Choosing the Best Possible Life

Choosing The Best Life

Someone once said that the three most important decisions in life answer the following questions:

1. What are you going to do?
2. With whom?
3. And where?

I thought that was pretty nifty when I first encountered it 15 years ago. Today, I still think it is practical wisdom wrapped in a nutshell. From time to time, we should stop and consider the choices we have made–and can still make, however old we are–so that we can have the best possible lives.

My Career in 300 Words

When I was a child, I wanted to be many things–a policeman, a circus strongman, and a writer. Movie-generated illusions I had about the excitement and romance of such professions formed these ambitions.

My early work experience was very dull, since my youthfulness and poverty limited my job choices. I had a paper route and worked in the delicatessen down the street and in a car wash on the other side of town.

During my high school years, I worked weekends and summers as a grunt for hire, cleaning out warehouses, shoveling snow, painting houses, etc. In college, my buddies and I started our first real business, installing above ground pools all over Long Island. We had four crews running simultaneously, made what seemed like tons of money, and had fun.

It was a very good introduction to entrepreneurship, but I knew it wasn’t going to be my career.

After getting a master’s degree from the University of Michigan, I enrolled in the Peace Corps and went to Chad (in north-central Africa) for two years. There, I taught English literature at the University of Chad in N’Djamena.

In addition to teaching, I did some writing on the side (editing the Peace Corps newsletter and writing a book on local oral poetry) and got great enjoyment from it. So when I returned to the states in 1977, I began looking for a job as a writer. I got one with a small newsletter publishing company in Washington, D.C.

I was initially happy with that work, but after several years of doing the same research and writing virtually the same story every week, I told my boss I wanted to run his business.

He agreed, and I did it. Two years later, I became the editorial director for a larger business in Florida. A year after that, I became my boss’s partner.

That, in a nutshell, is the history of my career. I have put it in front of you to make a point:

The “what to do” in my life was not the result of thoughtful choice but of expedient decisions based on circumstances. It took me to a good place eventually, but the path, in retrospect, seems half accidental.

I believe that is true for most of us. We begin with youthful dreams. They dissipate with experience. We take a job to make ends meet, and then another to improve our income, and then another, and before we know it, we have had a “career.”

It is a meandering path. Sometimes, we find that what we are doing is something other than what we really want to do.

What Are You Doing?

As I said above, it is never too late to ask, “Am I doing what I want to do? Is it giving me all of the benefits I want and need? How close is it to my perfect job?”

Take a few moments now to think about it. It might help to look at this brief list that identifies what–for me–are the most important characteristics of the perfect job.

Your Perfect Job

I would be happy to do the work I do for free.

I believe it has value–to me and to the people who pay me for it.

It is fully challenging. It engages both the logical and the creative sides of my brain.

If you find that the “what to do” of your life is not perfect, don’t panic. If it is paying the bills, it is something. Our first responsibility, as moral citizens of the world, is to support the financial well-being of our families.

But if your work falls short in other areas–if, for example, it doesn’t challenge your intelligence and imagination–you should commit to making changes.

If you are lucky, you may discover an opportunity to slip into your “perfect” job. More likely, you can move toward it step-by-step by making adjustments, as I did in my career. To help you in this regard, I recommend that you read my book The Pledge.

The Perfect Partner

I had always considered the question “with whom” to be about one’s spouse. And that is probably its original meaning. But it is also relevant to one’s occupation.

The people with whom you work–your boss, your partners, your colleagues, and your employees–determine to a great extent both the satisfaction and the success you will have from your working life.

If you stop to think about the work experience you’ve had, you will realize that much of the pleasure or pain you’ve experienced came from the relationships you had–your interactions with the people with whom you worked.

And you may think that you have no choice in these matters. After all, you can’t hire your boss. But in fact, you can. In choosing the business you work for, you are choosing your future colleagues.

If you find yourself in a toxic work environment (a work environment that is political, rather than entrepreneurial), don’t hesitate to look for a better company.

And when it comes time to hire employees, don’t consider only their work skills and talents. Consider also whether or not you will enjoy working with them.

The following characteristics should help you choose the best possible partners:

  • He/she respects you
  • You have his/her back
  • He/she has yours
  • You don’t expect him/her to change. You are happy with him/her as he/she is.

These four characteristics may seem obvious, but I managed to ignore them for most of my working life. Gradually, I came to recognize how important it was for me to make good choices in terms of partners. These are the characteristics that, after all of these years, seem most important to me.

The Perfect Place to Live

Where you live and work is important too. The physical environment you naturally prefer very much affects your perfect life. (Do you love the mountains, the plains, the beach? Do you prefer big, bustling cities or tranquil little towns?)

When you are starting out, you must go where the work is. But as you move up the ladder of business success, you will have more choice in the matter. This is especially true in today’s world, where in so many industries one can work remotely.

Consider, also, your commute. Some people enjoy spending an hour or more every day commuting. They use this time profitably to listen to music or books on tape and so on.

Other people–such as I–prefer a very short commute. Locating my office a mile from my home has enhanced the quality of my life. I can walk, bike, or drive there in less than 15 minutes.

More specifically, the quality of your immediate work environment–your office–affects the quality of your life. Since you are likely to be spending a big portion of your active day in that one place, make sure you like everything about it.

Your office should not be an accidental, junky place that has what you need. It should be a haven where you can work productively and a bit of paradise filled with art and artifacts that give you pleasure.

Putting It All Together

Whether you are young or old, beginning a career or enjoying a retirement job, you can find good answers to all three questions.

Start today by thinking about the three questions I listed at the beginning of this essay. Conjure up your perfect life. And then begin the process of having it.

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  • Very good article. Thanks Mark!

  • I couldn’t agree with you more. I love my office space, colleagues and clients. You can’t change people so you better like them as they are.

  • Tim

    As to what I would like to do, I am retired from the food business but I have discovered that my most enjoyable things to do are the things I do with my hands.
    As to with whom I am not sure….I am not married so that would have to be decided
    Where is an easy one. We have an ancestral home here on the farm that I really want to restore and live belonged to my great-grandparents

  • Nancy Segler

    This article definitely causes one to look at their own life and make an evaluation.
    I will definitely give this article a lot of thought and it is a very good bridge of hope for someone who does not have a good plan or rather any plan at all. Great work!

  • Laura

    I almost have the best possible life. In looking st the job / career category – Yes, I would do it if I had all the money I needed. I would still do it for free.As a Registered Massage Therapist, there is no better feeling in the world than taking someone who is grumpy, in pain and can’t sleep through the night – and converting them to a happy, pain free person who can stand totally upright and walk out smiling. This, I would still do even if I won the lottery.
    As far as the who category is concerned; I would keep all my who’s! I work with fantastic people, I work on fantastic people, and I live and spend my free time with family and fantastic older teens and early 20’s.
    I am reaping the benefits of raising a wonderful son, helping to raise a wonderful stepson and step daughter, My step son is an accomplished auto body painter and my step daughter is a Licensed Practical Nurse with 2 children. I got private guardianship of my niece when she was an at risk 14 year old and I was able to help turn her life around. Today she is a wonderful mother and an IT Graduate! I have all their backs and they definitely all have mine! It is an awesome life.

    I have spent 14 years as a single mom and my son is now 18. I have no savings or investments, and I don’t currently make enough as a Massage Therapist to build a retirement and realize I need to generate more income streams.

    I have decided I want to write a book and set up an internet presence built around helping parents rediscover their teens and reconnect with them. I approach this from the voice of experience, common sense and intuition, as opposed to all the clinical psychology out there. I seriously feel my experience is something I need to share with the world and if it helps prevent one more child from entering a juvenile detention facility,it will all be worth it!

    I have been researching added income streams for the last year and have chosen a very successful health supplements and diet company to join as soon as I have $100 extra every month faithfully. This company has helped people reverse diabetes, overcome heart disease and truly change lives. They have a strong commitment to helping feed the hungry and I’m ALL for helping with such a noble inspiration. I don’t want to do it half-heartedly and not be able to guarantee my commitment financially, so I’m waiting until I have all my bills caught up, which will be in the very near future.

    As far as where I live is concerned; I’m currently in a 3 bedroom upstairs of a house in Calgary, but my heart and soul is truly free when I am on Vancouver Island, so I will retire from full time massage and move there when my other ventures can support the move.

    I am almost finished revamping my house and getting rid of the clutter so I can focus on my goals with no distractions.

    I work in a spa where the schedule is really tight and they have not allowed for time for home care advice and exercises, so I have worked out a new arrangement with my boss at work so I can truly give the best massages possible and totally cater to each client’s needs. I know this will help improve my current financial situation and I can put my head on my pillow each night knowing I’ve done my absolute best by everyone I’ve encountered in my day.

    The plans are in place, the changes are in motion and the future is so bright, I’ve gotta wear shades! I am excited for my life!

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Great attitude, Laura, and I think you’d be inspired by my friend, Shawna, also from Calgary and an Internet success story

      • Laura

        Thanks, Craig!

  • Gene

    Thanks for another great article. Early to rise has been part of my daily regimen for years now and appreciate the the time you take for the information, guidance and inspiration that is placed on the doorstep of my life.

  • Laura

    Great article! I have been a college professor for 25 years. I love academics and teaching. I could be making more money in the private sector, but it’ s not worth the time away from the loves of my life: my 4 children!