Article Contributed by Amy Sargent

A few weeks ago I sat around the table at a restaurant with a group of friends, pondering the deep issues of life. I asked the group, as a whole, a couple of questions I love to propose to 40-50 somethings well down their successful career paths, because one, it gives me a little deeper insight into each of my friends, and two, it spurs me in my own quest of being more intentional. The first question? “If you kept doing the job you are doing now, until the day you die, would you be a happy man/woman?”

The “until the day you die” part always gets a laugh. Images of ourselves still working with wrinkled skin and tired bodies and grayed hair passing out smiley face stickers at Walmart flash through our minds. Those in their prime don’t naturally spend a substantial amount of time thinking about the end of their days…we’re far too busy with keeping up with the present. But upon my insisting, for the moment, my companions indulge me. There is always one person at the table who quickly answers with a resounding “Yes!  I love what I do!” and they launch into the heartfelt story of their life work and how fulfilling they find it to be. “I’m so lucky” is the normal conclusion to this narrative, as the rest of us sit there, with an uneasy mix of emotions (inspiration/envy/regret) stirring in our core. The remainder of the group, and it is almost always the other 9/10 people in the group, respond to the question with either a sheepish grin or a violent look of utter repulsion. “Until the day I die — no way?!”  “Um, no, if I could find something else next week I would!”, “Wow, that’s a long way away — I hope not, but you know, it pays the bills…”

When the answer is no,  it’s fun to dig a little deeper.  “If you could do anything you wanted — your dream job — no matter the impact it would have on your finances, status, anything! — what would it be?” This is when the conversation gets interesting. With the barriers of what we’re ‘supposed’ to do, or ‘expected’ to do, or ‘need’ to do lifted, creative, colorful descriptions of dream careers begin to unfold.  “I wanted to go into interior design…”  “I always have wanted to write…”  “I’d like to get paid to travel…”  One friend told me once they always wanted to rescue polar bears.  Not kidding. “I wish I could help people in need more directly…”  “I’ve always wanted to have that place on the beach…” The tales go on and on. It’s funny, most are hesitant at first–almost embarrassed–to admit what their dreams are made of.  It’s as if speaking of something so removed from what seems practical is almost a sin. Or silly at least. It’s interesting to watch the faces come alive as indulge in the fantasy. Their eyes light up and they get that dreamy, far away look as if imagining, for a moment, how different life would look if it had ‘played out’ down that path.

You can guess my follow up question, which often takes just a breath of liveliness from the conversation, turning it bittersweet. “So what’s stopping you from pursuing it?” Silence. Crickets. A shoulder shrug, hands thrown up, a smug sneer. You know the answers. Just ask yourself the same question if you’re a “no” person. Money, responsibilities, ‘We have kids now’, I can’t switch careers at this point in life, I’d have to take classes, I wouldn’t know where to start….on and on the varied–yet very valid–excuses erupt.

Intentionality. It’s that ability to live our life in a way that is intended and planned to reach a desired outcome. It’s thinking and acting on purpose, deliberately, making small, everyday choices that lead us to where we want to go. I think Jack Welch said it well:  “Control your own destiny, or someone else will.”

People with this competency of emotional intelligence are able to make decisions that are consistent with their goals. Their objectives and subsequent actions are a good match. They are clear about what they want to happen in their lives, and make consistent effort to get there. In other words, they create the life they want.

If you’re someone who can answer with a “Yes, I love my work”, then good for you. You are a rare breed and could be a huge help in motivating the rest of us to follow in your footsteps. If not– take heart. The terrific thing about competencies of emotional intelligence is that where we are, today, isn’t necessarily where we have to be tomorrow. Emotional intelligence can be learned and we don’t have to stay stuck. Being more intentional is something we can learn, nurture, and develop, and it can be done by taking very small first steps. For starters, think of one thing–just one–that you would like to accomplish before you die. List out the reasons you have for not getting there yet. I know, they are valid reasons. Look at your list, acknowledge them, validate them…then set them aside. In a new column — list one step, one single small step that you could take this week to make a shift toward that goal. Maybe it’s researching the options to take that class, or talking to others who are successful in that area, or just allowing yourself to journal to begin dreaming again. Giving yourself permission to embrace the astonishment and joy that comes with actively creating richer, more meaningful work and experiences can grant you the belief that you do have a say in your destiny. Because you do.

I like what Benjamin Disraeli, a British politician, writer, and two-time prime minister, said:

“We are not creatures of circumstance; we are creators of circumstance.”

I realize you may never want to sit with me at my dinner table. These questions are uncomfortable, and can make us squirm, and worst (best) of all go home with that nostalgic notion that maybe, just maybe, I could. Know that I’m right there with you. We all have unrealized dreams that can bring about regret if we dwell there too long. But just a touch of intentionality is like a fresh, light breeze that stirs change, like catching a whiff of springtime in the air after a long, cold winter. And it’s this change that can lead to a strong headwind that fills our sails–sails that we all know have been sitting motionless way too long.

Just wait ’til you hear what I ask over dessert.