I was lucky enough to attend a management conference in the Lake District recently – two days of fairly intense training and exercises that focussed on how we look after ourselves and become more effective.
At the end of the second day, our group’s leader – a very wise and experienced businessman with decades more life and work experience than the rest of us – set us a task.
‘Imagine it’s your 80th birthday party – your friends and family are gathered around you to celebrate, and you have to make a 2-minute speech. What would you say?’
As it turned out, we ran out of time to hear the responses – but I’ve thought about it pretty much ever since.
I think the main message I would pass on to my children, my grandchildren and anyone still close to me by then would be quite simple: ‘If there’s something in your life that’s not right, change it’
It could be anything - your job, your weight, your routines, your spare time, your relationship, your client base – whatever it might be if it brings unhappiness, resentment or even stress into your world, don’t live with it…change it.
‘Change’ doesn’t always mean ‘reject’ the thing that’s causing you unhappiness by the way. It can mean changing the way you deal with the particular issue or changing your attitude to problems in general. More often than not it requires quite a bit of effort and will to get things to where you want them to be, but the benefits are brilliant and lasting.
Change isn’t always easy though. Ask anyone who’s been through a relationship breaking down – however amicable. The feelings of failure, guilt, sadness and regret can trip you up – however you may feel about the person you’re parting company from. But in most cases people still go through with it, because they know what the alternative scenario looks like.
Having said that, ‘change’ might just be a simple adjustment of your attitude to a situation. A great example a colleague gave was the ‘nightmare wedding invitation’ scenario. It’s someone your partner knows but you don’t, getting married to a total stranger. You’ve got to attend – so you can choose for it to be the worst day out of your life – all the time thinking of the lovely things you could be doing - or think ‘This might be fun and it’s a free meal – let’s see what happens!’
But there’s something else we need to realise about the kind of changes I’m advocating. It’s not purely about being selfish and pursuing happiness at all costs – that’s not healthy, wholesome or sustainable. You have to honestly examine whether you’re partly responsible for the situation you find yourself in – and that somewhere along the line your choices dictated the place you’re in now. If that’s the case, the change has to start with you and nobody else.
Work out what you want, what’s important, what’s going to make you and the people you love happy – and go for it. And if you get it right, you’ll be making that 80th birthday speech to a lot more people than you first thought.