“Used to Be” Isn’t a Plan for the Future

I used to be…a nuclear chemist, computer room technician, fitness center attendant, youth pastor, editor-in-chief, ghostwriter, medical school instructional technologist, etc. Those “used to be” stories, however, don’t have to define my future. In fact, those stories are simply ingredients in a future that is still under development. For as disconnected as those stories are, there is a common thread running through them. It is the thread of my life. Each experience came with its own curriculum. Some of the lessons were easy; others were hard. The life and business I operate today looks nothing like what I used to be, but I wouldn’t be here without those lessons.

This morning I heard someone at the fitness center talk about “hanging on” in her job for three more years. Nothing causes joy like acknowledging the intent to hold your breath for more than one thousand days. Then what? Life isn’t a curse to be tolerated; it is a journey to be embraced. In some jobs, the average life expectancy after retirement is only 18 months. No matter your age—whether you are 17 or 71—you can redesign your life. Many people choose to die before they really die. They give up and live in retrospect. Their best days are behind them and they have little hope for the future. Because the present life is a miserable existence, their conversations often begin with what they used to be.

Dan Buettner discovered five places in the world where people live the longest. He found places that not only had high concentrations of individuals over 100 years old, but also clusters of people who had grown old without health problems like heart disease, obesity, cancer, or diabetes—natural byproducts of the lifestyle most people embrace today. But people who thrive while aging aren’t most people. They are the ones who bypass the buffet, drive past the drive thru, engage in real community, stay active, keep learning, and keep making the world a better place. This is what Buettner found in The Blue Zones.

How to Escape Used to Be

It’s hard to swim upstream. It’s easier to go with the flow. Yet, the flow isn’t taking anyone in a direction they’d choose. Yet, by not choosing to fight against the flow, they are in fact choosing their destinies—heart disease, obesity, cancer, and diabetes. Sick people don’t think like healthy people do. They are more cynical, make more excuses, and accept their conditions as being the best possible outcome. Going with the flow always promises more than it delivers. My “used to be” stories are shaped by decisions I made. I can’t go back and undo anything that happened, but I can move forward with a plan.

Changing Your Story Starts with Changing Your Thinking!

If you want your life to move in a different direction, change the way you think about the future. That means changing the way you think about everything. That’s not easy to do because we are creatures of habit. The very idea of adjusting one aspect of our lives creates anxiety; the thought of changing several things sounds preposterous. Yet, redesigning our lives requires change. We have to change the way we think about work, play, food, exercise, relationships, possessions, and sometimes, God. Most people are far more concerned about the octane level of the fuel they put in their cars than they are about the nutritional value of the food they put in their mouths. The average American would rather watch a sporting event on television than go to the gym. They choose artificial online relationships over real ones, live in bondage to creditors so they can have things they probably could live without, and tolerate jobs they hate while waiting for the day they can stop…and then talk about the good ol’ days as if they really enjoyed what they couldn’t wait to escape.

Changing your life won’t happen until you change your thinking. Most people get that, but they still keep doing what they’ve always done. They settle for a quality of life far below their potential. Life can be better. Changes in diet and exercise can minimize or eliminate medications, help shed unwanted pounds, improve alertness, and sometimes completely alleviate symptoms of chronic illnesses. Changes in financial habits can position people to thrive rather than survive for years to come. A renewed awareness of God’s design for our lives can motivate people to pursue dreams they set aside long ago.

This is more than an impassioned plea; it’s my story. I changed my thinking about diet and exercise and have eliminated one medication I’ve been on for more than 15 years. In addition, I’m now at a weight I never dreamed possible. People in their late fifties don’t usually show signs of being healthier, but that’s my story. I changed the way I think about my work and now have a successful entrepreneurial endeavor. It doesn’t look like the traditional job. No corporation is providing benefits. But, there’s also no ceiling on how much I can earn. Three percent pay raises aren’t part of the plan in the knowledge-based economy. Each day I am more optimistic about the future. I’m convinced my best years are ahead of me.

How about you? Are your best days ahead of you or behind you?