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Rev. Al Sharpton recently gave a conference keynote speech in which he told the story of a man who visited the grave of a friend and commented about the dates on the tombstone.

“We are not responsible for when and where we were born, or even who our parents are. We don’t know when or how we will die. However, we are responsible for the dash of life in between,” preached Rev. Sharpton.

He went on to talk about discovering one’s purpose in life and having a plan to fulfill that purpose. It was a powerful and compelling speech, delivered with the skill and showmanship that Sharpton possesses.

Most of the audience left the room with a smile on their faces and proceeded to the next workshop. The dash of life was stuck in my mind.

I would like for you to join in a little exercise with me. Take a pencil and an unlined piece of paper and draw what you consider to be you lifeline or dash in life. Reflect on your personal, professional and family accomplishments and disappointments and how your life is proceeding.

Is your dash of life straight, curvy, broken, a circle or something else? Is it heavy or light, is it moving upward, horizontal or downward on the paper?

Next, place a point on the line that indicates where you are now on your dash of life. Are you at the beginning, near the middle or close to the end? Are you satisfied with your dash of life so far? Do you want to change your direction?

Changing your dash

Changing life’s direction is a simple concept, but difficult to accomplish. It begins with first understanding yourself and your mission here on Earth. Again, sounds simple, but like most important things, the “devil” is in the details. There are a lot of people, including the media that want to define who you are and where you should be going. Additionally, the devil is in the distractions, the temptations and even friends and family that want to use your dash to serve them.

Creating a clear and compelling vision of yourself in your new direction is the next step. As a simple example, if your goal is to lose weight, then place a picture of yourself, taken when you were at your prime size by your nightstand or dressing area so that you can see your goal when you wake up and before you go to sleep. This helps to create and sustain a mental picture that will help to guide you as you make decisions throughout the day.

Additionally, share your vision with your family and close associates, so that they will support you along the way.

A plan for change

Implementing a plan for change begins by writing your plan down. What are the key steps that will be taken today, a week from today, a month from now, six months and so on? How will you measure your progress? Continuing the weight loss example, what will be your average daily calorie intake, when will you exercise and how often will you weigh-in? How much weight will you lose in the first month, second month and so on? Then, continue to execute your plan “one day at a time.”

All too often individuals have successfully made life changes only to revert back to their old habits after a year or two. I know of some people that maintain two wardrobes, one for before the diet and the other for after losing weight. After you have made the life changes to align with your purpose you have to institutionalize the changes into your on-going life patterns.

We are individually responsible for the dash of life, between when we were born and when we die. If you have not already done so, start today to make your dash of life align with your purpose for being here.

Michael G. Shinn is a Certified Financial Planner and registered representative of securities and investment advisory services offered through Financial Network Investment Corp., member SIPC. Visit www.shinnfinancial.com for more information or to send your comments or questions to shinnm@financialnetwork.com.

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