5 Ways to Finding Fulfillment in Life
In my late teens all the way through my early thirties, I could not get my head around what the point of life was. It just didn’t make sense. The path seemed to be; you study really hard in high school to get into college. You study really hard in college to get a job. Then you work like crazy to get promoted from your little cubicle to a little office, to a bigger office. All the while amassing a variety of vices, expensive toys, and unhealthy behaviors to try and help you deal with massive amounts of stress. Plus, the depressing awareness you’re going to be working at that job you don’t really like, for the next forty plus years.
The hope being that FINALLY, at age sixty-five, you’ll retire and get to do all the things you’ve spent your life dreaming about.
I mean, it seemed like a colossal train wreck of a plan. A train wreck which got even worse when I learned that almost one in five people pass away before they even get to retirement.
It was from that place of utter confusion, mixed with a heavy dose of “this can’t be all there is,” which inspired me to start looking for a different way. And here’s what I learned. There is DEFINITELY, a different way.
So with the full awareness and caveat that my thoughts can be a little out there at times (This article has aliens and the Wizard of Oz references linked together after all). Plus the fact that I realize each person has their own path, their own meaning of happiness, and not every concept which has helped me is going to be a game-changer for anyone else. I nonetheless share with you, five thoughts on finding your passion and fulfillment in life.
#1. Know You Are Not Alone.
Part of my path to finding a different way involved leaving everything behind at the age of thirty-two to go backpack around the world for a year. The general perspective on that plan from practically everyone was, “That’s crazy.” And I sort of understood where they were coming from. I mean, I didn’t know anyone who had every done anything like that. Plus, as a general rule, it seemed like I was the only one feeling like there had to be more to life than the colossal train wreck of a plan I was in the midst of.
But I did the trip anyway. And here’s the thing. Once I got out there on the road, I realized there are thousands of people backpacking around the world. Fascinating people of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicities, and life experiences. All with their own stories and amazingly different strategies for living a fulfilled life. Strategies which DID NOT look anything like the path I’d been on. And here was a big AHA! The reason I’d never met any of them or been exposed to their strategies, was because THEY WERE OUT BACKPACKING AROUND THE WORLD and I WAS IN MY CUBICLE! How incredibly obvious once I realized it.
After coming back from my adventures, I head a stream of conscious experience which lasted for 21 days, where I would sit down and type. Long story short, it ended up being a book called The Cafe on the Edge of the World. And over the years that I’ve been doing media tours and interviews and interacting with fans, one of the most common things readers tell me is, “I thought I was the only one feeling this way, until I read that book.”
So, if your analysis of the commonly followed life plan is that it doesn’t quite add up, know that you’re NOT alone. There are LOTS of people out there trying to figure out something which feels better for them. And, there are lots of people out there who have found it. They’re living very different and very fulfilling life plans. To find them though will require looking somewhere other than in a cubicle one over from yours, if you’re working in an unfulfilling job at a less than inspiring company.
Here’s another piece of good news. Those people who have found it, are really open about sharing what they’ve learned. Books, podcasts, videos, articles, personal conversations… It’s all there at our disposal.
So no more feeling like a solo rider. You’re quest to find a different path puts you in the company of some incredibly creative, generous, gregarious, fun-loving people who have lots of good information to share about different roads to fulfillment.
#2. Reflect on What Would Aliens Say About Your Life
At one point as I was reflecting on life, I found myself wondering what aliens would think if they were to look down and see me. The internal dialogue went something like this.
“John seems to love going for walks in nature. Look at the way it calms him down and makes him so happy. Yet he hardly ever does it. Instead, each day he’s in that high rise building until late at night, wearing some sort of clothing that tightens around his neck, like he’s trying to squeeze the life out of himself. Why is that?”
“John’s health seems so much better when he moves around more. Yet he keeps sitting in that one spot for hours and hours, with his shoulders hunched forward. He doesn’t do anything which would even get him close to raising his arms above his head or cause his heart to beat a little faster. Why is that?”
“John seems to be on an unusual schedule of some kind. He enjoys two days in a row where he seems to have a much more varied schedule and does things which make him happy. Then he seems a lot more miserable the next five days when he’s following what appears to be a specific arrangement of sorts. He shows up to the same place at the same time and does the same types of things, which he doesn’t even seem to enjoy. It looks like he’s doing some sort of internal eye roll when he has to sit in a lot of something called “meetings.” And he buries his head in his hands quite often when he’s alone in some sort of six foot by six foot box he sits in.
This pattern of two days of happy and five days of misery seem to repeat almost constantly. There is the occasional instance where he has three days of happy in a row and man, does he seem to LOVE those! So why doesn’t he do that more often? Or why during those five day stretches doesn’t he do something he enjoys more? It’s so confusing. Especially so, because statistically, John’s life span is only about 28,900 days and he’s used up over forty percent of those already. Yet he seems resigned to this way of living. Why is that?”
This little endeavor in self-reflection helped me realize a number of things. First, I REALLY had to start making some changes before I cracked up completely. Second, maybe it was as simple as starting to look at the little areas of my life I did enjoy, and consciously put more of those into each week. Third, a day becomes a week, which becomes a month, which becomes a year, and the next thing you know, everyone is saying, “I can’t believe it’s almost Christmas already.” We either start putting a priority on finding our meaning of happiness and living a more fulfilling life, or I we find ourselves out of life to live.
#3. Follow the Yellow Brick Road
When I was growing up, there was this “kids” movie called The Wizard of Oz. In general, it terrified me, because there was a particularly hideous looking witch who, along with her band of evil flying monkeys, kept terrorizing people. My parents still like to bring up the fact that I would hide behind a large chair until the witch was no longer on the screen. To which I still think to myself, “Why in the world would anyone think that movie is suitable for a three-year-old.”
Anyway, as the lead character and her ragtag band of fellow travelers are seeking their path to a life of freedom, they get some cheerily sung advice. They are told to; “Follow the yellow brick road.” “Follow the yellow brick road.” This literally is repeated countless times both in voice and song, until it would have been absolutely impossible for them to have heard it as much as they did and then turned to someone and honestly asked, “So what do we do again?”
Plus, it wasn’t just a slogan. There actually WAS a road made of yellow bricks, which all they had to do was follow. I mean, it was a can’t miss strategy. Really.
Interestingly enough, it turns out there is a can’t miss equivalent for us in terms of finding fulfillment in life. I wrote about it in the book I mentioned earlier, The Cafe on the Edge of the World. For brevity, I’ll paraphrase that part of it. In the story, the main character is in a very unusual cafe, engaged in a major life conversation, with a very wise waitress. He’s trying to figure out how someone lives a fulfilling life.
Through a series of questions and their ensuing dialog, the wise waitress helps him arrive at a point where he comments:
“Is it that simple? Once someone knows why they’re here, they do whatever they want that fulfills their reason?”
As I said the words, I felt a sense of excitement race through my body. It was like I’d just found something out that was unique and important, and my body was confirming it. It sounded so basic I thought maybe it was too basic to be true. “Do whatever you want that fulfills the reason why you’re here.”
And that right there, is our yellow brick road.
Asking a single question—“Why am I here?” and embracing the resultant answer we discover, is our path to walk. It’s bright, shining, and exciting to be on. Additionally, there are lots of people who will help us along the way, because they see how enthusiastic we are to be on it. And although it’s not always smooth and seamless, because challenges are part of the human growth curve, you will find the path to be wonderfully absent of hideous witches and evil flying monkeys.
#4. Ask an Absolutely Game Changing Question
When I was deeply entrenched in the plan which seemed like a colossal train wreck, I would occasionally get glimpses into something different. A random article about freeing yourself from the rat race, a chance conversation where someone would tell a story about a friend who’d just spent the summer kayaking with orcas in Alaska, a documentary profiling someone who started their own surfboard company….
I’d get excited. A glimmer of hope that perhaps a different way to play this game of life did indeed exist. Then I would fall into one of the most destructive traps ever, as it relates to finding my passion in life. I’d ask myself, “How can I get there?”
It was a step into the abyss. The black hole which sucks dreams in and never lets them out. Because each time we ask that question “How?” we encounter obstacles, learning curves, and barriers. Each one is like a mountain. We hit that first mountain running, because we are determined to live a more fulfilling life. We use some time, we use some energy, and we finally get ourselves to the top. Only when we look out, we see yet another…mountain.
But we don’t let that stop us. This is our life, after all. So we use more time, we use more energy, and we finally get ourselves to the top of the second mountain. Only when we look out, we see…a third mountain.
And that right there is where most of us give up. It certainly was for me. Many times over. The path felt overwhelming, unconquerable, unachievable.
The Question is not “How?”
What I eventually learned, which changed, literally everything for me, is that the question is not “How?” The question, is “Who?” See the truth is, no matter what you would define as a fulfilling life, someone has already done, seen, or experienced it. If you find who those people are, learn everything you can about the paths they took, and then imitate those, you will propel yourself over those first few mountain tops.
It will validate for your brain that the life you seek is indeed possible. It will give you proven and specific steps to follow. It will give you positive momentum.
Do we need to imitate those other people’s paths forever? No. Once we have enough momentum and know-how, we can adjust and tweak what we’re doing and make it unique to us. That momentum at the start is critical though. It’s what keeps us out of the abyss.
Applying this “Who?” instead of “How?” method to the way we approach life, is one of the most important determinants in whether or not we live the life we want to live.
#5. Let the Inner Voice Become the Outer Action
Although it might be covered with layers of “can’t”, “shouldn’t”, “have to”, and other guidelines we’ve been told or adopted on our own, the truth is, our inner guidance system already knows the kind of life we’d like to live. It’s in there. The trick is to get rid of those layers and start allowing our actions to align with that inner voice.
There’s a level of translation which comes with this. Also a level of trust. The translation is necessary because that inner voice doesn’t send us a text saying, “Take that water color art class,” or “Start playing volleyball again.” We don’t get a note left on the fridge, an email, phone call, or anything like that.
Especially in the beginning, when we’re just starting to reconnect with that inner voice, it’s more like a barely perceptible quiet nudge. We’ll catch a glimpse of a magazine about sailing, out of the corner of our eye, and it unexpectedly captures our attention. A random memory from an important moment in our past will flash throughout mind when we’re in the midst of doing something which seems completely unrelated. We suddenly notice a particular book that’s been on our shelf for years.
These quiet little nudges are easy to overlook and ignore. Which is dangerous, because the more we do that, the quieter they become. To the contrary though, the better we get at hearing and acting upon them, the stronger we build that connection. Which is where the trust comes in.
Here’s an example. Think about a time when you were about to head out the door and you had the sudden feeling you were forgetting something. You thought for a moment, but couldn’t remember anything you were missing, so you left anyway.
And what happened about two miles down the road? Suddenly, that thing you couldn’t remember, is right there in your mind. The book, which is sitting on your desk, because you were supposed to return it to your friend, who happens to live right next to the place you’re going.
This can happen over and over, for years and years.
However, when we start to trust those nudges, we start to broaden our connection. Maybe the next time when our inner voice is trying to get our attention, we still can’t quite comprehend what it’s saying while we’re at the door. But we’re thinking about it as we leave the house, and we remember the book when we’re about to pull out of our driveway.
Then the next time we remember before we open the door to leave. And with enough practice, before we’re even thinking about leaving, our inner voice says, “bring the book”, and we put it in our backpack, well before it’s time to go.
The key factor is our willingness to take a pause and listen when the inner voice gives us that first nudge. To stop what we’re doing, focus on the nudge, and listen to what it’s telling us. To believe there’s a reason for it. An important reason.
This process of strengthening the communication channel between us and our inner voice doesn’t have to be lengthy. It’s incredibly reinforcing in a positive way, because time after time you’ll find the messages are relevant and accurate. So much so, that to not listen will start to seem idiotic. You’ll quickly realize that when we allow ourself to get into a rhythm with our inner voice, we tap into one heck of an amazing resource.
Inside each of us are clues, if not direct answers, to what fulfillment in life means to us. When we start listening to our inner voice on that topic, and then start putting what we learn into action…a high level of fulfillment follows.
Ok, here’s a final thought on finding fulfillment in life. This is a major Aha! which my inner voice sent my way a few years back. It’s highly applicable as you are putting into practice the five thoughts from above. Especially if you struggle with self-doubt about what you’re capable of.
“Every expert started off knowing nothing about what they became an expert in.”
From the greatest scientists, business icons, philanthropists, artists, athletes, parents, entrepreneurs, mathematicians, bakers, teachers, philosophers, illusionists…. They all started at zero. A point of no knowledge, no experience, nothing. Yet they went on to attain everything became known for anyway.
Embracing that, and the following philosophy, goes a long way towards launching us into the life of fulfillment we’re looking for.
I will not let what I don’t know, keep me from what I can know.
I will not let what I don’t do, keep me from what I might do.
Great job. Get out there and enjoy the adventure!