Which path to choose?

Happy new year. This year a lot more space and time opens up for me, as I step down from my role as the director of training at the Process Work Institute. But I’m finding that the freedom of having more space and time comes with a huge challenge. Do I use this time for what’s most important?  How do I know which one, of the many paths, I should pursue?

And as I’ve been pondering this, I finished Steve Jobs’ biography and what struck me was his ruthless pursuit of simplicity. Not just simplicity of design; that’s well known. But simplicity of product line. He insisted that Apple should have three, four, maybe five fantastic products, and do them exceptionally, rather than offer dozens of average and indistinguishable products. And to do that, he wasn’t afraid of cannibalizing his own products. He pursued new projects even as they made the current, even highly successful ones, obsolete. The Macintosh put the Lisa out of business; the iPhone integrates all of the functioning of the iPod and led to a decline in iPod sales, and now analysts predict the iPad will cannibalize the MacBook computers.

So back to freedom. Given that everything is possible, what do you put your energy into? There are dozens of paths to pursue, whether we’re talking relationships, career, projects, hobbies, spiritual disciplines, or whatever. And the truth is, they are not all equally important. Choosing what’s meaningful and letting go of what’s not central to your path is not easy. What is core to our purpose on earth is a terribly hard question. Many things can satisfy us, many things are fun and interesting, and many paths can be pursued, even successfully so. When so many possibilities are spread out before us, how do we know what is core, and what is tangential? Some things give us immediate feedback and gratification, which can be confusing. Do we  like it because it’s what we’re meant to do, or are we hooked on the buzz of the feedback and success? Some things feel like “the thing to do,” what others are doing, or what we feel we should do, for whatever reason. And then, as I’ve written in another post, there are the sunk costs, the investment we’ve already made in something, which makes it hard to let drop, and convinces us to continue to pursue it.

This is my new year’s reflection. It’s the year of living selectively. Discovering whether each choice, each direction is connected to my core purpose or tangential to it. It’s not something you do once, I’ve discovered. It’s a constant meditation and discipline. And it’s already challenging me. It’s hard for me to say no to things that are interesting, that involve friends and colleagues, that give me immediate feedback and gratification, and that I’ve sunk time and energy into.  And it’s also a risk, because it means betting most of your chips on one or two directions. But, the new year also reminds me: life is short. Even shorter than it was. I’ve only got so much time to do what I’m meant to do.