Are you happy with the life you’re living? Is it the life you’ve intentionally chosen and built for yourself, or are you following a path you just fell into–or one chosen for you by other influences? What keeps us from living our own lives? As we kick off the new year, maybe it’s a good time to think about the big picture before we start setting goals. (Note: Scroll down in this post for announcements of a couple of fast-approaching events you might want to know about!)
Our own authentic life–how do we get from here to there?
In episode 70 of The Productive Woman, we closed out last year by talking about the process of a year-end review and setting ourselves up for a new year. I want to continue that planning by looking at the bigger picture and the goals we set — the choices we make and what we focus our time and energy on.
After I’d already started working on this episode and had outlined most of the key points I wanted to make, I “happened” to start reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, and I was struck by how much of what she says in this book resonates with what I wanted to say about this topic. Throughout this episode, I shared some of Elizabeth’s thoughts from the book that I found very relevant to this whole question of what keeps us living an authentic life.
(For those who don’t know, Elizabeth is the author of Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia which was turned into a movie starring Julia Roberts.)
Are you happy with your life?
Some questions I want you to ask yourself as you start this new year are:
- Is the life you’re living the life you want?
- If not, whose expectations are you trying to meet instead of your own?
- Whose life are you living?
There’s a popular trope in movies or books of characters following a career path because of what their parents want them to do, and it’s not the life they want. If you find yourself in a similar situation or in a life you don’t feel you’re controlling, why are you living your life this way? Is it because you’ve been doing it so long, you can’t imagine it any other way? Or are you so busy you can’t think about what you really want or what you want to change?
I’ve talked in past episodes about the habit of filling every minute as a way to isolate ourselves from thinking about the things that bother us. See episode 17, for example.
What keeps us from living our own lives?
There are a few reasons we could be living a life that’s not reflective of our authentic selves. Maybe it’s fear–fear of what others may think, or fear of failure. Maybe it’s uncertainty, or maybe (as we’ve discussed before) we’ve unknowingly bought the lie that we don’t deserve the life we dream of.
Fear of what other people might think
As for the first, the fact is that if we change our life to fit someone else’s view of what our life should be, it won’t be good for us, and it probably won’t benefit them either. Somehow we have to find the strength to be our true self, and stop worrying about what other people think of us. It’s been said by various wise thinkers that what others think of you is none of your business.
Let people have their opinions. More than that — let people be in love with their opinions just as you and I are in love with ours. But never delude yourself into believing that you require someone else’s blessing (or even their comprehension) in order to make your own creative work. And always remember that people’s judgments about you are none of your business. Lastly, remember what W.C. Fields had to say on this point: ‘It ain’t what they call you; it’s what you answer to.’” — Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic
You don’t have to answer to the names or labels people give you. You can choose your own name. You also don’t have to drop your friends and family because they don’t agree with your dreams, but you don’t have to let them define you, either.
Fear of Failure
We’re talked about fear of failure before, like in episode 6. The question we ask ourselves when we’re alone and pondering these things is, “What if I try to live the life I really want, but I can’t do it?” This creates a barrier to living the life you want.
Your fear will always be triggered by your creativity, because creativity asks you to enter realms of uncertain outcome, and fear hates uncertain outcome. Your fear—programmed by evolution to be hyper vigilant and insanely overprotective—will always assume that any uncertain outcome is destined to end in bloody, horrible death.” — Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic
Maybe we’re not sure what we really want. Or maybe we know what we want to do, but we don’t know how or where to start. Or we need coaching or more education to get the skills and information to do the things we want to do and the things that matter. (I’ll talk about that in episode 72.)
We don’t think we deserve the life we long for
Sadly, sometimes what keeps us from creating the live we dream of is that we just don’t think we deserve it. We’ve talked about this and other lies we tell ourselves in episode 68. Maybe we’re punishing ourselves for past mistakes or bad choices. Maybe we don’t think we’ve earned it (check out episode 63 about Imposter Syndrome). People we respect may have told us we’re not entitled or deserve the change to live our own authentic lives. But you DO deserve that!You deserve the chance to create a life that has meaning for you.Click To Tweet
Elizabeth Gilbert seems to agree. In Big Magic she encourages us to develop a “fierce sense of personal entitlement” — not the idea that the world owes us anything, but that we have a right to be here, on this planet, and to pursue our dreams. I so agreed with what she said in one chapter:
. . . you will never be able to create anything interesting out of your life if you don’t believe that you’re entitled to at least try. Creative entitlement doesn’t mean behaving like a princess, or acting as though the world owes you anything whatsoever. No, creative entitlement simply means believing that you are allowed to be here, and that — merely by being here — you are allowed to have a voice and a vision of your own.”
What do we do about it?
So if we realize, or suspect, that the life we’re living isn’t the result of our own intentional thought, what should we do? How can we figure out what we want our lives to look like, and then start creating it?
The first step is to decide to take action, and the first action is to determine if any action (any change) is needed.
- Is there a need to change?
- Are you content and happy?
Take time to think about these questions and the others I mention below and in the episode. There’s more to life than just making it through from one day to the next, unaware and without thought.
Find a safe space to really think deeply. It all starts with getting to know yourself.
- What do you really want?
- Who do you want to be?
- What do you want your days, weeks, or months to look like?
- If money were no object, nobody would get mad, and you could not fail, what would you do?
Spend some time journaling about your life and how you feel about the direction it’s going. Some possible journaling tools include:
- Day One — Apple only; this is the one I use
- Penzu — free or paid subscription
- Pretty journal and good pen or a cheap spiral-bound notebook if a fancy one intimidates you.
Don’t let yourself be overwhelmed or intimidated by this journaling process. It’s not about creating literature; it’s about day-dreaming and envisioning the life as you would like it.
Something to try:
Write a journal entry as if it were from the future, where you’ve achieved your goals. How do you feel about it? What have you accomplished? This can give you insight into what you really want, and perhaps some steps to take to get it.
Get a second opinion
Sometimes we’re too close to the trees to see the forest. Maybe talking it through with someone else will help you get clarity. Confide in a trusted friend or a counselor who can ask insightful questions and guide you through the process of thinking about this.
Take a good look at where you are today
Start by making an honest assessment of how you actually live your life. What you spend your time and money on are what you value most. How would you like to spend your time and money?
One article I read put it like this: “If you feel like you’re not really living your life, ask yourself this: What would it take to reach escape velocity to break orbit from the gravitational pull of your established life? It’s never too late to live your own life. It’s better to fail at living your life than to succeed at living someone else’s.”
There’s also a social media meme that recently was traveling around Facebook encouraging us to (1) Make a list of things that make you happy; (2) make a list of things you do every day; (3) compare the lists; and (4) adjust accordingly.
Whose influences brought you to where or who you are today? Are they really being served by you living the life they designed for you? How would they be better served if you lived your own authentic life?
Whose permission do you think you need to live that life? Seek those who support you and what you care about.
If you’re worried about what other people will think if you try to make changes, just remember that we can’t control what people think of us, but we can control our responses.
On The Life Coach School Podcast, host and master life coach Brooke Castillo continually reminds her listeners that our circumstances (e.g., other people) are never the problem; it’s what we think about them that creates the problem, because our thoughts create feelings or emotions. So what other people think of you really isn’t the problem—it’s what you think about what they think of you, and how you feel about what you think. Can you let that go?
Please note: I’m not saying you should disregard the feelings of people you love. Nor should you have to dump people or hurt people to get what you want. Serving and showing love to the people I care about is a part of my life, as it may also be part of yours, but sometimes we have to ask if giving them what they think they want is really serving them.
If it’s fear that’s holding you back, ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Journal about it. Write a letter to your fears and work through that process. Put your rational mind to work in dealing with fears. We may think we’re cowards because we’re scared and change can be frightening, but sometimes we have to do it scared. That’s what courage means.
Be honest with yourself. Journal about these things or discuss them with a counselor or coach.
Why does this matter?
You can make your greatest contribution to the world only when you’re truly being yourself, using your unique mix of gifts and talents.
Productivity, to me, is not about crossing stuff off the checklist. The truly productive woman is someone who manages her life in such a way as to maximize her positive impact on her world. You can’t do that until you acknowledge the choice is yours and no one else’s.
Own your choices, even if that choice includes deferring certain pursuits while you’re in a stage of life when you’re looking out for others who need you, and know you’ll pursue that dream in your own time.
Living your own life isn’t about putting your needs above anyone else’s, for many of us, being nurturers and caregivers, is a big part of who we are as women. This doesn’t mean dumping the people we love, but embracing whoever you are and what matters most to you. But if you’re doing things as part of nurturing, do it with joy as a choice you’ve made and not as a burden.
As you think through this process, if there’s a disconnect between the life you’re living and your ideal life, be aware of that and map out a route to get from here to there and take one step at a time, starting today. It might include enlisting getting the help and support of those you love.
What do you think?
Are you happy with the life you’re living? Or are you living the life others think you should be living? I’d love for you to share your experiences, comments, and suggestions in our comments section, on the Facebook page, via email, or leave a voice message on the website. I would love to hear from you.
- Want a chance to talk with me and get your productivity questions answered live? On Wednesday, January 13, 2016, at 7 p.m. Central, I’ll be celebrating Fan Appreciation Day by hosting a live Q&A on Blab.
- Round two of the International Productivity Panel. Priscille Livenais of ProductivYou (France), Julie Sheranosher of Time Hackers (Israel), and I will reunite for another discussion about our best recommendations for getting the new year off to the best possible start and keeping the momentum going. Join us on Sunday, January 17, 2016, at 10:30 a.m. Central.
You can also follow me on Blab to get notifications for when I host or participate in Blabs in the future.
One last (time sensitive) note:
Listener Jennifer Ramsey, who operates a business in Australia called Demand for Brand, is hosting a 7-Day Goal Setting Challenge that will involve daily coaching and encouragement. It starts on January 11, so if you see this in time, click on the link and check it out.
Something to inspire your thinking:Click here to discover my favorite apps!
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