I have just returned from four days in Orlando, FL, during which time I attend the annual meeting of the Board of Directors for the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA). This group was founded in 1967, and next year will be celebrating its 50th anniversary. This is of course a significant milestone, and much discussion at the meeting centered around the organization’s history.
My birthday this year will be one which many also consider a milestone, as it closes out another decade. Although these landmarks are somewhat arbitrary (why do we care more when the number ends in a zero? Couldn’t we just as joyfully commemorate the 49th anniversary as the 50th?), the tradition of giving them greater attention does provide us with a good opportunity to reflect on where we have come from, where we are at, and where we still hope to go. Otherwise, as Ferris Bueller was want to say:
If organizations such as the IHSA hope to remain relevant over the long term, some degree of calculated evolution is required. Therefore, these groups tend to define a mission statement, and then create “strategic plans”, which carefully map out their objectives for the near future, the middle range and the long term. Otherwise, lack of focus or stagnation will result in the loss of members who become drawn to more contemporary opportunities.
I have always sort of wondered in awe at people who have been able to manage their lives with a similar “strategic plan” sort of approach. In my experience, it has usually seemed like the harder I tried to get to one specific place, the more swiftly the tide carried me elsewhere. While I have enjoyed (most of) these adventures, back roads and eddies, I sometimes wonder how things would be if I had taken a more focused and precise approach.
Last winter, I had the opportunity to participate in an online coaching series called “Stirrup Your Life”. Geared for equestrians and led by my dear friend Jen Verharen of Cadence, Inc., the series led participants through a series of exercises, reflections and readings which allowed each of us to create a vision, to identify our core values and our limiting beliefs, and then to perhaps have the courage to “step into the gap” of discomfort, to stretch out of the known and familiar, in order to take steps towards achieving personal goals which were in keeping with our vision. It was truly the first time I have ever sat down and really tried to concretely identify what I wanted my life to be like, restrictions, reality or other negatives be damned.
Participating in this coaching series was one of those activities which didn’t seem that significant in the immediate moment, but now, nearly one year later, I have begun to recognize the impact it has had on my way of thinking about goal setting and the pursuit of a contented life. One of Jen’s main points was that if you are living a life which is out of integrity with your core values, you will likely always feel that something is wrong or missing. It is all too easy to get caught up in the “must do’s” or “should do’s”, and then to wake up and realize that somehow you are so full of ‘busyness’ that you don’t have the time to do those things which are truly most important to you. We, as individuals, really do have the ability to modify the path we are on. That is not to say that taking the steps to change the route is easy to do; in fact, usually it is anything but. However, more of us are prisoners of our own mistaken beliefs, preconceived ideas and bad habits than we care to admit.
One of my core values is a commitment towards living my life with as much mindfulness towards sustainability as is possible given my current resources. On several levels, I have not been doing a good enough job in this area, which has certainly contributed to feelings of discontent and frustration. The term “sustainability” is a trendy one right now. But what is really meant by it?
Merriam Webster defines “sustainability” as:
- Able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed
- Involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources
- Able to last or continue for a long time.
Usually when most of us think of sustainability, we are referring to definition # 2 (which of course relates to # 1 and #3). But when it comes to career, life goals and personal ambitions, it is becoming abundantly clear to me that definitions # 1 and 3 apply to these areas, as well.
There is a balance in everything. It is great to have goals, but some goals are exclusive to each other, and so sometimes we have to compromise or shift focus in order to accommodate needs in multiple areas, or prioritize the thing which we cannot live without. There needs to be a balance between wanting to do EVERYTHING, RIGHT NOW, and pacing yourself. In order to make the choices which are right for each one of us, we must know where it is we hope to go.
Envisioning a sustainable future for me doesn’t just relate to installing solar panels, composting the manure or eating locally. Sustainability means that the life energy I am putting into an activity is worth the benefit I am getting out of it. Choosing to live sustainably means that I am deliberately and mindfully putting my time into work (paid or unpaid), relationships and other endeavors which renew and inspire me, not those which leave me feeling drained, depressed or demoralized.
I have learned to check in with my vision regularly—whenever I need to refocus or to consider whether a given commitment is in keeping with my need for a sustainable life. Visions can be revised or edited as needed but must always accommodate core values, just as an organization returns to its mission statement and edits its strategic plan if it is not working.
This particular blog post may not seem as “horse related” as some of the others. For me personally, many components of my vision are about horses and my equine aspirations. Some of these goals have proven to be exclusive of other ambitions which most people would consider to be more traditional. Most of the time, I am okay with that. But I would be lying if I said that I never question myself and the path I have chosen.
Many of the concepts of sustainability relate not just to protecting the planet but to living a meaningful life. And for me right now, this is everything.