How often do you pause to think deeply about what you want out of life and how successful you are at attaining those things? Beyond idyllic states like happiness or fulfillment, what do you want and are you getting what you want?
Maybe you don’t ask this question or give it the profound attention it deserves because you fear the answers will seem so far from your current reality that the question itself is too frustrating to sit with for longer than the time it takes to utter “I don’t know”. Or perhaps you’ve been too busy doing what’s necessary to succeed, survive, or fulfill the dreams of other people to indulge in such whimsical thinking.
Perhaps you’ve asked this question and the answers suck. They’re a nagging reminder of what’s left once you strip away all the excuses and rationalizations.
70% of people hate their jobs.
Maybe you abandoned what you want for what works and now you feel stuck in the flow of life you’re in right now. Treading water and trying to find merit in the suggestion that lowering your expectations is a valid way to improve the quality of your life.
Beware of the Fool's choice
It often seems like we have to make a choice. Pursue what you want and live as a starving artist or pursue a well-paying career and avoid looking at your malnourished inner child until retirement. Clearly, it's a fool’s choice as there are many people who have found a way to accommodate both. But it sure doesn’t feel like a fools choice for a large chunk of the population, it feels a lot more like a roadmap that’s been handed to you.
Particularly when you’re coming out of college with a big loan hanging around your neck. Or you’ve just had children. Or your children are about to head to college. Or you’ve reached that age where it’s suddenly harder to get a job interview and you didn’t save enough to retire. And so on… throughout your entire working life, there will always be a compelling reason to compromise or neglect what you want for what seems responsible or workable.
There is no clearing in the dense forest where it suddenly becomes more appropriate to earnestly entertain the luxury of self-fulfillment. The message is more likely to arrive in your consciousness as a wakeup call. Rudely awoken from a restless slumber by alarm bells that sound like defeat or existential angst and which can no longer be snoozed or placated by happy hour cocktails.
It can be a dark hole to fall into. You may find yourself disconnected from the things that matter most while realizing you’ve spent too much of your life connecting to the things that don’t. As the old joke goes: when you’re on your deathbed its unlikely you’ll wish you'd spent more time in the office. Yet many find themselves stuck in the office nervously lamenting the joke’s ironic humor. They give more thought to choosing the new car that's supposed to compensate for their pain than they do envisioning what would make the pain go away. They don’t ask the questions because they don’t think the answers will change their reality. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If you want the idyllic yet elusive state of happiness or fulfillment how can you possibly achieve either unless you first know what will make you happy or fulfilled? Relying on it randomly…hopefully…all coming together like a happily ever after moment is quite the gamble. An unnecessary one because it can come together in a far more empowering way than through hope.
Keep it real
Skeptical? Starting to sound like a new age pep talk? All very well for me to say in a blog but your situation is different. More complicated. You chose the wrong career. There are no surplus funds, time or energy left at the end of the day to dig yourself out of the hole. A lot of inertia in other words. That was my experience too. And the experiences of many people I’ve met, including successful ones. Your situation is more common than you might think.
It’s okay to be skeptical and it's a good thing to take your responsibilities seriously. There’s a lot of fantasy-based advice claiming you can be anything you want if you just believe or think positively. Impulsively acting on this advice really could blow up your resume or bank account, just as you fear. Some people might succeed by leaping boldly into the deep end but there’s probably more who drown. It’s not wise advice to act on but there’s no need to throw all the wisdom out with the dubious bath water.
All I’m suggesting at this point is to ask the question.
There are good reasons to get crystal clear about what you want out of life. The magic happens once you know. The universe doesn’t suddenly conspire to give you everything you want; it’s not that sort of magic. But the clarity will generate excitement. You will find the energy to take action and you will start seeing plenty of things to apply that energy towards. Which in turn creates focus and points you in the direction of a life you want to live. When things do actually start to change or happen, it’s going to seem like magic because what once seemed impossible will have become entirely possible.
Think of it as empowering yourself to take over the controls. You’re in charge of you now. No parents, no teachers, no boss. Just you and the question, and the accountability to answer it wholly and fully until the answers settle into a consistent pattern and until they accurately describe you and who you are.
Yes, get what you want by being who you are. That’s what I’m advocating. It’s hard to be happy or fulfilled when you have all the things you want but you don’t get to be you that’s enjoying them. It can be the type of success that leaves you feeling empty. But getting what you want by being true to the things that make you who you are is the ultimate validation of you as a person. Be driven from the inside rather than molded by the outside.
It may take some time. It took me many years. In hindsight, I can see the answers were always there but I wasn’t asking the question. My personal identity was too wrapped up in what I was doing to pause and reflect on who I really am. There was no space on my position description for me the person. Rather, I was me the job or me trying to become the idealized caricature of the successful person I’d created in my mind. So if the answers don’t come easily, keep asking the question. The answers are in there but you may have to do some digging beneath all the caricatures, disappointments or doubts that you’ve piled on top of them.
Here are 3 suggestions that really worked for me:
#1: Listen to your soul and your intuition or whatever you call the voice that is saying something to you when everyone else is silent. It may show up as a feeling, a thought or memory that triggers a sense of longing. It’s not the only voice you should listen to but its one of them and its known you the longest so give it a seat at the table, and not the kids table either. This voice will tell you what you value the most and what you are neglecting. But only if you're listening to it.
#2: Strive to know yourself intimately and use this knowledge to be your own champion and your own leader. Don’t wait for others to give you direction or tell you who you should be, figure out how to do this for yourself. The more in touch you are, the more gifts you will find that can be leveraged to get you what you want. Think of it as the power of positive knowing.
#3: Think broader than what the media, your teachers or parents told you. There are many ways to navigate life and find a way to survive and thrive. Learn to find or write the rules that empower you and the difference you can make because of who you are as a unique individual. If you can do this, you will be free or at least a lot freer than you are playing by 'the rules'.
What I do: I work with individuals and organizations who want to reach beyond success to create something of significance. If this sounds like you, contact me. I can get you there a lot faster than it took me!