Are you happy with your life as it is? If the answer is no, are you willing to make changes--even big, scary ones--in order to get there?
That question comes from Becky Lynn Smith, author of Designing Your Ideal Life: Create Your Blueprint for Success and Happiness. Smith knows something about big, scary changes. Married right out of high school, she went from being a bank cashier to becoming a programmer and then a project manager, roles that led her to executive positions in Exxon, BP Amoco, and AIM Management Group. Then she quit to become a self-employed business coach. After two years of that, she decided to make another major change, and now she's a doctoral student in leadership and organizational development at Grand Canyon University.
She wrote the book, she says, because it was what she needed but didn't have. "I didn't have a plan when I started out," Smith says, "and many people don't have a plan."
If you want to create your own plan, start by asking yourself these questions:
1. What do I need to change in order to be happy?
"First, you have to decide that you will be happy," Smith says. "Some people aren't happy, but they're kind of comfortable." She learned this firsthand when she left her executive position to strike out on her own, and several of her colleagues told her privately that they wished they could do the same.
"Even if you're in a situation where you can't make a big change, make little changes to set that up for later," says Smith. "What do I need to do to make a career change? If I need to go back to school, what school can I go to?" Whatever it is, get crystal clear on the specific things you need to do, she says. (Here's more on how to get over your fear of making a major life change.)
2. Is my health where I want it to be?
"To me, health is fundamental," Smith says. "If you don't have good health, you have few options. Most of us have some habit we probably should change." Here's some smart advice on how to change a bad habit forever.
3. How much money do I need?
"You have to take a look at how you want your money to be, because it does not buy happiness," Smith says. "How much money do you need to be happy? Or are you satisfied with just enough?"
4. Are my relationships going well?
"Those are what make life worth living," Smith says. "I work with a lot of business owners who basically were sacrificing their home lives to their businesses. Honestly, your career should support your life and not the other way around."
5. How am I making the world better?
This is a key to happiness, Smith says. "It's about doing something meaningful for other people," Smith says. "We need to look for how we can make the world a better place, at least our little piece of it."
6. Am I spending my time on what I value most?
"How we spend the 24 hours a day we're given basically makes the difference between a happy or unhappy life," Smith says. "Many people don't know how to prioritize their time. You have to figure out what your vision is and create your plan, and then ask what are the things you're doing every day to make that plan come true."
7. What am I grateful for?
"We don't have enough gratitude in the world," Smith says. "I start every day thankful that I have another day. Are you grateful for the things you have?" It turns out, taking the time to be grateful will actually make you happier. Here's why.
8. How do I connect with the spiritual in my life?
Smith herself is a Christian, although she doesn't discuss her religion in her book. But whatever your religion, or even if you're not religious, it's important to feel connected to something larger than yourself, Smith says. "You have to believe in something," she says. "It keeps us grounded to have a higher purpose in life."
9. Am I happy with my career?
"Once you have those other areas of your life figured out, you can ask what career will support that," Smith says. "My values are around loyalty and freedom--freedom is a big deal for me right now, so I certainly better not have a business like a fast food restaurant that would require me to be there 18 hours a day." (Here's a look at how five key decisions will have a long-lasting effect on your career.)
10. Am I living the life I chose for myself--or is it someone else's ideal?
"My best advice is really about living your own life, not someone else's version of your life," Smith says. "You need to be really sure what's important to you before embarking on a path. Give yourself permission to explore."