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Success tip: Control your life's direction

1 June 2014

Our lives are always a balancing act between doing things that we have decided to do, and responding to opportunities and challenges that come from the outside world.

Few of us do only that which we have consciously planned to do. Indeed sticking to such a preconceived plan may mean missing out on many opportunities that come one's way. My own life has been immeasurably enriched by responding to unexpected opportunities that I had not planned for.

Conversely, it is very easy to find that one's life is dictated entirely by other people's priorities. The result is that we fail to accomplish what we regard as important to us.

In mid 2012 I was approached, out of the blue, by a headhunter who asked me if I was interested in joining the Council of the University of Salford (UoS). I agreed to meet him to talk about it, and in November 2012 joined the UoS Council. A few days ago, I decided that, while I was making a worthwhile contribution to UoS, and enjoyed what I did on the Council, it was impairing my ability to spend time on things that I regard as having a higher priority. Accordingly I gave notice of my intention to resign.

These thoughts were in my mind when I planned my nineteenth "Thought for the week" given this morning on BBC Radio Manchester. You can read it below.

Thought for the week

Objects in the real world stay put unless something makes them move. Think of a golf ball resting on a tee. Once you whack the golf ball with your club, it flies through the air in a straight line, at constant speed, until the force of air resistance and the force of gravity slow it down and make it change direction.

Most of us can remember Isaac Newton’s first and second laws of motion from our school days. Scientists use the word “inertia” to describe this property of objects to keep doing the same thing until something makes them change.

In a less scientific way, human beings also display inertia. Every morning when I wake up I want to lie in bed listening to the radio instead of getting up and moving around! More importantly, once we are doing something, we tend to keep doing the same thing, until some outside force makes us change.

There is actually quite a lot to be said in favour of inertia. Imagine having to decide every morning from first principles what you wanted to eat for breakfast. Given the variety of food in the average fridge or kitchen cupboard, it might take you half an hour to decide. That is not the way to get to work on time.

Most of us choose, or stumble into, a career in our early 20s and then stick to that career until we retire. I started giving tax advice at the age of 27 and carried on doing that until I retired.

Sometimes we stick to the same thing for very good reasons. However occasionally it is simply because we have never thought about anything else. That is when we allow inertia to control our lives.

Just occasionally it is worth stopping and asking yourself a question. “Is what I am doing really consistent with my personal priorities? Should I stop doing it and start doing something different?”


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