Connect the dots. A child’s game to be sure, but also a terrific skill to carry into adulthood.
A puzzler and game player from nearly the beginning, I loved watching a page covered with amorphous dots take shape as I added one convoluted line. From one to two to three to four to five… and so on. Oh look, a puppy!
Yes, as a clever adult I can usually tell what shape the dots will become without ever touching pencil to page, so why would I suggest that adults should still be connecting dots? Now that we’re all grown up, the dots I’m talking about are different… Humor me.
Imagine the trail of experiences you see as you look back at your life as a series of points, anchors, or markers that shape who you are today. All those influences or relationships taken together have drawn a picture with your name on it.
Looking ahead to the future, there are more points or dots to be drawn, more aspects of “You” to be created. Like the famous portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the drawing of you is not finished.
What can you see?
How much of your picture is now visible? How much remains to be drawn?
Can you accurately predict the next few lines to be added to the record of your life? Where is your next dot going to land? And really, how much of a choice do you have in the way the picture turns out in the end?
Many feel like their future dots are already settled, as if their role is merely to live out the place in history that’s assigned to them. Others believe the choices they make each day will determine their dots and destiny. Movies occasionally tinker with those two theories. In The Adjustment Bureau, Matt Damon glimpses his future and disagrees with its direction. Conflict erupts as he decides to rearrange the carefully laid plan that represents his life.
What about you? Where are the dots of your life leading? Can you see the shape of the picture of “You” that’s being drawn? If you want to change course, can you choose a new and different direction?
Stephen Covey seems to believe that our dots are not set in stone. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he recommends an exercise in perspective: write your own eulogy. Imagine yourself at the end, looking back at the finished picture of your life. What do you want people to honestly say about you when you’re gone?
That eulogy exercise was a sobering and clarifying experience for me. It encouraged me to repurpose my most challenging life lessons. Now I use those painful experiences to help adults overcome fear and other barriers to open communication, allowing them to have healthier relationships and less stressful lives. That’s a mark, or dot, that I hope to leave on my little corner of the world.
What mark do you hope you’ll make on the world and the people in it?
What will it take to connect that mark to the dots you already have? How can you bridge the gap between who you hope to be and who you are?
Who are you now?
Let’s begin in the present. Who are you now?
Do you answer that question based on the way you look? If so, I’m a 52-year-old red head. (My birth certificate agrees, but my hairdresser may not.)
The roles you play? Wife, mother, entrepreneur, empty nester. (Trust me, that last one is better than you expect!)
The groups you associate with? Christian, Yellow Jacket, triathlete. (Two truths, one lie.)
Or the things you’ve done? Engineer, home-schooling mom, EQ coach, blogger. (An unusual mix!)
Looking in the mirror, how do you describe the current picture of you?
Who are you becoming?
What about the rest of the picture, the dots yet to come? What would you most like to have in the picture of “You”? What hopes, aspirations, or long-held dreams are simmering on a back-burner?
How would it feel to step into your dream? Bold? Risky? Exciting? What if you became the person you’d like to be?
Walt Disney, the Great Imagineer, once said, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” How impossible are your most enduring dreams, or those traits and accomplishments you want to be remembered for?
No matter where you are in life, no matter how impractical or unrealistic your ideas may seem, no matter how long they’ve been collecting dust on the shelf, remember… your future dots are not yet fixed. The drawing of “You” is unfinished! You have the time and opportunity to change your direction, to add more lines, depth, and color to your portrait.
Your story is being written with each choice you make and step you take. Choose wisely. Step intentionally. Aim for what seems impossible.
What important dot do you want to make sure you don’t miss? What next step will you take in that direction?
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain
Stay tuned for the next entry: What’s Behind That? Searching for the heart of your gut-level response.
About the Author: Jeannie Murphy is an author, speaker, and emotional intelligence coach equipping adults with the personal and interpersonal skills they need for a less stressful life. Happily married for 28 years, mother of three adventurous young adults, she is refilling her empty nest with four-legged friends.