We live in a world overrun with options. Every day we have to make a million decisions, from what type of toothpaste we should buy to which friends to hang out with. Big decisions, little decisions, year after year – and sometimes, all those choices can be overwhelming.
It seems like having a large variety of options would always be a positive thing. But it becomes a negative experience when there are too many choices and too much information to sort through in order to make confident decisions. This is true on the toothpaste aisle, and it is also true when it comes to the big question:
What do you want to do with your life? Who do you want to be?
In the past, this question had an easy answer (particularly for women) because our choices were extremely limited. You were a full-time mother and housewife. You worked on a farm or in a factory. You herded animals or sold your family’s oranges at the market. You survived.
Fast forward to 2020, when little boys and girls alike are told that we can be anything we want to be. You can run for office or open a bakery. You can be a high-powered professional or a zookeeper. You can raise chickens, travel the world, adopt seven children, or change careers mid-stream. You can do anything you want – but you probably can’t do everything you want.
We were told that we can be anything we want to be, but no one ever quite explained how exactly to figure out what that was. With so many options in life and so much information overload, it’s essential to determine your priorities. You can do that by identifying your organizing principle.
What is an organizing principle?
Your organizing principle is the axle of your life, your central reference point around which everything else revolves. Determining your core principle makes it much easier to make decisions about your environment, actions, and dreams – because they all come back to one center.
You may have known exactly what your organizing principle is since you were 14 years old. If so, consider yourself lucky. If not, it may take some soul-searching until you find the idea that works for you. But when you do, it will click. Everything will make sense, because your guiding principle comes from the deepest part of who you are.
No matter what, you must identify your organizing principle because it is true to you – not because that’s what you think you should do. And remember: your core principle may well change as you go through life.
FAMILY has been the core principle for many women for almost all of human existence. Putting your partner and children at the center of your life feels natural for many parents, but if it doesn’t for you – don’t beat yourself up about it. You can still be a good parent.
RELIGION is another age-old organizing principle that brings a sense of peace and centeredness to many people’s lives. Love, caring, and compassion are its compatriots
LEARNING about the world and the people is often the guiding light for those who are naturally curious and love getting out of their comfort zone to try new things.
CREATIVITY and self-expression can be a good organizing principle for those who are artistically inclined; in fact these types will find it hard balance their lives at all without some sort of outlet for their creative production.
HELPING OTHERS with compassion can be a profound source of strength and connection throughout life, for yourself as well as others.
CARING for ANIMALS can be a powerful raison d’être for humans who want to use their power to help creatures in need.
HEALING can be an essential guiding principle for those that have experienced trauma or painful pasts. Prioritize the healing of your soul so that it can be set free on your spiritual journey.
These are just a few options; perhaps you want to center your life around Zen-style self-acceptance, bold career ambitions, or becoming an Olympic archery champion. Whatever you choose for your central reference point, knowing it will help you to make decisions big and small. Will this choice hurt or help others? How will this decision affect my family? Should I make this purchase, or put the money towards something else?
Soon even smaller choices will become more manageable, because even if you don’t know your exact path in life, at least you know which organizing principle to start from.
Raised in the Fort Worth area, Shilo Urban moved to Austin, Maine, Paris, Seattle, New Zealand, and Los Angeles before finding her way home a few years ago. Along the way, she has had over three dozen different jobs, including high school French teacher, record label manager, and farmhand for endangered livestock breeds. She’s traveled to more than 50 countries and always has the next trip planned. Shilo has been a freelance writer for over a decade and has published in Fort Worth Magazine, Fort Worth Weekly, and Afar. Her interests include lost civilizations, jalapeño peppers, and Game of Thrones. She is currently writing a thriller and lives in Fort Worth with the stars of this article, Steve and Lenny.