Begin with the end in mind

This post is the text of a speech I’ll give to the Two Notch Toastmasters Friday morning. It’s part of a series I’m doing on the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

“Begin with the end in mind” — it’s the habit of vision.

All behaviors stem from a thought pattern, a paradigm – a way of seeing the world.  The paradigm for this habit is: I live by design. To be ineffective all you have to do is adopt the opposite paradigm – I live by default.  The principle behind this habit is that mental creation precedes physical creation.

When I was in college, in my first journalism lab class, our professor assigned us to write our own obituaries. Now, that’s beginning with the end in mind! I’ve learned this is a technique sometimes used in therapy. The object is to get you thinking about how you’d like others to remember you. It’s also a goal-setting technique – what do you want to have accomplished in life?

Sadly, I can’t remember much of what I wrote then, twenty-something years ago, except that it was all fanciful. Even as I was writing it, I thought at the time the exercise was nothing but fantasy. I even re-wrote my beginnings to state I’d been born in Paris, which I thought sounded romantic. I wasn’t too goal-oriented then, because I really can’t remember anything else I wrote.

But over the years I learned more about writing your goals down, and then working to achieve them. Some have been achieved, some not. I remember writing three goals – three ends I want to achieve – down on a notecard about seven years ago. These are three goals I still want to achieve – and am still working toward.

The first is: Weigh 127 1/2 pounds. Not 135 pounds, a goal which I’ve actually achieved once before in my adult life, nor 145 pounds, which is the top end of my healthy weight range. Or even a flat 127 pounds, which is obviously too low. But 127 1/2. I’m a member of Weight Watchers. It’s not going so well. But I made a commitment last year to join and never quit again, so I’m still a member. And, once again this week, I started over. What is a diet but the triumph of hope over experience?

Second: Write a novel. Like I said last week at Toastmasters, there are two great groups of people in this world: those who were going to go to law school, and those who were going to write a novel. I’m not going to law school.

But I haven’t yet written a novel. I’ve written newspaper articles, blog posts and long, overwrought letters to friends. But no novel. And I have not the foggiest idea how to get there. That’s what I was mulling over the idea last week, toying with it, of taking an online class called “Beginning Writers Workshop.” It’s a six-week program in creative writing. It’s more like a writing lab with lots of practice. Just reading the demo lesson got me excited about it … a stepping stone to fulfilling my goal, and my dream.

And yet – the first thing my inner critic asked is when will you have time to do this? I’m already signed up for another class for work. That’s on Database Development. I have to do that one, and it’s going to be hard. Plus, I’m an area governor in Toastmasters, and that’s turned out to be a little more involved than I first thought, what with organizing contests, District Executive Committee meetings and club visits. My appointment lasts through June 30, 2012. And then, of course, there’s my job.

But isn’t this the type of thinking that keeps us from “moving confidently in the direction of our dreams?” If I’m too busy to take a step toward my goals, then I’m just too busy.

Remember – begin with the end in mind. Do I want to come to the end of my days knowing I spent 40, 50+ years in the workforce, then came home and watched TV? No! That’s one of the reasons I got so involved in Toastmasters. But, I also can’t fritter away my time with activities – no matter how individually meaningful – that don’t move me forward in achieving my long-held goals.

So I signed up for that class. And I’m going to squeeze it in – because it is that important to me.

Ah yes – what was that third goal I wrote down in 2005?

It’s even more spectacular than the first two. (Although some would say I have a better chance of reaching this one than hitting 127 1/2 pounds again.)

Eat dinner at the White House

Actually, I’d settle for a casual lunch in the Residence – or maybe Movie Night at the White House theatre.

What prompted this outlandish goal? I remember reading about how Lou Holtz coped during a down moment in his life when his coaching career wasn’t going so well. He was sitting at home and decided to write down a list of goals he wanted to achieve in life. He wrote down over 100 goals and achieved them all. One was eating dinner at the White House.

Now, I have no idea how I’m going to achieve my goal. I can’t imagine why any President would invite me over – I’m certainly not handing out $250,000 donations. I know just writing it down won’t make it happen. I may have to write a Pulitzer-prize winning book. That’s also a stretch. But it’s a goal, it’s on my card, and it certainly would be something to talk about at the ol’ nursing home, wouldn’t it?

Begin with the end in mind … it’s a way to bring design to our days.

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Part 4, The Family Reunion

More good stuff on the family reunion. (To catch up, see Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.) Today’s post shows scenes from the restored downtown of Sioux Falls.

Sioux Falls impressed me. The metropolitan area is home to 28% of the population of South Dakota. Downtown hosts a Sculpture Walk with donations from local artists. The sculptures are auctioned off and replaced with new artworks each spring.

Here’s a sample of the beauty we saw on the street:

"Midnight Snack"
"Hey Marylou/Blindsided"
"Outfoxed"
"Red Dress"

And there was this … the theater where Dad and his brothers used to go watch movies when they went to town is being restored:

Sioux Falls State Theatre
Sioux Falls State Theatre

And one last shot – of a lovely group of ladies having lunch at the diner downtown on Phillips Avenue:

Enjoying the day at the Phillips Avenue Diner, Sioux Falls

Part 3, The Trip to the Family Reunion

Part of the fun of going to a family reunion is learning things about your parents you never knew before.

For instance, my dad once saved a school bus full of children from near tragedy. Or so his side of the story went.

My aunt Audrey was reminiscing about the time the school bus almost went into a ditch on the side of the country road. She was just six, in her first year of school, and Dad was in his freshman or sophomore year.

Here’s what the two agree on: The road was in bad shape and the bus nearly went into a steep ditch. The bus driver slammed on the brakes to prevent the accident. That’s when the accounts start to diverge.

My aunt says she was trembling at the back of the bus, scared of what was to her a huge jump down to the ground. Dad, for his part, says he quickly and efficiently ran to the back of the bus, opened the back door, ushered all the kids off (saving all their lives in the process), then rushed up the road to the nearest home where he procured two blocks and raced back to the bus to chock up the tires so the poor driver could finally take his foot off the brakes. And then he saved the driver.

When cousin Tim and I heard that story we decided we had to find the exact spot this took place so we could one day place a historical marker. We drove out past the family farm and there was the ditch:

This was the ditch where Dad saved a bus full of children.
It would have been a terrible accident if the schoolbus had plunged into this ditch.

Fortunately, everyone lived happily ever after.

Dad and Aunt Audrey
That ditch doesn't look as steep from this angle. Back then Dad and Aunt Audrey were happy to be alive.

Read more about the family reunion:
Part 1
Part 2

Family Reunion, part 2

Century Farm sign at the Family Farm in Minnesota
The farm has been in the family since 1889.

A few years back, in 1989 to be precise, the Nobles County, Minnesota, paper featured articles about century-old farms in their area. Our family farm was one of them. (Picture of the farmhouse in the post below, about the reunion.) Today my cousin John and his family live and work on the farm, keeping in the family for another generation.

the family farm
A scene from the farm …
Another scene from the Rust family farm
Looking out from the farm house at the Rust family farm

Moving Out of the Darkness

Two of my friends have family members who have committed suicide.  I probably know more, but those are the two who’ve told me about their experience. Last year Karen walked in memory of Mo at the  Boston “Out of the Darkness” walk. This year Dennis will walk in memory of not one, but two brothers he’s lost to suicide.  I’ll let him say it best:

I am sorry you have to read about it here, but suicide is not something you talk about much, in fact most times I go out of way to avoid it completely. In 1983, while I was a junior at college, my older brother Mark committed suicide. And if the story were to stop right there, it would be sad enough, but in 1994 my younger brother Matthew did the same. Even while just typing these words I am overcome with tremendous grief. The pain of a suicide hits you at the weirdest times and it has the power to absolutely floor you. Now it’s time for me to get off the floor and help others.

If you can get off the floor and help by tossing a few dollars his way, you can donate online at his page. Karen’s walking again this year in New York; you can donate at her page too.

The money raised goes to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.