THE BLOG
07/25/2012 01:11 pm ET | Updated Sep 24, 2012

A Life Well-Spent

As we proceed through life, many of us struggle with endless clashes between the tactical and strategic aspects of human existence.

The tactical problems begin with food, water, shelter and education.

The strategic begin with where one wants to live and what job to take, whom to marry, how many children to have.

Most people rarely distinguish between strategic and tactical perspectives in utilizing their time and focusing their energy. Consequently, the general human life process is to move forward one step at a time, adjusting, if at all, as best one can going along. That is frequently accompanied by the often mistaken instinct to favor the urgent over what may be more important.

How can modern society encourage more people to look at the larger context of their existence, even while they are in the embrace of their day-to-day lives and simple survival? Most people, if they are at all aware of the big picture, only dream of seeing and reaching their full potential and their promised lands.

One way would be to develop more material in schools about life's choices and how to select goals that fit potential. Young children often begin by thinking about becoming firefighters, police and teachers, but otherwise know very little about other life options. They need many more and earlier examples dramatizing how people from humble starts have been able to benefit from those possibilities.

An aspect of that illumination may take place for some people in various "day of rest" activities -- like Sunday School. There is no question that biblical teachings can have a useful bearing on the issues of life's choices.

However, since religious involvement is shrinking in many parts of the country, there surely is need for ways to expose children to these ideas. It may make sense to try to introduce, through various social organizations, including social networks, more mentoring programs that help with the issues of life's choices, particularly focused on helping young people broaden their skills to match their talents and meet our economy's changing shape and needs.

The more people ultimately know about their options, the more likely they are to choose and make the effort to take advantage of their lives' vast opportunities.

I wonder how many people ever have a five-year plan, much less a 20-year plan. If they never think about the arc of their lives, they inevitably forego opportunities to bend that arc to seek their dreams. How many people make pros and cons lists as they encounter crossroads in their lives? When they get to the fork in the road, they simply take it.

Some people spend two weeks researching prices and customer satisfaction and performance data about a possible new car. But rarely, or never, do people spend even a minute thinking about what their neighbors might say about their life when they are gone, because they have been taught to believe it is nobody's business.

As we march through the recovery from the 2008 recession it becomes clearer all the time that we have a mismatch of experience and skills, with 2 to 3 million jobs unfilled, when as many as 12 million people remain unemployed, because the skills needed do not exist in part because not enough people had the will or the foresight to develop those skills while they still had a chance earlier in their lives.

Therefore, it is incumbent on each and all of us to work on life's choices early enough to accomplish more satisfaction in our lives and at the same time hopefully to reduce society's unemployment so that our neighbors are more likely to say, "That was a life well-spent."

For more by Frank A. Weil, click here.

For more on mindfulness, click here.

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