Challenge 2 is proving to be quite fun and enlightening. An idea came to me as I listened to NPR. The guest was talking about unintended consequences - how sometimes the most well intentioned short term decisions can add up to disaster in the long term. Human beings are great at creating strategies to reach short term goals. From making a casserole to running a marathon, experienced experts have developed some pretty accurate formulas. There are steps to follow and criteria to judge your success.
But how do we create a formula for those things that take decades to see results? For example, what is the strategy for raising smart/kind/healthy/self-reliant children? Despite the number of people who have been parents from the dawn of humanity, no one has come up with a step by step guide to success. It’s very hard to tell how you are progressing or at what point the goal has been accomplished. No one gets to “Win” at parenthood.
Faced with this dilemma, it’s not surprising that most people focus their energy where they can measure accomplishments and track their progress (like in their jobs) rather than the big-picture goals that can’t be tracked or measured in the short term and offer only a vague possibility of reward at some undetermined point in the future (like raising children).
Hypothetical example: The boss wants you to work late vs. your family wants you to be home for dinner: Working late is one step toward a clear reward, a paycheck. And failing to work late could result in immediate cost, like losing one’s job. Kids need food and a roof over their heads so there is an immediate benefit related to working late and bringing home a paycheck. What are the benefits to being home for dinner? Quality time with kids, conversation, family bonding… things that are not quantifiable and cannot be directly linked to our children’s success in adulthood. In this single instance it makes sense to make work the priority over family.
But take that same balance of priorities and multiply by hundreds of missed dinners, missed conversations, lack of attention, over the course of 20 years. It’s like the “Butterfly Effect”. At what point did the deficit of time and attention to family tip toward neglect? At what point does this start hurting the relationships?
It takes thousands of short term decisions over many years to create the overall pattern in one’s life.
I started thinking about this, and noticing short term decisions I made during the day that counteracted my long term priorities. And how I am (by example) teaching my kids about priorities, risks and rewards, and creating strategies for achieving goals.
I also thought about the decisions I make as an individual can affect the environment in which other people make decisions. People take their life experiences with them into adulthood and influence other people – in the jury room, the classroom or even the Oval Office. The balance of their decisions can have a huge effect on the next generation.
In the spirit of this challenge, I think I’ve found an idea that cannot be accurately expressed through numbers or formula. Or even words - I'm not sure what to call this idea. Something like "interconnected life strategies" maybe. Okay, I have a name for it. Now all I have to do is create a symbol to represent it.
What could be more simple?