Why you need a Life Strategy – the same way you need a Business Strategy

Do you have a life strategy?

We all know that time spent on strategy is important. Getting our feet out of the mud and our heads in the clouds from time to time to have a look at our business and see if we’re heading in the right direction, if we’re on track with our goals, if our goals are still relevant.

Organisationally I’ve attended countless strategy meetings and even weekend long ‘hug ins’ all in the name of forward planning. Mostly these are with wonderful outcomes. The opportunity to move away from the business and have a look at it from the helicopter view that always helps us to see where we are, where the market is, where we want to be.

There’s many formats these strategy days can take, and the duration can change, but the main aspect is the deliberate action of getting up from our desk, away from the business of keeping the lights on, and taking stock.

Throughout my career I have seen the benefits and importance of taking time to focus on strategy. It’s bred in to us as leaders, organisations thrive when those in them know the main game, where they’re headed, how what they do today makes a dent in the desired future they are all seeking.

A few weeks ago though something occurred to me and when it did, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t come to this realisation sooner. What occurred to me was that while I was focused on strategy and strategic planning in my career and workplaces, I hadn’t really taken the time with my soul colleague (aka husband) to lift ourselves up out of the mud of our day to day routines, errands, and general activities, to look at our lives strategically. Where did we want to be, by when, where were we now, what has changed in the past few years that we need to consider?

It was an epiphany! Sure, we’d done the work on our finances and looked at the mortgage and reviewed the bills from time to time but, to really take some time to talk about and think about the other sides to our lives and our dreams and plans, in a way that was more than “wouldn’t it be great one day to travel the world, work overseas etc”. It was a whole new ball game.

So I broached the subject with my husband and although a little put off by the idea of the Life Strategy concept I’d just dreamed up for us, was willing to put aside a day to share in this new initiative and see what we could come up with.

It’s probably not for everyone, but I thought it was fantastic. Like in a workplace or your own business, you need to know where you are now and where you want to be in order to work out how to get there.
So it started over a coffee, on the deck with laptops and iPads at the ready. We’d both done some work in preparation, him around the finances, me around the agenda for the day (yes we had an agenda).

We spent the day dreaming and planning and looking at finances and really stepping back from the doing of our days and into the being of our future. What’s changed, what are our dreams, where are we financially? When can we finally pay off this bloody mortgage?

Of course, throughout the day we had our challenges – we didn’t agree on everything and that’s completely ok. Our dreams aren’t the same as they used to be. We’ve both grown and changed and have interests we didn’t have some years ago. I love trekking, he loves climbing big mountains, preferably in snow and ice. We both love travel and we both love where we live. We both want to live and work overseas sometime. I want to walk across entire countries by myself. He’s happy to climb mountains while I do that. Underneath all of this though we have some very common threads. Our values of family and love and freedom and well-being for starters. It’s these common threads that make the different dreams and goals possible.

I must confess here – I don’t look forward to the financials discussion. It’s always been a hard one for me to get my self around. I’m getting better though. Working on plans to reduce and the finally extinguish our mortgage SO we would live the dreams we’d articulated, enables me to be more invested in the financial discussion.

Like in a business, if the employee knows how their actions today lead to the desired and agreed future, that employee is more likely to be invested in the day to day activities that bring them closer to that outcome.

We both listened, and we both talked, and both agreed on what our future together could look like and how we might work together to get there. We understand the goals and what it will take to get there.

It a nice feeling to have our life strategy sorted – to have a clear direction and know what needs to be done to get there. It’s structured but flexible enough to change as we need to. We’ve committed to having a Life Strategy day in January every year to keep up the momentum.

You can have yourself a Life Strategy session whether you’re single, a couple or a family.

If you’re thinking of doing this yourself, here’s some tips I can offer:

* Set the date in advance – you will likely never get around to it otherwise. We set the date and made sure we had no commitments that day. We were going to go away somewhere originally but decided to stay at home where we had access to all of our files and instead shouted ourselves a lovely lunch out in the middle of the day

* Think about and prepare an agenda – It’s easy to get lost in the discussions if you don’t have a plan of what you want to cover in the day. What do you want to achieve ?

* Prepare before-hand – have the financials, your goals, your values, and anything else you think you might need (the quote for that holiday; home valuation etc) ready before the day to make sure you utilise your time effectively

* Treat yourself throughout the day – maybe a nice lunch out to break the day up a bit, or dinner out to celebrate taking the time to look after your life.

If a Life Strategy session interests you, don’t kid yourself that it will happen organically – at least not if you lead relatively busy lives. It won’t happen unless you make it happen. Set a date, do the preparation. Do it alone or do it with your partner. Just do it – they say a dream is a goal without a plan. Let’s make that plan. Let’s see where we are, where we want to be, how we might get there.

It’s time to show our personal lives the love and care we show our businesses. Let’s make time to develop our Life Strategy and see the difference we can make in our own lives. Out of the mud and in to the clouds – just for a little while. After all, if our life is our message, what do we want our message to be?

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi

Can you add some play into your day?

Some of you might remember the song by Sherbet – Child’s Play.  It was a hit for them the in the 70’s.  It came into my head recently as I sat in a café in Sydney, sipping a coffee, preparing for a big day of meetings.

Children see life in a special way

It was the normal hustle and bustle of the city.  It was busy.  Pedestrians tried their hardest to create order to the chaos that is George Street at 8am.  Most keeping to the left, at a brisk pace, keeping up with the crowd, pulsing with the crowd.

The odd person on their phone, eyes fixed to their screen, walking slower than the commuters that surround them.  When this happens, I can see and sense the frustration from the others, having to slow down, swerve around, re-calculate their route around the disruption.

Maybe we can learn from what they say

I sip my coffee from the comfort and relative serenity of my table in the café overlooking the street.  I can tell when there’s been a change in the lights, the footpath in front of me goes from empty to a scene from the running of the bulls.  It’s almost always the same.  Solemn faces, brisk pace, pensive.  Almost as if they are hoping not to be noticed, to blend in.  But I’m noticing them.

When things don’t look good, don’t turn out like they could have been

Then…..some time for play.  In the midst of the pack, a small girl, being taken along through the crowd holding hands with her mother.

When the going gets tough and you don’t see enough, of the things that you’d like to see

“Mummy, mummy!  Hopscotch!” she yells as she stops in her tracks.

 

Through a child’s eyes

Stationary in the midst of the hoards bustling around her.  If humans had audible brakes like cars, you would have heard them screeching – adults braking, and pulling up short of bowling over the little girl.  The chain reaction of one person suddenly stopping, a domino effect, 20-30 people deep.  Some changed course, veering around the one in front who had stopped or slowed, but all made room for the little girl, mesmerized on the footpath.

Kick off your shoes, you’ve got nothing to lose, you can take all the world in your stride

 

Kick off your shoes

She’s looking at the telecom grid on the footpath.  Well that’s all it is to us, and for women, an obstacle to be maneuvered carefully in heels. But for this little girl, dwarfed by the crowds moving around her and the cars and buildings in this concrete jungle, it’s a perfectly laid out palete for hopscotch.  It’s an opportunity to play.

“Let’s play Mummy”.

Child’s play, no complications, child’s play, no hesitations

As this little girl proceeded to hop across the metal grids, singing a song I couldn’t make out, the most beautiful thing happened.  Some of the pedestrians, a few at first, then about a dozen, stopped and watched this little girl at play.  They stopped trying to squeeze around her, they took a moment and a breath, and watched patiently as she progressed along the footpath.

When you run in the race but you don’t get a place, okay
That man on the line says you’re making bad time, and you’re going around the wrong way

I watched the corners of their mouths come up towards their ears – I don’t think they’d like anyone to have seen – but I did – and they were smiling.  In this moment of play, created by a small child, on a busy street, they were smiling.

Let yourself go, you’re the star of the show, don’t let the whole world pass you by

She didn’t hold them up for long – just a quick hopscotch and she was off, skipping and holding her mother’s hand.

They walk on.

Life goes on.

All changed through her play and the smiles she dared strangers to allow to creep on to their faces.

Love grew a bit here on George Street today.  For just a few moments there was patience, tolerance, love and light in the busy commute, in the concrete jungle.  It was just a few moments of play, but enough to dent the day for those who were witness to, and took part in, her play.

So when things don’t look good, don’t turn out like they could have been

When the going gets tough and you don’t see enough, of the things that you’d like to  see

Child’s play, child’s play

What play can you incorporate into your day?

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi

 

I’ll always remember how it started – even if I don’t know how it will end

It was the first mountain I climbed – Mt Kinabalu in Borneo. 

“What on earth made you want to get into that kind of thing?”

You’d think I’d confessed to being involved in some illicit deal or less than socially acceptable pastime.  But the question was posed to me at an event recently where I was asked what I enjoyed doing in my spare time.  When I answered with mountain climbing, trekking and rock climbing, that was the response.

It’s not an unusual response, the words might differ as might the context, but they have a common thread.

Why would you put yourself through something like that?”

What, you carry your own bag?

Are you crazy?

I don’t understand you.

Where do you shower?

This gave me cause to think back to where it started.  Where I went from a pack a day smoker to wanting to climb a mountain.  To being drawn to do this without any knowing why, without any prior experience hiking or climbing mountains.

I remember it well.  With the family I was spending a week in Borneo before a week in Singapore.  When the trip was planned, I stumbled across some information on a mountain in Borneo that you could trek to the top of and it only took two days.  I was really drawn to do this – and to this day I don’t have a concrete reason why – I just was.

My family weren’t really interested, preferring the 5 Star resort (and one can’t blame them – this was me the mountain was calling, not them).  In the end my son who was 13 at the time, agreed to keep me company.

We all have our mountains to climb, real or figuratively.

It would seem mine for that year was to cement my life as a non-smoker, and to climb the highest peak in South East Asia, Mount Kinabalu in Sabah, Borneo (13,428ft or 4095.2m).  Or to cement my life as a non-smoker BY climbing the highest peak in South East Asia.  Up until this point, the highest thing I had climbed was the water tower in Longreach, an outback Queensland town that I was living in for a few years.  You probably haven’t seen it, it’s not very high. Not compared to a mountain.

The time for thinking about climbing a mountain was over.  After a few days of resort living, eating well, laying by the pool and generally relaxing, my son and I were off!  We hired a guide and elected to carry our own packs.  It was hard work from the outset.  Monsoonal rain commenced about five minutes in and didn’t let up for six hours.  The steepness was extreme and my legs were screaming after only a short distance.  We had 6km to climb to get us to Raban Lata Resthouse which sits at about 11,000ft, (3350m) where we would sleep for a few hours before heading up to the summit.

 

One foot after the other

We were soaked through despite our Gore-Tex jackets, and we were sweating profusely from the exertion.  Our packs seemed heavy.  The air became thin and we were cold.  There were times where it was all a mental game.  The pain in my legs was constant.  I was oxygen deprived and struggling with my breath.  Everything was slippery and it was still pouring down, and given the cloud cover, we could see nothing more than about 20 metres all around us.  The steepness seemed never ending.

What on earth am I doing here?  Why am I doing this to myself?  What was I thinking?

It was a hard slog and a serious physical and mental challenge for me.  The final 500m to the Resthouse were on all fours it was so steep, and the air was very thin.  We were wet and cold, and tired of course, but with a renewed energy knowing we were almost at the Resthouse, and a hot shower as promised in the brochure!

 

A sight for sore eyes – Laban Rata Resthouse

There was a flat piece of land in front of the Resthouse and for the first time that day, the clouds briefly cleared and we could see something other than thick, white mist.  It was breathtaking.  We were so high the clouds were all below us.

The sun was setting on the horizon and for the briefest of moments, we got to see some lower mountains and the most beautiful colours of the sunset through the clouds.  Then it was gone.  We were at about 11,000 feet or 3350m.

This is what I’m doing?  I’m living.  This is why…this is why I’m here. 

We headed up the final rise to the Resthouse but there was no hot shower – there were signs around saying that the generator had broken and there was only enough power for lights and cooking!  The sign had been there for some months by the look of it.  I was really cold, and I had a hacking dry cough that I couldn’t stop.  Twenty cigarettes a day for twenty years will do that to you.

After an arctic shower we ate despite not having much appetite, and went to bed.  We rose at one in the morning, and started to get ready for the climb to the summit (Low’s Peak).  We knew it was a further 2.7km up and that we were above the treeline so it was granite and not much else except the ropes to keep us on track.  Off we went with our headlamps on, rugged up against the below zero temps.

It was 2.45am and it was cold and dark and the air was so thin I felt like I was going to suffocate.  My first experience of altitude! A combination of the altitude, steepness, dark and cold, and exhaustion from the previous day made this extremely challenging.  I couldn’t see where I was going except for the circle of light put out by my headlamp, and I had no idea, relatively, where I was.  I had thought of not going on, only once, of seeing the sunrise from just where we were, instead I continued putting one foot in front of the other.  It took everything I had.  It was so hard to breathe and my legs and lungs were screaming.

What on earth am I doing here?  Why am I doing this to myself?  What was I thinking?

Finally we made the summit. It was cold with a really strong, bitter wind.  It was dark but the sun was staring to make its mark on the day and giving a little pre-dawn light.

Over three hours after leaving the Resthouse, we sat on the cold rock at the summit, and waited.    

The sky turned a magnificent yellow and orange as the sun rose up above the horizon through the clouds.  The darkness lifted and I felt like we’re on top of the world!  The sun rose a little more and provided an awe inspiring view.

 

Worth the climb

This is what I’m doing?  I’m living.  This is why…this is why I’m here. 

We were cold, sore and exhausted, and elated to have made it.  I felt like I could do anything.  The sun came out in all its glory, darkness was gone and I could see where we had climbed up.  I wondered if we’d actually get back down!  We were at 13,500ft or 4095.2m and it was below zero.

What on earth am I doing here?  Why am I doing this to myself?  What was I thinking?

The trip down was hard on the joints and we arrived back at the Resthouse two hours later.  From here we continued on for the base where we had started the morning before.  All up today we would climb, or down-climb, for over 11 hours.

 

Heading down…down…down

More monsoonal rain.  Soaked, sore, tired and elated, we arrived at base. Elated.

This is what I’m doing?  I’m living.  This is why…this is why I’m here. 

It had started – this climb up a mountain in Borneo had started something.

One mountain called.  One wild experience called to me. 

Now I can hardly hear myself think with all the other mountains and wild experiences calling me every day.  Some days they are loud and relentless, other days it’s just a whisper, a nagging feeling.  But every day I can feel their call.

That calling, well it’s taken me to Nepal to trek to Everest Base Camp, to the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro in Africa (the highest freestanding mountain in the world), across the Kokoda Track (5 times), to the summit of Mt Meru in Africa and numerous other adventures that are now part of me – they exist inside of me.

I don’t know where it will end – but I remember where it started.  And it was here, where it started, that, for the very first time, I really learnt that when I think I can’t go on anymore, I can.

I’m forever grateful to my son who at 13 took on this challenge like a champion, and honoured (or is that humoured) his Mum by coming on this journey with me.  It’s something we will share forever.

What’s whispering to you?  What’s calling to you? What’s your mountain? 

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi