“Why exactly am I doing this?”
That’s the question that kicked off my midlife crisis in 2010.
Sooner or later, you’ll ask it, too – and not once, but every morning when you drag your sorry arse out of bed. If you’re a slow learner, it’ll probably happen in your forties. If you’re smart, you’ll ask the question much sooner, and avoid buying a Harley, getting a tattoo on your neck and wearing way too much cologne. (For the record, I did none of those things.)
I eventually made it safely to the other side of my little crisis (I’m 52, now), so I thought I’d offer a few words of advice on what I believe is the source of this common malady.
As the title of this post suggests, struggles like this are rooted in our quest for meaning. Once we find it, many of our troubles seem to evaporate or become, paradoxically, meaningless. But meaning isn’t easy to acquire – at least not directly. Like happiness, it’s actually a byproduct of something else.
Back to my crisis, it seemed – on the surface at least – wholly unjustified. I had a great employer, a wonderful family, and I knew my life was better than most. All the outward signs suggested things were going well, but I still felt a deep sense of lacking.
Perhaps you’ve experienced this yourself. Maybe you’ve built a business that supports your family and provides all the things you ever wanted, but you’re starting to see it as an all-consuming tyrant from which there’s no escape.
Whether it’s your career, your business or your family situation, most of us feel trapped and dissatisfied at some point. We want out – we’re just not sure from what or to where…
But maybe escape isn’t what you need, so instead, let’s look at three ideas to help reframe this problem. As you’ll discover, it’s possible to create a meaningful life right where you are – today.
You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.
When I was 22-years-old, someone thrust a book into my hand called The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz PhD. It was a game-changer for me, and in the decades that followed, I went on to read hundreds of books like it. Each built on my understanding of the importance of mindset and how we can choose to show up in the world.
Over time, these books, plus my own life experience and a few significant people, helped shape my beliefs, habits and outcomes.
One such person was an amazing entrepreneur called Catherine Rains (above).
I met Catherine via Instagram a few years ago, and I’ve benefited from her wisdom and insights ever since. But it was an interview she did with another friend, Steph Crowder, that really caught my attention.
I won’t tell you her whole story here (you can find the interview on the Courage & Clarity podcast), but during the conversation, she shared a couple of simple beliefs that are both profound and practical.
Back in her 30’s and stuck in a job she detested, Catherine became overwhelmed with frustration and anxiety about her present station in life, and mostly, that she hadn’t achieved the things she felt she should have by then.
One day, though, a couple of ideas interrupted her routine, and like a phone call bearing good news, they instantly reframed her thinking.
1. Everything I resist persists. 2. Maybe this moment is my destiny.
When you push hard against another person – physically, I mean – their natural instinct is to push right back. If you engage in a heated debate with that person and you raise your voice, they’ll almost certainly do the same. What you resist persists. And the harder you resist, the more they persist.
So resisting head-on doesn’t work.
The second idea led to a realisation that everything she’d thought, done, seen and believed had brought her to this moment. She was right where she was supposed to be. After all, how could it be otherwise? She was here.
So Catherine did something most of us wouldn’t.
She quit pushing against her present state and instead, surrendered to it. She figured that if she was here, she was obviously meant to be here. And if that was true, from now on she would be 100% here.
From the day she made that choice, her life began to change. She found little things to appreciate. She listened more, and she looked for kernels of value in every interaction. She became fully engaged in the present, and this led to big things.
Within a few months, she grew to love her job. She became a more effective practitioner, and her employer dramatically improved her working conditions.
The struggle was over. But then it got even better!
An offer from the Myers & Briggs Foundation landed in her lap, completely out of the blue (though not entirely unexpected), and it came with a 100% pay increase!
This simple pair of decisions went on to transform Catherine’s life in other ways, too. It revealed an unexpected yearning to be an artist, and it went on to build her a significant following for her beautiful collage pieces.
It helped her survive a divorce. And cancer. And all because of two simple decisions.
Dissatisfaction is a Choice
Don’t confuse this approach with believing everything will automatically be fine.
But conversely, don’t go through life thinking the only way to get what you want is to be perpetually dissatisfied with what you have, or to bleed out of your eyes, grinding and hustling your way to the top. Let the 20-somethings do that (even though it’s just as wrong for them as it is you).
As one of the world’s top high-performance coaches, Brendon Burchard, says, “You can be a satisfied striver.” In other words, you can lean into the present moment and acknowledge that this is where you belong, while simultaneously striving for an even richer, more fulfilling life.
That leads nicely into the second phase of living a meaningful life.
You can’t stay still, even if you want to.
It’s easy to think you have full control, or that you can gain control. For the most part, though, you can’t. There are just too many variables, and just one of them could dramatically alter the course of your life (often in good ways).
All you can really control is what you think, and how you respond to what happens. You can choose how to show up in the world, and you can choose what you see in your future.
What you think and how you view the world has the greatest impact on your present and your future, for it’s your thoughts and beliefs that inform your actions. Your actions, repeated over time, create your habits, and your habits go on to shape your life.
There’s an old chestnut that goes: “Unless you change, nothing changes.” This isn’t really true because things are constantly changing whether you like it or not.
What matters is not if things change, but whether you’re directing that change or letting others do it for you.
When you become the instrument of change; when you decide to wrest back control of your thoughts, beliefs and actions, your whole life can change. That’s what Catherine did.
And this still isn’t absolute control. As I said, you’ll never have full control. Everything is temporary – the bad times and the good times. Since we’re intelligent human beings and not bacteria, our job is to be cognizant of our preferred direction, to manage our thoughts, beliefs and actions, and most of all, to course-correct when required.
There will always be challenges. There will always be surprises. Despite what you may think, we don’t what to know everything before it happens. We’re strange like that. We want certainty but we need uncertainty.
Given that certainty can’t be obtained (not with any real certainty…), our only path is to embrace the unknown and remain flexible enough to pivot, iterate and continue forwards in the direction we’ve chosen.
The sooner you understand this, the sooner you’ll have peace, and the sooner you’ll find meaning in your life.
You’ll realise that nothing stays the same, and though life is always changing, you can at least have a say in how dramatically it happens and how you adjust along the way.
Everything you do matters, so do something that matters to you.
Every step you take, every decision you make, every word you speak and every interaction you have affects your world and the people around you.
The butterfly effect is very real and like it or not, you are the butterfly.
According to Wikipedia, the term was coined by American mathematician, Edward Lorenz in 1969, “…for the effect derived from the metaphorical example of the details of a tornado (exact time of formation, exact path taken) being influenced by minor perturbations such as the flapping of the wings of a distant butterfly several weeks earlier.”
Lorenz discovered the effect when he observed that runs of his weather model with initial condition data that was rounded in a seemingly inconsequential manner would fail to reproduce the results of runs with the unrounded initial condition data. A very small change in initial conditions had created a significantly different outcome.
The phrase refers to the idea that a butterfly’s wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that may ultimately alter the path of a tornado or delay, accelerate or even prevent the occurrence of a tornado in another location.
This is a long-winded way of telling you your presence here is making things happen, even if you don’t believe it or it doesn’t feel like it.
So you’re faced with three choices.
- You can continue believing you’re not making any real difference (if that’s indeed what you believe).
- You can take comfort in the knowledge that you are making an impact no matter how imperceptible.
- You can decide to make an impact in ways that truly matter to you.
You can decide to make a meaningful impact by doing something you really care about.
You can be deliberate; act consciously, open up to the world and share your gifts and experiences. You can open your heart to the magic all around you, both trivial and magnificent because in the end, it’s all magnificent and all of it is fleeting.
My overwhelming wish with the work I do is to impress upon you that this is the very best time to be alive.
Small, incremental decisions are all that’s required for you to make a demonstrable impact on your life and the lives of those around you.
And like I said, having a meaningful life isn’t something you acquire directly. It’s the by-product of small steps taken one day at a time that compound and radiate outward the longer you take them.
It’s recognising that you’re living your destiny right at this moment, but that this moment will continue to evolve and change – so resisting it is pointless.
It’s recognising you need only step forward deliberately and authentically – doing something that matters to you.
It’s as beautiful and simple as that.
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