It’s very easy to just let life slide by, if it’s not quite what you want, you just hang in there and hope the next year will be better. Or the one after that.
But I’ve seen some of the people I love, friends and family, sort of slip — especially during their 30s and 40s — into a ‘fine’ way of life. They’re talking about marriages and buying houses and claiming the next rung up on jobs they hate but pay well.
On the outside things seem to be going well, to be progressing — but there’s always something missing — there’s a giant ‘joy-shaped’ hole in their lives. Right now, a gang of eight year olds passed by the porch where I am writing and one girl announced — in a decibel usually reserved for screaming at tigers, ‘I BOUGHT A YOYO!’ The other kids were very interested in this development. ‘You bought a yoyo?’ They then passed on down the sidewalk and out of hearing distance.
I don’t really care who my loved ones marry or how big their houses are or even where they work. I just want them to do it with the conviction and enthusiasm of ‘I BOUGHT A YOYO!’ As if nothing on Earth could part them from their passionate and heartfelt destiny of yoyo ownership.
But in certain friends and family members, I’ve seen very little passion and love in some of these couplings. ‘Meh’ is the general emotion I would say. There were exceptions of course.
The jobs are worse, where interesting and fascinating possibilities give way over the years to those ‘golden handcuffs’ linking you to the career you can’t stand.
My sister and I were talking about how these awesome, amazing, beautiful souls seemed to get off track and let their lives slide don’t into ‘good enough’. Of course Sarah and I are still working and figuring out our lives too, but we love each day and have made some big leaps forward in the past few years.
And we thought of three things that really help keep your life on track and you moving toward the world of our dreams.
The prerequisite is to spend some time really thinking about what you want, what your ideal life is. Recently we’ve been thinking about the us from ten years into the future — what will we be doing each day, what will we look like, feel like, how well will we handle challenges when they come up.
I recently looked back at photos from ten years ago and — even though I’m not a full time writer or in New Zealand yet — I think the me of thirty would be really surprised and pleased at how fit and healthy I am, how much I’ve written, and the fact that I’m sitting in Oregon writing this.
So you really want to take a few days and spend some time planning your best possible life — and be sure to make your dreams big and bold.
Plan how to make your life ever-better
Once you start really thinking about the future, you want to start making concrete plans toward self improvement to get there. One improvement method talks about a wheel, divided into seven sections —
Then you rate each area on a 1-10 scale, then you can make plans for each area, paying especial attention to the area you rated lower. The idea is that your life will be smoother, like a wheel rolling along easily, if each side is pretty equal and full. If six sides of your wheel are good but your physical (health and energy) side is a 2, that might affect everything else, from family to career.
Much like watching children grow up, seeing your goals and plans develop and succeed creates a positive framework for the passing of time. Instead of wondering where your thirties went, you can point to all the growth and improvement in your life over that time.
But you can’t just write down ‘Some kinda promotion,’ or ‘Get a date,’ and expect your life to become marvelous. That may be (mentally) what you’re doing now. You’ll have to work hard, of course, but you also need to pick specific goals that — once accomplished — will make your life markedly better, will move you into a whole new realm of possibilities.
Choose the goal to want to achieve, not the goal you think you can accomplish
I used to pick the goal I thought I could do and then maybe pick one a little bit tougher. A stretch goal. But joining the Pete Buttigieg campaign this January turned me on to a whole new way of thinking. Audacity was one of our watch-words. So was boldness.
What if you picked the big exciting, perfect-life goal — and then figured out how to make that part of your life? What if even if you came up short you accomplished more that you ever planned to? What if you pushed yourself outside your comfort zone and discovered your limits were unknown?
Basically, dream big. Don’t pick goals that are comfortable, or you know people can easily do, or won’t disrupt your life too much. You want your life disrupted!
And you want to do it NOW. I know someone who’s been thinking about quitting their job for seven years — quit the job! I know people who seem to be settling in so many ways — stop settling. I know wonderful, beautiful people who I no longer recognize because they’ve broken themselves into so many small pieces to fit into the small world they’ve built for themselves — break free, rebuild!
I think the worst thing would be to arrive at death and realize you’ve lived a compromised life. What were you put on Earth to do? Find out what that is! Write that down. And make a plan to start accomplishing it today.
Enjoy each day
As important as having big plans and accomplishing them is, the most important thing is finding joy in each day. Obviously there are whole books written about that topic but here’s a few things that I mean in this context —
- Do you wake up looking forward to the day? You don’t have to love every part of every day but I think you should generally wake up excited and thinking positively about what the day will bring.
- Take pleasure in things. Tea. The weather. A comfy bed. A warm bath. Reading a favorite book. Writing what will become someone else’s favorite book. Especially reveling in things that are actually good for you and positive to have in your life. The more things you enjoy, the more enjoyable your day is — easy, right?
- Apply order to your life. Have a morning routine and an evening one. Write a daily list including making your bed, brushing your teeth, and taking a walk. And work on minimizing your possessions and being responsible with your bank account.
- Say no to bad. If you have people, pets, entertainment, etc. that make you constantly unhappy, think about removing them from your life. Don’t just make yourself miserable for years and years. In the same way, start to think about how you feel after eating that fast food, going to that party etc.
- Remove, remove, remove. Related to the last two. If your life feels out of control, eliminating things really helps. You can get down to only seeing a couple of friends, owning a minimum of things, going out to shop or socialize only rarely (and cut out TV, games, news etc. as needed). And you’ll find you have a lot more time for things you really enjoy — baking, reading, cycling, or starting that epic flower bed. If life is overwhelming, the easiest way to add joy is to subtract everything that doesn’t bring you joy.
I know most people say they are pretty happy (8 on a 10 scale). And so maybe these friends and family members are doing fine. But I refuse to believe that ‘fine’ is good enough.
You shouldn’t settle because you’re confused, or behind everyone else on the road to success, or have had a few letdowns. I’ve been there. But I’ve kept fighting for the beautiful life I envision ahead of me, and keep enjoying the Oregon mountains I have surrounding me.
There is never a ‘too late’.
But there is certainly a too ‘fine’.
Your life is so beautiful and full of potential and it’s time you woke up to that fact.
Plan for greatness. Reach high. And enjoy the beauty of today.