I’m writing a memoir so I read memoir. The latest: We Are the Luckiest: The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life by Laura McKowen. Near the end of the book, on page 211, Laura asks, Do you like your life now?
She may as well have slapped me upside the head. What a question! I knew that I had to give it some serious thought, and any time I do serious thinking, the end result is often a blog post.
Do you like your life now?
Well, I’m definitely grateful to be alive, and knowing that this gig called living isn’t permanent makes me more appreciative. There are many things I like about my life – good health, family and friends, a good job – but sometimes, deep down, I feel like there’s something missing.
When I stop doing and start being, I’m more aware of this. That’s when I hear the still, small voice: “You don’t have it quite right. Listen to me and have the courage to act.”
Of course, that’s usually when I shake my head and start doing again. You see, that still, small voice is disruptive, drawing attention to my (un)comfortable life, hinting at one far grander than I believe possible. However, it’s also warning me that a more fulfilling life doesn’t come without risk, challenge and change (which can be problematic).
I’ve settled into a nice life. A solid life. Granted, it’s a life where a few dreams remain largely unrealized, but it’s good, and by many standards, it’s great. But then that voice starts again, and even though I cover my ears, it’s persistent: “Nice life. Good. Comfortable. Have a glass of wine. Fill the gap.” Aaahhh…Stop talking!
Why do we settle for less? Why are we afraid to do what we could and possibly should? Why do we cope by engaging in behaviours that often undermine our health and well-being?
I certainly don’t have all the answers, but if you backed me into a corner and forced me to say one thing, it would be FEAR. Yes, fear is what keeps us living in a state of semi-consciousness, afraid to make waves or rock the boat. Fear keeps us from exploring the unknown and taking the very risks that might enhance our existence.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about living an average life. If you read it, you might think I’m contradicting myself now. Well, I’m nothing if not complex, and there are two sides to every story. I’m all for an average life. But does that come at the expense of a fulfilling life?
There are signs you’re not living life to its full potential. A few of them have played out in my own life over the years, so moving forward, when I say you, I’m also referring to me. I struggle at times like anyone. So within that context, let’s have a look at some of these signs.
You regularly wake up feeling apathetic or worse, filled with dread. The late Steve Jobs said, “For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself, ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
You feel unfulfilled. You know there’s so much to be grateful for yet you still have a sense that something is missing. It may be obvious what that is. Chances are it’s not. However, when you’re sitting quietly, alone, that niggling feeling just won’t go away.
You fantasize a lot about what you’d do if you won the lottery. Sometimes I think about what I’d do if I won enough money that I didn’t have to work again (which means quit my job), what I’d do if I had more free time. However, if you’re doing this regularly, it’s a sure sign that you’re not living true to purpose.
You’re constantly acquiring more. Bigger homes, jewelry, vehicles, art, furniture, expensive clothes. These things give a fleeting sense of satisfaction, but they will never plug the hole. They are simply pale substitutes for what you truly seek.
You’re staying in a job you dislike and that depletes your energy. My job is good but I’m not passionate about it. Sure, I could up and quit, but at this point, I don’t have a back-up plan. So unless I get to the point where I could replace my current income, here I remain. However, that’s why I’ve established boundaries around work to ensure I have time to dabble in things I’m passionate about. (Okay, who guessed writing?)
You rely on mood-altering drugs or engage in other addictive behaviours. Don’t kid yourself. The need to come home every night and drink one, two or more glasses of wine or smoke a couple of joints is not the most healthy coping mechanism. Neither is sex outside your current relationship (unless you and your partner are both into that), overeating, or any other behaviour taken to the extreme: shopping, video gaming, gambling and overusing social media to name a few. All these things are a form of escapism. At best, they dull our senses. At worst, they ruin our lives.
I often offer solutions when I tackle topics like this. Not this time. I don’t have the answers, and I don’t feel I’ve reached a point where I’m walking the talk a lot of the time. However, I can say this: I will continue making positive changes in my life and perhaps take a few more calculated risks. Maybe then, I’ll have more to say.
For now, I’ll leave you with this: You are on a hero’s journey. Your soul is calling, and if you listen, you will hear. To act, you may have to ignore your mind and ego, both of which have a vested interest in your staying just the way you are. To really live usually means stepping outside your comfort zone, facing your fears, and creating your unique path. Is it easy? Never. Is it worth it? Always. That’s the best advice I can give at this point. Now I’m going to try and follow it.
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? – Mary Oliver