Three Steps to a Meaningful Life — Today
If one thing characterised my mid-40’s, it’s this question, “Why am I doing this?”
Sooner or later, we all arrive at this question, and many of us struggle with the answer. I remember exactly how it felt at its most acute. My job sucked the life out of me, and the money I received for worshipping at the altar of ‘busy-work’ had lost its sheen long ago. Very little of it was mine to keep, anyway.
On the surface, my views were wholly unjustified. I had a great employer, a wonderful family, and I knew my life was better than most.
All the signs suggested things were going well, but there was still a deep sense of something 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 easy 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…
Well, there’s no escape plan, here, I’m afraid. Because maybe you don’t need an escape plan at all. Maybe you’re simply looking at this all wrong.
So instead, I’m going to describe three ideas to you that will reframe this problem.
As you’ll see, you can create a meaningful life right where you are — today.
This Moment is your Destiny
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 27 years 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 shaped and moulded my beliefs, habits and outcomes.
One such person was an amazing entrepreneur called Catherine Raines.
I met Catherine via Instagram about six months ago, and I’ve enjoyed her daily dose of wisdom and insights ever since. But it was a recent interview she did with another friend, Steph Crowder, which 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 the 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!
More surprises followed, for 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.
Don’t confuse this approach with believing everything will be fine once you’ve accepted your lot in life, or when you have a vision board on your fridge.
But conversely, don’t go through your life thinking the only way to get what you want is to be perpetually dissatisfied with it, 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 the life you want.
That leads nicely into the second phase of living a meaningful life.
You can’t stay here, 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 any 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.
It’s all pretty simple, really.
There’s an old chestnut that says, “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. Our job as intelligent human beings is to be cognizant of our preferred direction, to manage our thoughts, beliefs and actions, and most of all, to course-correct throughout our lives.
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 paradoxical 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.
Like it or not, you are impacting the world. 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 happiness, obtaining 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.
And it’s recognising you need only step forward deliberately, peacefully and authentically towards a life of meaning, striving and purpose — doing something that matters to you.
It’s as beautiful and simple as that.
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Disclaimer & Disclosure: I’m not a psychologist, and I’m not a financial advisor’s elbow. This material doesn’t constitute financial advice but rather a collection of personal opinions, based on my own experiences. Some of the links on my site are affiliate links, which means that if you make a purchase, I will earn a small commission. This commission comes at no additional cost to you. I provide links to services or products I have used and liked or researched and recommend. Please do not spend any money on these products unless you believe they will be beneficial to you
Originally published at Midlife Tribe — Midlife Mastery for Trailblazers.