With the dawning of a new year, many of us are in the throes of taking stock of our lives by reflecting on the highs and lows of the last year, and trying to implement grand plans, or as we like to call them, resolutions, to try and change things we don’t like in our lives. For example, I have noticed the same trend year after year at the gym I go to. Folks sign up in droves for a gym membership at the beginning of the year, determined to lose weight and get in shape. Yet after a month or so the crowds thin out, and I see mostly the familiar faces of the “regulars”. People desperately want to change bad habits, but after trying for awhile, they often give up.
Another trend I have noticed in myself and others is what I call “destiny malaise”. Destiny malaise is a condition that can creep up on us even when we have a safe and secure job that pays the bills, offers opportunity for promotion, and a pension at retirement. Yet, instead of being fulfilled, free, and joyful, we have this underlying feeling that we are going through the motions and not living out the purpose for which we have been placed on planet earth. When we slow down and listen to our hearts, there is this nagging sense that there must be more to life, and we long to make a difference in the world. For others, destiny malaise comes from feeling stuck in a job that they hate or that is not what they are passionate about. (This is not to say that we can’t find joy or purpose in the mundane tasks of life.) It occurs when we settle for less than we should; when we buy into a false bill of goods about what it means to be successful.
Living with a sense of significance, the awareness that what we are doing is making a difference, and being true to ourselves – these are much better indicators of success. The two questions that I keep coming back to at the beginning of every year are: Do people actually change? If so, how do people change? With these seminal questions in mind, I would like to do a three part blog on: How we might actually bring about lasting change in our lives.
The first step to change is learning to live from the heart. Unless we get in touch with who we really are, and what we really want, we will lack the passion, gumption, and motivation to change. Many of us are living life trying to satisfy the inner voices of the “ought self”. The ought self is what we feel obligated to be, or what other people think or have told us we should be. I have talked to people who really wanted to be artists, and yet are living under obligation to their parents, who told them that they had to pursue a career as a doctor or engineer, so that they could make a good living. Now there is nothing wrong with being a doctor or engineer if that is what you are passionate about, and if you feel like you are making a difference in the world. The issue is not what vocation you choose, but whether you are being true to who you are and living with a sense of significance. I admire accountants, but if I tried to be an accountant I would be miserable!
Don’t let the opinion or agendas of others define who you should be. I believe that some of our struggle to change unhealthy habits is connected to living life without purpose or passion. We then anesthetize our pain or relieve our boredom/malaise with addictions to food, sex, other drugs, and activities that provide an escape or ramp up the adrenaline! These habits dull our ability to hear the inner voice in our heart calling us to more. If we don’t live from the heart we die a little each day. The book of Proverbs puts it this way, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is the tree of life.”
Os Guiness says it this way, “Our passion is to know we are fulfilling the purpose for which we are on earth. All the standards of success – wealth, power, knowledge, position, fame – grow tiny and hollow if we do not satisfy this deeper inner longing!”
Here are some questions and a reflection excercise to help you listen to your heart:
1. What would you keep on doing even if you weren’t paid for it?
2. When have you felt the most alive?
3. What kind of job would make you want to get out of bed each day with energy and desire?
4. What is your purpose for being on earth and how would you like to make a difference in the world?
5. Where are you in bondage to the “ought self” – trying to be what someone else thinks you should be, or, where are you held back by the fear of what other people think of you?
6. Try this reflection exercise each day as a tool to learn to listen to your heart. Ask and be attentive to these two questions: What made me happy today or what gave me life? What made me sad today or was a life drainer? The life giving experiences are clues to living from the heart, and the life draining experiences may be clues to what you need to avoid or where you are not living from the heart.
7. Ask those who know you well what you are good at and then do more of that!
I close with this quote from Steve Jobs, which sums up what it means to follow your heart: “When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like, ‘If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.’ Since then…I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself, ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I 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. Your time is limited…Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”