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A Question Worth Asking: "What Matters Most and Why?" (Part 1)

Dione Chen

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?”

- Mary Oliver, “’The Summer Day”


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What matters most to you, and why?


This simple question strikes fear in the hearts of many, including even the most confident and successful.


It’s my privilege to help high school students and adults figure out how to answer this simple question and to then communicate their answers in a way that’s personal, authentic and powerful.


I’m an educational consultant and career coach. My clients are talented, smart, ambitious, funny, successful, articulate. Yet, for many, figuring out what exactly matters most -- and next, having to explain why to an unknown reader -- is cause for angst, dread and self-doubt.


Here are three reasons why I believe that anyone and everyone can benefit from answering What Matters Most (WMM).


1. Feel better, be better. Trying to do all and be all is… impossible. I meet so many people who are living (overly) full lives and... still think they’re falling short. They say that they feel “less than,” unimpressive, and exhausted. Nevertheless, they want to know whether they should do more (fill in the blank – sign up for another class, change jobs, volunteer, apply to grad school). I almost always reply, “Well, it depends…” The answer depends on you – and by that, I mean your time, resources, interest, capabilities, options and opportunity costs. There’s no rule book to life and you'll have to make choices -- so it pays to be able to make informed, self-aware choices (“know thyself”!). Knowing WMM can help you feel lighter and better.


2. Take a rest. Our lives and our minds are incredibly “noisy” places. Between the distraction of second screens, the demands of multi-tasking and an overabundance of stimulating information-entertainment-music-images-opinions in today’s world, and the vigilance required in navigating an unprecedented pandemic, it’s hard to escape and “decompress. “ A good friend has a busy life - somehow she cares for a bustline household of 9 kids, 2 dogs, and 2 elder family members who are approaching 100 -- and she has a demanding job, too. Somehow, she says she’s able to find a “quiet space” in her mind while running around, shopping, cooking, driving. Amazing! Most of us, including myself, aren’t able to do that. People who know me are not surprised to hear that I’m a yoga and meditation dropout. One of the hardest things I find to do is to practice the art of “just being still.” And yet, I'm a believer: knowing WMM helps to quiet your mind, and be comfortable with the idea of “just doing nothing”


3. Find purpose. FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is real, and neither that or the mantra of YOLO (You Only Live Once) do a good job of helping you prioritize how you should make choices about who-how-what-where you ought to spend your time. “A life well lived” doesn’t mean a life doing everything. The key to a life well lived is being intentional about the choices you make. Just because you could do something, doesn’t mean you should.


So, I ask myself: What Matters Most? What, indeed, will I do with my "one wild and precious life"? The answers up to me.



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