Over the last few years, I have experienced a tremendous amount of personal change. Our family lost my Dad and both of my in-laws within nine months. Two of our three children were launched into their own lives, careers and families and the third is well on his way. Within our company, after 30 years, I changed roles into a new area of leadership and a new team. In the midst of it all, my first book was published.

All of this change provided more opportunities to grow and stretch than at any other point in my life. With those opportunities, came a lot of stress that needed to be managed. During such times in our lives, it is hard to survive through them, much less thrive through them.

At the end of this season, I stopped to assess where I was and the only analogy I could think of was that I had become a pin ball. When we think about pin balls, we can clearly see them in action. They are first catapulted into the game with great force and then proceed to bounce off object after object with complete randomness. As the energy from the initial hit by the plunger subsides, the pin ball begins to roll toward the black hole at the bottom of the table. While it is in the game, the pin ball scores a lot of points, but it’s fate is always to eventually run out of energy and fall into the black hole. In the backdrop, there is lots of noise of bells and dings.

We can envision the pin ball slowly rolling down the table, and then another force hits it and it is suddenly propelled back into the game. It does not have the same force as it did when it first entered the game, but enough to send it back into the game to score a few more points. A pin ball is reactionary and bounces all around until it eventually runs out of energy, rolls right past the levers that could save it and drops into that black hole.

That’s what I had become and it was not a pretty sight to me. My life had become a set of circumstances to which I was bouncing from one to another with no control over the trajectory or impact. Just as it felt like I was about to drop into the black hole, I froze the game and called a timeout.

During a time of brief reflection (because the game continued around me), I realized that what I want to be is a golf ball. A golf ball is driven with precision and intention. Its trajectory is planned. Occasionally, a golf ball will veer from its intended path and bounce off a tree, drop into the water or land in the sand trap. However, the golfer, in these circumstances, lines up the next shot with the same precision to correct the error.

For the golf ball, the surroundings are quiet as the game is played. The players concentrate deeply and focus all of their energy on selecting the right club, examining the lie of the ball and determining other factors that will affect the flight of the ball. In the end, to record the score, the object is to get the ball in the hole with as few interruptions to its path as possible.

During my self-imposed timeout, it was clear to me that I preferred to be a golf ball rather than a pin ball. To make that change, I had to decide to once again approach my life and my goals with great intentionality and avoid reacting to the obstacles that I bumped into along the way. I took three crucial actions:

  1. Be purposeful. Decide your why. What do you ultimately want to accomplish with your life, in this season or on any given day? To avoid reaction, we must know why we do what we do and be committed to fulfilling our purpose. Your why will drive you and motivate you. Write down your purpose and re-visit it often to remind you the direction you wish to go.
  1. Be planful. Write down your goals that help you achieve your purpose and then be intentional with your actions everyday to achieve those goals. Measure your progress weekly or even daily to see that you are on track. If you get off track, don’t beat yourself up, just go back to work on what you wish to accomplish. Commit to the discipline of week-in and week-out focusing on your plan that will get you where you want to go.
  1. Be playful. Rest and play are essential to refueling our lives and helping us maintain our best selves on our way to accomplishing our goals. Take the time to rest and to have fun on the journey. Build these activities into your weekly plan so you do not short-change yourself and, like the pin ball buzzing all over the table, burn out. Well-timed rest and play are essential in providing energy to achieve your goals.
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In this season, it became so clear to me that I had to take better care of myself to live with intention, by focusing on my purpose, carefully planning and tracking my goals and taking time for play and rest. If I had to choose, I would want to be more like a well-driven golf ball than a pin ball randomly reacting through life. What will you choose?