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introspection can be a scary thing sometimes. people are afraid of what they’ll find in their subconscious. other times, we know our problems (maybe even the answers) but it’s easier to not think about them. whatever the reasoning, it’s always best to work out our difficulties in order to progress.
This is your life story and you are the only author. If you’re feeling like you’ve been stuck in the same setting for too long, it’s time to start writing a new chapter of your life. The plot structure is simple: Doing nothing gets you nothing. Doing the wrong things gets you the wrong things. Doing the same things gets you the same things. Your story only changes when you make changes.
If you have an idea about what you want the next chapter of your life to look like, you have to DO things that support this idea. An idea, after all, isn’t going to do anything for you until you do something productive with it. In fact, as long as that great idea is just sitting around in your head it’s probably doing far more harm than good.
Your subconscious mind knows you’re procrastinating on something that’s important to you. The necessary work that you keep postponing causes stress, anxiety, fear, and usually more procrastination – a vicious cycle that continues to worsen until you interrupt it with ACTION.
Progress in life is always measured by the fact that you’ve taken new action. If there’s no new action, you haven’t truly made any progress.
A big part of who you become in life has to do with who you choose to surround yourself with. And as you know, it is better to be alone than in bad company. You simply cannot expect to live a positive, fulfilling life if you surround yourself with negative people.
Distancing yourself from these people is never easy, but it’s a lot harder when they happen to be close friends or family members. As hard as it may be, it’s something you need to address. To a certain degree, luck controls who walks into your life, especially as it relates to your family and childhood friends, but you decide who you spend the majority of your time with.
If someone close to you is truly draining you, be honest about it. Be kind, but communicate your point of view. Tell them you love them, and that you want to be around them, but you need their help. Remember, most problems, big and small, within a family and close friends, start with bad communication. If this other person is draining you, and you haven’t talked about it, they may not even know.
At the end of the day, you should surround yourself with people who make you a better person and distance yourself those who don’t. (Read The How of Happiness.)
In life, you become what you repeatedly think about. If your thoughts and behaviors aren’t helping you, they’re hurting you. Other people and outside events can influence you, but happiness is ultimately an inside job. You have to disconnect external influences and achievements from happiness and give yourself permission to be happy, in each moment, without the need for anything more.
This isn’t to say that you should be complacent. You can still set goals, work hard, interact with others, and grow, but you must learn to indulge joyously in the journey, not the destination.
What you need to realize is that all you ever truly have are your thoughts towards the present moment. Every moment is very similar; the details are just details. If you say something like, “If I had more than what I have now, I would be happier,” you are sadly mistaken. Because if you are not at all happy with what you have now, you will not be any happier if it were doubled. It’s just more of the same.
The bottom line is that you have everything you need to be happy or unhappy right now. It just depends on how you think about it. Will you be grateful for what you have, and find joy in it? Or will concentrate on what you don’t have, and never, ever feel like you have enough? The choice is yours to make.
As George Washington once said, “It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.”
Truth be told, if you are good at making excuses, you will never be good at anything else. No matter what the obstacles are that you see in front of you, the only thing truly standing between you and what you want is the excuse you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it.
When something is a priority, it gets done. Period. And it’s not what we claim are our priorities, but how we spend our time each day that reveals the truth. You can make excuses. You can always try to wait for the perfect moment, the perfect this, the perfect that… but it won’t get you anywhere.
To get where you want to go you just have to start DOING. It makes all the difference. Making excuses takes the same amount of time as making progress. (Read The Power of Habit.)
As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.”
When you find your path, and you know what needs to be done, you must not be scared. You need to find the courage to make mistakes. Mistakes lead to disappointments and defeat in the short term, but they also teach you what you need to know in the long-term. Mistakes are the tools life uses to show you the way forward.
Someday when you look back over your life you’ll realize that nearly all of your worries and anxious fears never came to fruition – they were completely unfounded. So why not wake up and realize this right now. When you look back over the last few years, how many opportunities for joy did you destroy with needless fear about making a mistake? Although there’s nothing you can do about these lost joys, there’s plenty you can do about the ones that are still to come.
NOT believing that you CAN is the biggest trap of them all. If you don’t know your own greatness is possible, you won’t bother attempting anything great. Period.
All too often we let the rejections of our past dictate every move we make thereafter. We literally do not know ourselves to be any better than what some opinionated person or narrow circumstance once told us was true. Of course, this old rejection doesn’t mean we aren’t good enough; it means the other person or circumstance failed to align with what we have to offer. It means we have more time to improve our thing – to build upon our ideas, to perfect our craft, and indulge deeper in to the work that moves us
Don’t let old rejections take up permanent residence in your head. Kick them out on the street. Realize that you sometimes you have to try to do what you think you can’t do, so you realize that you actually CAN. And sometimes it takes more than one attempt. If ‘Plan A’ doesn’t work out, don’t fret; the alphabet has another 25 letters that would be happy to give you a chance to get it right. The wrong choices usually bring us to the right places, eventually. You just have to believe in your own potential to get there. (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Adversity” and “Relationships” chapters of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
Be diligent and committed to what you’re trying to achieve, but also make sure you leave time for pleasure and exploration in other areas of your life as well. It is not enough to succeed at one specific goal or to conquer one particular area of expertise; you also have to take part in the different, beautiful dimensions of your life… while you can, while there’s still time.
Lift your head up from your work every now and then and take a long walk, hold hands with your beloved, go fishing, spend time with your friends, swim, bask in the sunlight, try something new, meditate, breathe deep, or sit quietly for a while and contemplate the goodness around you.
In other words, balance yourself – work diligently toward your goals and dreams, but don’t ignore every other aspect of your life. Keep your mind fresh, your body active and alive, and your relationships nurtured. Do so, and the things you want most in life will come more naturally.
Life is filled with unanswered questions, but it is the courage to ask enough of the right ones that ultimately leads you to an understanding of yourself and your purpose.
You can spend your life wallowing in fear by avoiding the obvious, or asking negative questions like, “Why me?” Or you can be grateful that you’ve made it this far – that you’re strong enough to breathe, walk and think for yourself – and then ask, “Where do I want to go next?”
We would love to hear your perspective. Please pick one or more of the seven questions above and leave a comment below with your answer.
When web designer Ben Blumenfeld was working for a major TV network, he was responsible for creating websites for mainstream shows. One day, he made a breakthrough that led to a significant uptake on a show, but the success struck Ben in a way he had not expected. His success meant more people would spend even more time watching TV, and he ultimately didn’t see that as a good thing.
The moment proved to be an inflection point for Ben. He decided to stop thinking of his career as something separate from himself, and the values, ideals and principles that were important to him. He believed in making a positive impact in his community, and realized his day-to-day work wasn’t aligned with that. He decided it was time to pursue a path that baked his mission into his career.
While still in that mindset, he received a phone call from Jeff Hammerbacher, the COO of a newfangled Silicon Valley startup with 8 million student users, who persuaded Ben to fly to California to meet the people working there. Later, when Ben mentioned his desire to make a positive impact in his community, the CEO assured Ben that the venture would impact the very way the human race communicated with each other, across cultures, political differences and national territories — literally bringing the world together. Ben concluded the CEO — Mark Zuckerberg — was either quite mad, or that he was a true visionary. Ben told me, “I knew Mark was going to build the company with or without me, and once I met the design team, I was just blown away. Every designer was insanely talented, both visually and technically.” And so, he decided to join in the effort.
In time, Ben would come to lead the communication design team at Facebook as they built the company from 8 million users to almost a billion. He found the scale of every initiative to be surreal. “It was strange to design experiments that were measured in millions of people,” he told me. But, he also knew that the ability to connect so many people offered a huge opportunity to stay true to his goal of melding his career and his intention to make a positive difference in the world. Ben had an idea to work with Stanford’s Peace Innovation initiative, in connection with Stanford’s Persuasive Technology Lab, to start peace.facebook.com, which in turn sparked a conversation around the world about whether people believed we would reach peace in the next 50 years. (Incidentally, Americans are consistently far more pessimistic about this than other countries, such as Egypt, which is among the most optimistic). It was just one of the many ways that Ben decided to bake his mission into his career.
Most recently he left Facebook and joined with Enrique Allen to cofound The Designer Fund. Enrique is also part of the founding team at 500 Startups, an early stage seed fund and accelerator in Silicon Valley. The Designer Fund invests in designer-led startups that bake positive social impact into the mission of the institution. Instead of impact being an afterthought or separate project, like some company’s apologetic foundations sometimes appear to be. (Explore some of their inspiring investments here: Neighborland, Angaza Design, Solar Mosaic and Launchpad Toys).
I use the example of Ben to illustrate someone who’s approaching his career by design — not by default. It’s something that each and every one of us has the potential to do. When you get to a place in life where you’re questioning what the work you are doing — all the hours you’re spending — are ultimately adding up to, you need a process for evaluating what matters most to you. Here’s what I suggest:
Step 1: Sketch Your Career. It is so easy to get consumed by the stream of activities in our careers. We get so caught up in living our lives that we don’t stop to think sufficiently about our lives. We are reacting instead of being strategic. When I find this happening, I use this simple tool to get a broader perspective. You start on the left at the beginning of your career and end on the right hand side (today). You draw a single line up if you were enjoying the experience and down if it was unfulfilling for you. Write down where you were working, what you were working on, and any other factors that shaped your experience.
It ends up looking something like this:
Step 2: Connect the Dots. Use the sketch from Step 1 as a launch pad into being an anthropologist of your own life. Go somewhere quiet. You might think of it like a strategic offsite for your own life and career.
Ask: When was I truly happy and why? What activity or theme do I keep coming back to? What is my gravitational pull? When was work effortless for me? What isn’t working for me? When do I seem most like myself? When was it meaningless and why? When was work meaningful and why? Don’t rush the process. Pause long enough to listen. Write the answers down as they come so you can reflect on them later.
Step 3: Ask, “What Will I Create that Will Make the World Awesome?” That may sound like a bit of a wild question but an essential element of strategy is, to state the obvious, thinking about what we want to create in the future.
Ask: What would I do if I could do anything? What would I do if all jobs paid the same? If I could only achieve one thing in my career, what would it be? What do I really want? Again, these are big questions. But my experience is that people spend far more time worried about their job than in creating a vision for their career and how they can uniquely contribute to the world. (If you are looking for a pep talk, this three minute video from “Kid President” does a brilliant job challenging us to figure out what we can do to make the world awesome).
Many years ago I followed a process not at all unlike this one and, without exaggeration, it changed the course of my life. The insight I gained led me to quit law school, leave England and move to America to start down the path as a teacher and author. You’re reading this because of that choice. It remains the single most important — and strategic — career decision of my life.
It’s a simple process. But it can help us to break down some complex questions. Like the poet Mary Oliver’s beautifully haunting question: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”