Ilona L. Tobin, Ed.D.

Licensed Psychologist

We all want it, a life that feels full in all the good ways and rich with love, meaning and satisfaction. But how you spend your life is actually determined by how you spend your days. If your days are filled with the unfulfilling, how can that amount to a fulfilling life?

A good place to start to get yourself back on the path to a meaningful life is to answer this question posed by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver: “What do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Your answer to Oliver’s question could be anything: doing work you love, caring for and giving love to your family, contributing to your community or the world, creating art, building a business, climbing mountains, making music. Anything. The key is to choose to live today how you would choose to live tomorrow and the next day and the next.

For some, the life they live day-today is not the life they would describe in answering Oliver’s question. Instead, they might use phrases such as: “As soon as…,” or “I’d like to…,” or “I used to dream…,” while explaining a daily life tangled up in too many demands, and never enough time or energy to get to the things that matter most.

It can be a question of values—our personal principles or standards, or defined another way, those qualities that are most important to us. A life based on values rather than reacting to others’ needs and wants or the acquisition of material things enables us to live in integrity with ourselves. Values help us create a rich and fulfilling life.

Identifying your values can be as simple as asking yourself how you want to be remembered by others.

As a person who cared about others? Who made a difference in the world? Who kept promises? Who was honest and trustworthy? Think of the qualities you most admire in others; these may be the values you claim for yourself.

Once you become aware of your values, you can begin to restructure your life. With your values as your touchstone, you can create and live the life you really want, achieve your goals and realize your dreams.

Within the boundaries of your values, these guidelines will help:

  1. Become clear on what you really want. Be specific; vague and undefined goals are difficult if not impossible to achieve
  2. Commit to give what it takes. Saying “yes” to one thing means saying “no” to another. Acknowledge and accept what you must give up to get what you want.
  3. Re-commit to your goals every day. Begin your day by reminding yourself what your priorities are. Be mindful as you go through your day that you are making choices.
  4. Do something every day. No matter how small, take some action toward achieving your goals. Remind yourself that a book is written word by word, a marathon run step by step.
An old Chinese proverb goes “If we don’t change our direction we are likely to end up where we are going.” If you’re caught up in a lifestyle that’s not the one that you would choose, choose again