“As your own dreams materialize, I suspect you will come to know that you don’t need much. Just your tribe, your inner guidance, and the evidence that tells you that you really can create a magnificent life.” – Martha Beck
I used to need an awful lot.
I was unconsciously in a perpetual cycle of feeling a GIANT gaping emptiness inside of me and a simultaneous desire to fill up that emptiness. I tried ridiculously expensive shoes, dinners at fancy restaurants, an overpriced gym membership, European vacations, binge viewing on Netflix, bottles of wine. I was sure each one would bring me the contentedness I was searching for.
All it did was leave me anesthetized, more depressed than before and on the hunt once again. The maddening cycle continued.
The truth is, I had lost my way home. I wasn’t living in my own skin anymore. I was doing a damn good job PRETENDING I was. But I wasn’t fulfilled. I wasn’t aligned with my individual purpose. Frankly, I didn’t even know I had an individual purpose. I was just keeping my head down, working hard and reaping results (promotion, bonuses). But they weren’t the right results – for me. The results didn’t bring happiness or peace. And soon (I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by this), even the unfulfilling results stopped coming. I wasn’t making more money. I wasn’t going up the ladder. In fact, I was making lateral moves in a desperate attempt to find the job that would feel more fulfilling.
I started to wonder what was wrong. What was wrong with me, specifically? Which prompted me to wonder who I actually was, and who I wanted to be. I didn’t know the answers, I just knew the old ways weren’t working anymore. No Christian Louboutin (no matter how glittery), no bottle of Bordeaux (no matter how old and French), no year-end bonus, and probably no amount of time on the treadmill was gonna fill up this gaping hole. I still hold out hope for that last one. At least exercise has endorphins!
I spent a lot of quality time with myself after I quit my very good job last year. In some ways it was a luxury. I’d worked like a beast for 17 straight years without ever picking up my head to ask if it was the right path for me. It was also terrifying. If XYZ job wasn’t my identity, then what was? All this time meant introspection.
Pausing. Inquiring. Having time on your hands. Sounds wonderful, right? Well, it means you gotta look at your SH*T (or escape with more wine!).
The thing that was most immediately clear was – when you start to align with your individual purpose, you don’t feel the pull towards the shoes and the wine (or whatever your escape/addiction of choice is). You don’t need it. You literally could take or leave it. I used to covet these things. In more modern terms, what I mean is: I wanted them in this really creepy, entitled, grasping way (I earned this, damn it! I deserve this!). I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a glass of wine. Have two, if you like. It’s the energy or relationship you have with the wine that is the flag. If it’s something that feels graspy (I made that word up!) and maybe even furtive (binge eating when no one is around, for example), then it’s a problem. If you feel depressed and emptier than before the shoes walked out of the store on your feet… then it’s a problem. Maybe ‘problem’ isn’t the right word? It’s a signal. The universe is showing you your own discontent. It’s showing you that you are off the path. And when you’ve tried all the methods of filling up the emptiness and nothing seems to work, you’ll kick your own ass back to the path towards home.
I assumed I had to stay in a secure, high-paying job that I knew. How else would I afford all the things that made me happy? My life would surely suck without those things. Once I started constructing the life I truly wanted to lead, what I found was this: I didn’t actually need the stuff I was spending the hard earned money on. If you don’t need the stuff, then you don’t need to do the job to afford the stuff. It’s as simple as that. Sure, I still love a good meal, but I haven’t had an alcoholic drink in over 6 months. Not because I am denying myself (which would be the polar opposite of “deserving it” but just as F*ed up, frankly), or because I can’t afford it. I just don’t need it. It surprised me as much as it would surprise all of those who know me. I used to absolutely love a good glass of wine. I’ve gone to numerous dinners, parties, concerts, etc. and they are all still a blast without it. Another awesome byproduct: I feel good the next morning. Every morning.
So I’ll pose these questions – how much money do you really need if you are doing what you love? How much stuff do you need to be happy? And the biggest question of all – are you leading the life you want to lead? If you are like me, you may not know what your individual purpose is. If you’d like to begin the search in earnest, here are three exercises you can try:
- Your obituary. This is a fun one. Perhaps a bit morbid, but fun nonetheless. And certainly thought provoking. Because on the other side of death, is life. Sit down and take a few minutes to write out your obituary. Not as if you died tomorrow, but maybe 25-30 years from now. What would it say about you? Were you CEO? Did you volunteer at your church? Did you have 4 kids? Did you run ultra-marathons? What mark did you leave? What difference did you make? How would people remember you? If it varies wildly from your present day life, that’s ok. But it also means it’s time to start making the small changes that will begin to right the ship on your individual journey. As one of my favorite characters from movie history said, “It comes down to simple choice really – Get busy Living, or get busy Dying”.
- Meditation. I know. I know. Just hearing the word, it sounds impossible. Sit quietly with myself? Every core of my being fought against meditation. I’d tell myself I was wasting time or that it was pointless. Or that I couldn’t succeed at quieting the mind, so why bother to try. It felt like work and I treated it like a discipline. If I willed myself to do it right, I’d win the prize (in this case, peace). When I was taught to approach it not as a discipline, but as compassion for myself, something shifted in me. The idea of meditation as self-care – what a concept!! Relaxing into my own bones, and rooting into my body was really attractive. Not obsessing about the thoughts moving around in my mind at a breakneck speed. Just being. It was such a relief to realize that while I can’t silence the mind, I don’t have to live in it all the time. So I started with 5 minutes. Then eventually I moved to 10 minutes. And so on. And a curious thing happened in the spaces between my constant mental chatter. I found a bit of myself and a bit of peace in those gaps. From there, I was also able to find spaces in the real world. Glimpses of the path. You will feel your way to the right answers more, vs. overthinking yourself into the wrong answers. You will start to pause, and use your gut. Your body is an incredible biological system, sending you signals all the time. It registers what truly feels right and wrong for us as individuals. We’ve just been trained for years to only listen to our thoughts. So we need some retraining. Meditation is that retraining.
- Hire a Life Coach/Consultant (shameless plug, I know). This professional will have the tools and expertise to get you dreaming & wondering & plotting. More than a sounding board (although that part is nice too!), they hold you accountable, so you can convert all that dreaming into real action.
There’s an old joke that goes like this: A man is praying to God, “Please let me win the lottery. Please let me win the lottery”. Every day he asks God for his help, “Please let me win the lottery”. Finally God says, “Meet me half way. Buy a fucking ticket”. As mentioned, the Universe will let you know you are off the path. But you have to take the steps to get back on track.