Lesson 87: Set your own agenda

Published 4:14 pm Thursday, August 19, 2010

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

The Road Not Taken

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Ive attended a lot of meetings in my time, and led a lot of them too. One thing you need for a successful meeting is an agenda: a written list of the topics to be addressed and the order in which to address them.

When you have an agenda, your meeting generally flows smoothly. You can get a lot done in a reasonable amount of time because you know what has to be covered in the time available. Things dont always go exactly as planned, of course: sometimes you get off track, and some meetings can get rather contentious, but you usually get it back together and do what needs to be done.

If you try to run a meeting without an agenda, you have no idea what youre going to get. Topics come up from out of nowhere, and as often as not, you get sidetracked on unimportant matters. Usually, someone with a dominant personality will fill the leadership vacuum, often with disastrous results. When the gathering finally breaks up, everyone walks out wondering if they really accomplished anything.

If a meeting needs an agenda, a life needs one even more. As you make your way through adult life, you must set your own agenda. Heres an important bit of wisdom that youre likely to hear from several sources over the next few decades: If you dont set your own agenda, somebody else will.

You dont want someone else to set your agenda. Im sure you can think of many instances where that has happened, and its usually not pretty. The guy who enters the family business not because he wants to, but because its expected of him and then proceeds to run the business into the ground while drinking away his troubles. The pretty young girl whose parents force her into beauty pageants even though she doesnt enjoy them. The physician who commits suicide because he never wanted to be a doctor but did it to please his father.

Occasionally, the agenda that is set for you is a blank sheet of paper. Your boss doesnt think much of your abilities, so you get stuck in the same job for years or decades. In essence, your life goes nowhere.

Make your own agenda. Set a course for yourself. You might not get to the exact place you set out for, and there will surely be bumps along the way, but itll be your trip. And Ill bet you can live with that.

Excerpted from The Graduates Book of Practical Wisdom: 99 Lessons They Cant Teach in School by C. Andrew Millard, published by Morgan James Publishing, available in bookstores and online. &opy; 2008 by C. Andrew Millard; all rights reserved. For more information visit www.wisegraduate.com.