For four years and nearly 200 episodes, we've talked about making a life that matters. What does that mean?
Making a life that matters
The overarching theme of The Productive Woman podcast is about making a life that matters. We talk about it on the podcast, in the Facebook community, and through email conversations. Every person’s vision of a life that matters will be different, but as we approach the milestone episode 200 I wanted to share what it means to me, as well as what I learned as I researched for this episode.
Why does it matter?
Why do I talk about making a life that matters? Why did this concept come up when I first started the podcast?
From the very beginning, that is what I talk about in the opening sequence of each episode, about managing our time, life, stress, and stuff so we can accomplish the things we care about and make a life that matters. Why do we care? Why do we think about making a life that matters? Is there something in us that seeks immortality–to leave something significant behind that we'll be remembered for?
It's not just those of us in the TPW community who are thinking about this. If you do an online search of the phrase “a life that matters,” quite a few articles come up. (You can find links to some of those articles in the resources section at the bottom of this post.)
“. . . it’s important to not only live, but to live a life that matters. A life that makes a positive and everlasting impact on those around you because as long as we are remembered, we never truly die.”
Live a Life That Matters, Huffington Post
We want to leave something behind that we will be remembered for, we want to leave an impact on the people we come in contact with so that when we’re gone, they will remember something positive about us.
We will all leave behind a legacy of some kind. The question for me is what legacy will I leave?
I’ll confess, I’ve made many mistakes over the course of my life, and I have many things to regret as a human being, wife, and mother. I have things I can regret in every aspect of my life. At the end of the day, though, my adult kids like each other and they like us, and that’s all that really matters to me. There are a lot of things I have accomplished and things I still want to accomplish that are a part of making a life that matters. But the mistakes I’ve made are far outweighed by the fact that my grown children still enjoy each other’s company, and that they still like us.
Elements of a life that matters
What, then, are the elements that make up or result in a life that matters? Again, everyone is going to have their own definition and list, but below are a few things that came to my mind.
This word comes from a Latin word with a meaning of wholeness; a person of integrity is undivided, consistency of action and values. A Yale Law professor wrote a book about integrity and it says:
“Integrity . . . requires three steps: (1) discerning what is right and what is wrong; (2) acting on what you have discerned, even at personal cost; and (3) saying openly that you are acting on your understanding of right from wrong.”
from Integrity by Stephen L. Carter
Carter says that integrity is perhaps the fundamental quality of character, the thing that has to come before everything else. He says, “The rest of what we think matters very little if we lack essential integrity, the courage of our convictions, the willingness to act and speak in behalf of what we know to be right.”
Awareness is knowing who you are, what you want, and why you do the things you do. It includes a willingness to be honest with yourself, to look at yourself with fully open eyes, and to see the truth about who you are, and acknowledge the reality. This is hard for a lot of us but I think it is necessary for a life that matters. It requires asking a lot of questions.
We've talked in several previous podcast episodes (such as episode 108 and episode 172) about the fundamental need to become aware as a starting point of making a life that matter–to get there, it starts with awareness of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, and being able to see the truth clearly as it is without judging.
Kindness is “the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.” It's important to be kind to others, but also to yourself.
The word generous is defined as “showing a readiness to give more of something, such as money or time, than is strictly necessary or expected” Interestingly, the word comes from a Latin word that includes the concept of “nobility” in its meaning). Generosity is the willingness to give without keeping score, without holding back, without expecting that quid pro quo of “I’ll do for you if you’ll do for me.”
I’m not saying we should always be giving, and never receive anything back. The best relationships have both giving and receiving. But if we’re going to be a person who’s living a life that matters, there has to be that quality of kindness and generosity, a willingness to give without keeping score, to not hold back and measure what we’re giving by comparison to what the other people are giving, a willingness to give to people who can’t reciprocate.
- Balance between being realistic and optimistic
Being realistic is being able to see things for what they are, and to see people for who they are, including yourself. But we also need to be optimistic in the sense of being willing to believe they (and you) can be better.
As you know, I’m a lawyer and writer so words matter to me. I looked up the word realistic and it was defined as “having or showing a sensible and practical idea of what can be achieved or expected,” and I think making a life that matters has to have that component of being realistic.
In order to make a life that matters, I need to have a realistic and sensible idea of what I’m capable of, but at the same time, I also need to be optimistic, which is defined as being “hopeful and confident about the future.” There’s that element of hope that is necessary to make a life that matters, that we can realistically assess our circumstances the way they are today, whether it is our income, health, personality, or skills, and yet be optimistic that all of these things can be improved if I’m willing to put the time and effort into it.
We can apply this to people around us as well, to see them for who they are, what they are able to do for me, how much they are able to support me, how grateful they can be for what I can do for them. Whatever the reality is, we can be realistic about the people in our lives and yet be optimistic that they can improve.
Intentionality means we’re living our lives on purpose; we’re not just ambling from one day to the next, but really thinking about these things, thinking about what it means to make a life that matters, thinking about what we want from our life, making intentional choices about our long-term goals and our day-to-day action.
In order to make a life that matters in the long-term, we have to know where we’re going. We need an intentional plan for the future – what we want to accomplish, where we want to end up. And then we have to make intentional choices each day about the actions we take, the things we do to move us in the direction we want to go.
We have to think about things like:
- How do we want to feel?
- What kind of things do we need to do to feel that way?
- What kind of person do we want to be?
- What kinds of things does that kind of person do?
“The pursuit of more, bigger, faster, cheaper, nastier too often seems to demand putting what, why, and who we love at the end of the list, the underworld of the inbox, the bottom of the heap.”
This article encourages us to start with what we love, who we love, and what we care about and focus on those things as we make decisions about what to do in the long term. In other words, life is not about avoiding the things we don’t love, but acknowledging the things and people we do love, and building a life that centers around those things.
As you’re thinking about setting goals, start with what you want, instead of what you don’t want. It’s always more positive and motivating to move toward something rather than away from something.
Being intentional about that starts with number 2 on our list–being aware of what it is we want, why we want it–and focusing on those things instead of trying to build a life around avoiding the things that make us uncomfortable or the things we don’t want.
A life that matters doesn’t just happen. We have to make it by intentional, purposeful, and consistent action. We do that one choice, one action, and one moment at a time, but we have to be proactive instead of waiting for things to just work out.
A life that matters necessarily involves people who matter
A life that matters almost always matters in relation to people, those we love and who love us, those we help and those who can help us. For me, a life that matters is tied closely to the people I love. My ability to live a life that matters is in many ways a result of the people who’ve influenced me over the years:
- People I know
- Mike – taught me the meaning of integrity, honesty, selfless giving, forgiveness
- Mother – taught me about a mother’s fierce, unconditional love, and about facing hardship with a sense of humor
- Vicki – showed me how to be a mother and a kind, supportive friend
- Fred & Julie – opened their home to me when I was a heartbroken, lost teenager
- Larry Hicks – taught me how to be a lawyer
- People I’ve never met, like life coach, writer, and podcaster Brooke Castillo, whose work has taught me the concept that I am not at the mercy of my mind. I can choose what to think about, and since our actions are born of our emotions, which are the result of our thoughts, what we think about determines how we act and our actions create the results we live with every day. In order to make a life that matters, we need to take action in certain ways and learn to control our thinking, to manage our minds.
A life that matters, matters in the moment
We tend to think that a life that matters can only be measured at the end of it and is the summation of a life. But our experience of a life that matters is made up of moments that matter. It’s easy to get too focused on big accomplishments, big events, big goals, and miss the amazing moments. I encourage you to think about that. It’s the moments that add up over time to a life that matters.
We might work a lot to save money for our children’s college education, then be too tired or distracted to be present in the moments of their childhood. We’re so focused on the end goal–the new house, the promotion, the published book, the thinner and fitter body–that we’re not experiencing the process.
“Do not take a single second for granted. Take the time out of your day to tell those close to you that you love them, smile more and frown less, show gratitude, do random acts of kindness for friends and for strangers, don’t hold grudges, be thankful for what you have and the problems that you don’t have, volunteer for a cause that you believe in, get out of your comfort zone every once in awhile and try something new, be positive and optimistic and go for a long walk to breathe life in. Make every step, every heart beat, every moment and every day count. Why? You just never know what awaits you tomorrow, or even a week from now. The future is a second away, and the past is a second already passed. Life is mysteriously complex, and it will go on.”
A life that matters doesn’t require dramatic, spectacular “accomplishments” or international influence. If you’re doing “the stuff”– caring for your children and the other people in your life, going to work or school every day and doing the work, trying to be kind to the people you encounter each day–then your life matters.
What do you think?
Resources and Links
Integrity by Stephen L. Carter
- How to Live a Life That Matters: 5 Lessons from Maya Angelou
- 37 Lessons to Help You Live a Life that Matters – Life Optimizer
- Live a life that matters ! Be an inspiration !
- How to build mental strength and use it to build a successful career
- The One-Word Secret To Creating A Life That Matters
- Live a Life That Matters | HuffPost
- A Roadmap to a Life that Matters
- 10 Essentials for Making a Life that Matters – TPW172
- Mindset Matters: Productive Attitudes – TPW108
Announcements & Reminders
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