Many of us go through our everyday lives like the shampoo mantra -- "rinse and repeat." Our lives go on autopilot and are dictated not by deliberate actions, but by short-term tradeoffs based on the immediate pressures we face. More often than not, we make decisions based on short-term thinking -- whether it's (A) deciding between having dinner with a significant other vs. completing a "major" project, (B) choosing to stay in an unsatisfying job vs. taking the risk of a new career, (C) going back to school vs. chasing after your dreams, (D) accepting your weaknesses vs. seeking to improve. We put greater emphasis on the immediate benefits (or losses) and less on the long-term impact of those decisions. Blowing off dinner with a significant other may seem less consequential in the present day than not meeting the client's deadline (a potential immediate firing), but the long-term consequences of these repeated decisions are often unaccounted for -- until it's too late. More fundamentally, we have a bias for the present and for the immediate payoffs. Why is that? My hypothesis is that many of us are low on EQ.
Research shows that success in life is in some degree correlated with IQ, but that only goes so far. At some point along the journey, EQ --- Emotional Quotient -- becomes the driving force. EQ, in part, relates to our ability to empathize with others. What's often left out of the discussion, however, is our ability to empathize with ourselves. That is, having the self-awareness to know what our individual strengths and weaknesses are, forgiving ourselves for past mistakes, and creating a deliberate path forward where each decision made is a decision that truly reflects what we want out of our lives. It keeps us on our toes, questioning ourselves when we take the people in our lives for granted and put them on the back burner (A), when we let the comforts of familiarity lead us into thinking we're content (B), when we live to others' expectations and not to our own measures of happiness (C), and when we resort to the tried and true rather than confronting our failures and fears head on (D).
To paraphrase Steve Jobs, we don't have to have a long term plan, and we don't have to know where we will be a year from now, let alone five years from now, but we should act with purpose and make decisions that make us happy -- even if those decisions are disjointed or are against the norms. The dots, sooner or later, will connect.