So little time, so many questions. Life’s journey is a fascinating adventure for everyone, and also unique for each of us. What do we want to make of our lives? What gives meaning to us? How important is it for us to have a strategy to guide us? Some people have such faith that they allow themselves the freedom to be opportunistic, to explore whatever is presented to them.
How did we start measuring the passage of time? We observed nature’s cycles of birth, death, and renewal, then devised many kinds of tools that would be more precise and reliable. The Industrial Age started a trend where our machines began to determine how our lives could be structured. As we have learned how to build more intelligence and independence in our machines, how does this change the way we view the passage of time? Our most innovative biomedical devices are on the cusp of supplementing our physical and mental capabilities so that the infirmities of age and disease no longer represent immutable limitations on what we can do. This brings new challenges and new questions.
How do I want to approach my 75th birthday, which will be celebrated this month?
Do I want to look back at my accomplishments and my missed opportunities?
What do I want to remember about my life, up to this point?
How important are memories from the past compared to aspirations for the future?
If I look at this milestone as the three-quarter mark of a century, rather than 75 years, how does that change my perspective?
How can I look forward to what I might be able to enjoy in the last quarter of this century?
If the context were a sports competition, e.g., in basketball or football, the fourth quarter is often marked with increased intensity, drama, and overall enjoyment, especially if the competitors are evenly matched. Why shouldn’t life be like that?
What is the probability of my living another 25 years? How productive is this question? What is the importance of knowing how much longer I might live?
From observations of our physical world, we literally define the passage of time, i.e., aging, by the processes of decay. That is the principle of atomic clocks as well as the lifetimes of plants and animals, where the decay is easily visible, and understood. How might we perceive the passage of time if we look forward instead of looking back to previous states?
Looking forward, what would I want to have in my life? What would have the most value to me and to my personal ecosystem?
Observing change is a more general metric to measure growth and the passage of time. Looking forward, what changes would be meaningful?
This train of thought leads to intense self-reflection, an assessment of personal values, existing relationships, as well as unfulfilled dreams, frustrations, and disappointments. Why is this work so hard? First, we need “space," emotional/spiritual space, a mental state where our brains can let go of ordinary day-to-day concerns and responsibilities. Next, we need to give ourselves permission to be brutally honest with ourselves—and let go of our ego needs. How clearly and accurately do we see ourselves? How well do we understand our relationships with others? How are we getting honest, direct feedback? How do we organize all this input and thoughts we generate ourselves? How do we recognize patterns that are productive, versus other patterns that may need to change to serve us more effectively?
Another dimension of “space” is making time, physical time, when we can be by ourselves and with people who are in our most intimate circle of contacts. How surprising is it that many people have difficulty being comfortable when alone or with intimates?
How important to us is our comfort zone? What does it mean for us to stretch beyond our comfort zone? What happens to us, to our mental and emotional states, when we push through the boundaries of our comfort zone? Does this sound like an adventure you’re ready to undertake?
By the way, the context of my thinking comes from my personal obsession with entrepreneurship as a journey of personal transformation. From childhood, I have strived to distinguish myself by being “different." I didn’t feel that I could identify with particular individuals or groups, so all I had was myself. Looking back, I can see how that attitude was perceived as arrogance, but that was not my intention at the time. I was devising a strategy to avoid “competition” by being compared to others. What was the point of being judged as “better” or “less capable” than someone else? Why would I want my emotions to be manipulated by judgments? I never felt good about myself in competition, whether I was “better” or “worse." I always had very high expectations of myself, so I was never satisfied, in any case.
In adulthood, and through mid-life, after the movie came out, I would describe myself as an “E.T.”: an extra-terrestrial being, with fundamentally different values and viewpoints, coming from nature and training based on different principles and aspirations. My personal growth journey has been focused on learning how to accept myself as a member of the human race, with all the complexities and paradoxes of human behavior. This has been a huge challenge and a marathon endeavor, occasionally frustrating and always enlightening.
In recent years, the cumulative outcome of my experience is this process of learning how to ask better questions. I have discovered this is the most effective guide for myself and a tool for me as an advisor to inspire others to explore their paths. I don’t like being lectured to, and most people feel the same. I need to be and enjoy being challenged, especially when the intention is basically non-judgmental and designed to stimulate me to stretch.
So, here I am, marking another milestone and seeking “better questions” to help shape my behavior so that life can continue to feel richer and more rewarding. I know that I must keep growing. There really isn’t any other choice. When growth stops, decay becomes the default path. Where does that end up?