You Won’t Live Your Best Life Without This Foundation

No matter what your Instagram says about you

Larry Cornett, Ph.D.
Nov 1 · 9 min read
Photo by henry perks on Unsplash

Social media would lead to you to believe that everyone is either an angry troll or an enlightened being floating through a glowing plane of existence. An endless stream of beautiful photos confirms that those ethereal beings have achieved a lifestyle that mere mortals can only dream of obtaining.

How do you achieve this lifestyle? How can you become one of the chosen ones?

Well, you could start with a web search and read the thousands of articles about living your best life. Or, you can grab the latest self-help magazine from the supermarket checkout line. The advice is brimming with hundreds of secrets and dozens of steps you can take to create the life you desire.

The recommendations range from the oracular (e.g., Practice sacred self-love) to the mundane (e.g., Declutter your desk). One article I read had 101 tips to help you live your life to the fullest.

Wow. I can’t keep all of that in my head as I go about my day.

It’s a little overwhelming. It leads you to believe that there is no way you will achieve a decent life without painfully making your way through that massive list of tasks.

Oh well. I’m tired. I guess I’ll live my worst life for the time being.

First-principles thinking

It’s a mistake to copy surface-level behavior and habits from other successful people.

  • Well, he gets up at 4 AM every day, and that’s why he’s so productive and successful!
  • She meditates for an hour every evening. That’s her secret to happiness!
  • Aha! The most popular people on Instagram drink green smoothies for breakfast. That must be why they have all of that energy and get so much done!”

What works for others won’t necessarily work for you. Heck, what you see them doing doesn’t mean that’s why they are happy and prosperous. On that note, you don’t know if they indeed are full of joy and success.

Forget all of that and focus on the fundamentals of who you are and what you want for your life, not who think you should be or what you think a “good life” means based on watching others.

Instead, engage in first-principles thinking. Break the complex, nebulous goal of “living your best life” down into its fundamental elements. Tim Urban provides a great example of what it means to work from first principles vs. replicating what someone else has done.

“The chef reasons from first principles, and for the chef, the first principles are raw edible ingredients. Those are her puzzle pieces, her building blocks, and she works her way upwards from there, using her experience, her instincts, and her taste buds. The cook works off of some version of what’s already out there — a recipe of some kind, a meal she tried and liked, a dish she watched someone else make.” — Tim Urban

Be a chef instead of a cook. Don’t try to replicate a “recipe for life” from some famous person. Construct your life around these five building blocks, and the rest will fall into place.

  1. Confidence
  2. Courage
  3. Control
  4. Independence
  5. Freedom


Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash

I’m not talking about a bullshit veneer of false bravado. My recommendation here isn’t to “fake it until you make it.”

Living your best life requires real confidence. The confidence that comes when you are fully secure in who you are, your talents and skills, and what you can do. The self-confidence you achieve when you have banished your impostor syndrome by identifying your core truths.

Self-awareness, competence, and belief in yourself all help build your confidence.

This fundamental building block serves you well at work, in relationships, and for your life in general. People with deep, authentic self-confidence achieve more in life.


It’s one thing to have confidence in yourself and your abilities. It is quite another to have the courage to act and pursue the path that you want. It requires estimating risks, facing fear, and overcoming obstacles.

Rarely in life will opportunities present themselves with a 100% certainty of success. You can have complete confidence in yourself and your abilities, but you don’t control others, situations, or the odds. Failure is always a risk.

Living your best life, especially if you have big goals in mind, will require courage. Perhaps courage is more about understanding risk and being willing to accept a higher level of risk than most people who only want to proceed when they have a “sure thing” with a guaranteed outcome.

Courage is proceeding when you know that there are risks.

Of course, you should always do your best to stack the odds in your favor. Building up your skills, knowledge, and connections boost your confidence and your likelihood of success.

However, nothing will ever be a sure thing. At some point, you need the courage to take a leap of faith and go for it.

Having a plan has certainly helped give me courage when I needed to make big decisions and take action. But, more than that, having backup plans increased my level of courage because I knew that there would still be ways for me to rise from the potential ashes of failure.

Phoenix from the Ashes


You could wing it, but you’re more likely to live your best life if you have a vision for what that means. Not just a vision but a plan. Even better than a plan? A system of habits.

Building good habits and eliminating bad ones requires control. So, when I talk about “control,” I’m not talking about controlling others or their behavior. I’m talking about self-control, controlling your impulses, and controlling the environment around you.

“One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself.” ― Leonardo da Vinci

One of the greatest powers is to have the fundamental ability to control yourself, your actions, your behavior, how you react to situations, and your emotions.

Photo by Filbert Mangundap on Unsplash

You know what you need to do every day, despite the chaos around you. Nothing that anyone says can make you doubt yourself.

However, I also mean taking control of your life and how you spend your days. It is challenging to live your best life if someone else controls you and your time.


I don’t think that it’s possible to live your best life if you are under the control of someone else or fully-dependent on their approval for your success. Real independence only comes when you don’t need a specific job. You can choose to work for a company or decide to work for clients and customers, but you aren’t forced to do so.

You’re also independent in your personal life when you don’t need someone else. You may enjoy the company of others. You may love being in a relationship with someone special. But, you are not dependent on someone else for your happiness.

Claiming your independence keeps you from acting desperate and making terrible decisions.

Defending your independence prevents you from staying in a miserable job working for a horrible boss.

Independent people don’t stay in crappy relationships because they are afraid of being alone.

A great life requires a foundation of independence. From that solid base, you get to choose with whom you spend time, for whom you work, and with whom you will build a life.


Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

Sometimes people use the words independence and freedom interchangeably. They are not the same; any more than confidence and courage are the same. You may be completely independent, yet still not have the freedom to live your life the way that you genuinely want.

You could become independent by quitting your job, leaving your worldly possessions behind, and living in a box under a bridge. But, the absence of financial security now means that you’ve lost your freedom to live in any manner that you choose.

You won’t be safe or comfortable. You won’t be healthy (for long). You certainly won’t have a delightful life.

Freedom is the absence of constraints in your choices or actions. A miserable job may provide you with financial security. But, it also might place numerous limitations on how you live your life, thus considerably restricting your freedom. But the lack of money can put an entirely different set of constraints on your life and also limit your freedom.

The secret, then, is in choosing how and when different aspects of your freedom are impacted by the ways you decide to provide for yourself financially. Many of us were raised with a very narrow viewpoint on how to make these tradeoffs.

I know that I was.

It was only when I freed myself of those preconceived notions that I was able to reclaim the freedoms that were most important to me. I am now able to live my life in a way that has made me much happier and more fulfilled.

It’s about having options

Photo by Letizia Bordoni on Unsplash

You’ll notice that these five requirements for enjoying your best life are interdependent. They create a virtuous cycle and build on each other.

When you have a solid foundation of confidence, courage, control, independence, and freedom, you will always have options in your life. Having options means that you never feel stuck.

You don’t feel stuck in a job. You don’t feel stuck in a relationship. You don’t feel stuck living somewhere when you’d rather be living somewhere else.

You create options. You know that you can always move on to a better job or a more fulfilling relationship if things aren’t working out. It’s powerful to be in that position.

When you are confident, you know you will have options. When you have options, it makes you feel more confident.

It also makes you feel independent when you know that you have a multitude of choices for your path forward. And, when you feel independent and free to pursue almost anything, your mind is open to even more opportunities.

There’s that virtuous cycle again.

The alternative sucks

I don’t know how you can live your best, most fulfilling life if you aren’t confident, independent, and know that you have options.

People who lack self-confidence will always be challenged to land the best jobs, get promoted, and get paid what they are worth. They will struggle with dating and being in a healthy relationship. It isn’t right, but people who lack self-confidence often experience others taking advantage of them.

Those who desperately cling to a job, or other people, are never going to be in a position of power. Desperation forces them to put up with crap at work that they shouldn’t allow. It enables a power dynamic in relationships that will only end in unhappiness.

When someone is in this situation, they are existing, but they are not thriving. They are not living the life that they desire and deserve.

There is no magic pill

There is no easy solution that will help you miraculously acquire confidence and independence. No one is riding in on a white horse to dump a magical life or a successful career in your lap.

Living your best life starts from within. There are steps that you can take to build your confidence. But, they need to be things that fundamentally develop you as a person.

Invest in your health, wellness, knowledge, skills, and experiences. Ignore the false trappings of success. Don’t get sucked into buying expensive clothing, accessories, cars, and other distracting “toys.”

Courage doesn’t mean that you should be reckless. It requires being informed about risks and rationally deciding when you will still charge forward to get what you want.

Take control of yourself and your life. Fiercely defend your independence. Boldly claim your freedom.

Living your best life starts when you decide that you will settle for nothing less.

Read more of the free career advice that I share with over 1,500 smart job seekers every week. Check out my leadership and career coaching at Brilliant Forge.

Larry Cornett is a Leadership Coach and Career Advisor. He lives in Northern California near Lake Tahoe with his wife and children, a Great Dane, a chicken, and a stubborn old cat. He shares advice that helps you become an opportunity magnet, so the best things in life come to you! You can also find him on Twitter and Instagram @cornett.

Invincible Career

Invincible Career® stories that help you become an opportunity magnet so the best things in life come to you!

Larry Cornett, Ph.D.

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I help you become an opportunity magnet so the best things in life come to you! | Fast Company

Invincible Career

Invincible Career® stories that help you become an opportunity magnet so the best things in life come to you!

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