5 Obvious But Ignored Secrets to Living the Good Life

Recently, I did a reboot on my approach to life and work, wondering if how I’ve been doing things is the right way. The truth is I’m still not sure. But the experience has taught me some important lessons I nearly forgot.

(Side note: many “successful” people don’t consider themselves a success. This is a word other people give to your achievements. So while I don’t consider what I’ve done successful, I appreciate that this is what some people perceive.)

The truth is I have achieved far more than I ever thought possible after starting this blog five years ago. So this is a cautionary tale. Be careful what you wish for, as the saying goes, because you just might get it. So you’d better be sure you’re wishing on the right star.

If you want to live a good life, if you want to do good work and make a difference in the world, then you have to go deep. You have to explore uncomfortable questions like, “Why am I doing this?” and, “Just because I can do this, should I?” Awhile back, my friend Jonathan Fields (who, by the way, has tackled the question of what it takes to live a good life better than anyone else I know) and we talked about these very questions on his podcast. In that interview, he said,

You’ve built something. And you’re comfortable. And you’ve got a certain structure around it. You don’t want to complain to anyone else. But there’s something inside you saying, ‘something’s not right.’

Yes, that’s exactly right. That is how I felt at the end of last year and what made me so cautious to just set some more goals for the next. What I want is not just to get everything that I wanted in life. I want my life to matter. I want it to be good.

So what does it take to live the good life?

Well, there are, I think, five things that we’ll call “secrets,” but they’re kind of obvious when you think about them.

Secret #1: Life Is Not About You

“If there’s a thing I’ve learned in my life it’s to not be afraid of the responsibility that comes with caring for other people. What we do for love: those things endure. Even if the people you do them for don’t.” —Cassandra Clare

You were lied to when you were told that if you worked enough hours, got enough stuff, and followed enough rules, that you’d be okay, that you’d be happy. But now, hopefully, you know the truth: We only find fulfillment when we let go of comfort, when we risk losing everything. That’s what a really good story — and incidentally, what a really good life — is all about.

Secret 2: Passion Is Not Optional

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” —Maya Angelou

It’s not enough to simply commit to a task and do it really well for the rest of your life. You were put on this earth to do something, something specific. Until you do, you will be anxious and on-edge. Passion is what we need to have a fulfilled, whole life. It’s what takes our contributions from good to great and what makes the lives of people around us better.

Of course, passion alone won’t get you everything you want, but without it, you will die a slow, bitter death. Don’t think happiness and fulfillment are optional. They’re not.

Secret 3: When Things Get Tough, Lean In

“Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.” —Marie Curie

Just because something is hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. This might be the greatest lie facing our culture of comfort today. Here’s the truth: Anything worth doing is difficult. It will require courage and strength from you; otherwise, it’s not worth doing.

Nobody goes to the gym to feel good. They go there to sweat and scream and stretch themselves. And they leave better versions of the people that entered an hour before. If you’re going to grow, life, at times, will be hard. Get used to it. Embrace this reality, and you will be better for it.

Secret 4: Fear is your friend

“What is needed, rather than running away or controlling or suppressing or any other resistance, is understanding fear; that means, watch it, learn about it, come directly into contact with it. We are to learn about fear, not how to escape from it.” —Jiddu Krishnamurti

FDR was wrong. There are plenty of other things to fear besides fear itself. And we shouldn’t fear fear. We should embrace it as a part of life.

Fear is the flinch, telling us that we could die. It reminds us of what’s dangerous and why we’re prone to avoid pain. Fear is good. It keeps us alive, but it also keeps us compliant if we’re not careful. My rule of thumb is this: if I don’t feel afraid of doing something, then I’m probably playing it too safe. Being brave is about learning to do things afraid.

Secret 5: Values Trump Goals

“When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.” —Roy E. Disney

If you don’t know where you stand on certain issues, when an opportunity to succeed at something comes along, you’ll screw it up. I guarantee it. Who you are matters more than what you accomplish. In fact, the former influences the latter.

So take some time in figure out who you are, what matters most to you, and what you’re willing to sacrifice—and not—to achieve what you want in life.

The best way to get your life in order? Screw the goals and skip the plans. Jump straight to values, your non-negotiables for how you work, treat your loved ones, and do life. Everything else falls under this.

Sure, plans are good and goals are fine. But even Hitler had goals. The Nazis had a very well-designed plan. That’s not enough to live a good life. You have to have values, good ones, in order for your life to make a positive dent in this universe.

Here’s hoping you do (and God willing, me too).

“Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated, thus, everyone’s task is unique as his specific opportunity to implement it.” — Viktor Frankl

This post originally appeared on goinswriter.com.

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