If you're not: Same question.  Then you even get to compare it to what you're actually doing in life.  If you just want a simple life, why on earth are you busting your butt 60 hours a week?  If you want to change the world, well then you might need to start taking some chances.

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