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Thursday, April 2, 2009

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

“Difficulty is the excuse history never accepts.” – Edward R. Murrow
Virtually everyone comes upon difficult periods in their lives, usually several times over the course of a lifetime. In fact, many authors would argue these difficult periods, and instances of failure, are necessary to an overall lifetime of success. On the main, history bears out their argument, with Bell, Edison, Lincoln, and Roosevelt, being the first four examples I can rattle off the top of my head.
While I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest any of us enjoy these periods of painful instruction, I am suggesting we have two options when faced with such obstacles. The first option is to give up. In our nation, we typically look upon such people with scorn while shaking our heads sadly. Instead, I argue every goal has a price and we should always evaluate the personal and societal costs against the personal and societal benefits. We should reevaluate why we are pursuing a particular goal when the costs begin drastically outweighing the benefits.
The second option is to take a step back, and a deep breath or two; then evaluate the goals in our lives, make corrections and move forward with renewed vigor. This second option has the virtue of allowing us to learn from our mistakes; however, with either option we should move forward only when we can do so with purpose.
After you have decided to take an opportunity to reevaluate where you are, doing so in a systemic way, writing down the results for further reflection and as a “compass check” in the future, is usually of invaluable aid. Figuring out in broad or philosophical terms what is most important to you and then developing goals that fit into that framework is a huge step forward. Take care not to believe you have carved these goals into stone; you can, and probably will change your goals from time to time as life circumstances change. The important part is to have some kind of plan, imperfect, incomplete, and changing as it may be.
Try to group your goals under the following headings: spiritual, service, family, physical fitness, career/financial, education/self improvement, and battery charging or fun goals. These are the basic areas of life for most people and allow for a balanced, healthy view of life. Writing down the goals provides a method for deeper planning to accomplish the goals, keeping track of them, and making it possible to check off the goals when they are achieved.
Reviewing the list frequently can help keep you on task and allows loved ones to help us as needed. In addition, being able to see a goal checked off the list can be a powerful feeling, providing a dose of resilience during difficult times.
I suggest this as a powerful tool in what may be the worst economic environment our nation has faced since the Depression. Not only will the tool help you directly but can help your family discover their common purpose, and remind them of it during trying times. I leave you with the thoughts of William James, “The greatest discovery in our generation is that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds can change the outer aspects of their lives.”

Mark Altman has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is working on a PhD in Leadership studies at Gonzaga University. He is the author of the book Leadership For All the Mountains You Climb, is available for speaking or consulting and can be reached at

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