Do You Even Really Know What You Want In Life?
Ask yourself this question: “What does wealth and success really mean to me?” If you’re like most people, the answer is probably something along the lines of a giant mansion, private jets, designer clothes, and luxury cars.
For the longest time, that’s what it meant to me too. That’s also what I thought I wanted. After all, how can you call yourself successful unless you’re sipping martinis on a 5-star resort beach in Jamaica?
What You Really Want vs. What You Think You Want
I worked harder during my first years of business than ever before. I spent every day chasing numbers and watching my income slowly rise. I sought recognition and tried to book myself onto as many of the top 100 podcasts as possible. I’d receive dozens of messages from my followers telling me how much I changed their lives. It stroked my ego, but didn’t lead to any sort of meaningful fulfillment.
“I’ll relax once it’s over,” I told myself. “Work hard now and rest later.”
I don’t know where that mindset started, but it’s prevalent throughout the business world, especially in startups. Places like Silicon Valley are known for churning workers through the grinder (so to speak) with 60+ hour workweeks until they finally burn out. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met someone who bragged about working an ungodly number of hours each week.
“Forty hours a week? Yeah, I remember my first part-time job,” one of my old colleagues once remarked.
Those comments might sound silly, but I could relate. It’s easy to fall into that mindset because, as everyone believes, more time working equals more results.
But my body was screaming for help. I knew I needed rest and time for myself. I needed about a million things that had nothing to do with business – being in nature, sitting on the porch with a good book, spending time with my loved ones, and so on.
How To Find Out What You Really Want
It’s not uncommon for young workers or entrepreneurs to feel a sense of disillusionment after a few years on the job. We all start our first day bright-eyed and thinking about all the wonderful things our future may bring. But reality often isn’t like that.
When we were younger, we all thought we were going to grow up to be pilots, astronauts, movie stars, athletes, singers, and dancers.
As we grow up, we become disillusioned and don’t pursue our dreams. We settle into our nine-to-five jobs but still dream of making it big.
For example, a Gallup poll found that about half of Americans play the state lottery and that 64% of Americans gamble. In 2017, Americans spent $73.5 billion on tickets, averaging out to $223.04 per person.
According to research from Bankrate, households earning under $30,000 spend 13% of their salary on lottery tickets. It has been found that 77% of low-income earners play the lottery every week. The same can’t be said for high earners.
Perhaps low-income earners believe that winning the lottery will make them happy, despite evidence to the contrary. In fact, many lottery winners end up losing it all and ending up worse from where they started.
So, if money isn’t the answer, what is?
Your answer will likely be different from mine. It’ll also be different than the responses from your colleagues, friends, and family members. That’s because only you can define what makes you happy.
So, where to begin?
1. Get clear on what you actually want. When’s the last time you paused for a moment to reflect on what you want for the next year? What goals do you want to achieve? Who do you want to spend time with, and what experiences would you like to have? Get specific on this.
Then, go deeper. If what you listed will bring you joy, why can’t you experience that joy right now? Why do those things bring you joy as opposed to the things you already have? What are a few ways that you can bring more of that joy into your life daily, even if it’s just by 1%?
For example, maybe you want to earn more money so you can spend more time with your family. Well, what’s stopping you from spending time with them right now? Rather than using money or busyness as an excuse, redirect your mental energy to finding small and impactful solutions that will get you a step closer to where you want to be (for example, can you designate just 30 minutes every night of family time?).
2. Practice mindfulness. Observe your thoughts objectively as if you were watching a movie. Are these thoughts serving you or making you miserable? Pay attention to self-sabotaging beliefs such as:
· “I have to take on all these clients, or I’m not legit.”
· “You must say ‘yes’ to all these projects.”
· “I’m not good enough for this job.”
· “I’ll be happy once I make enough money.”
· “There’s no way this will ever work out in my favor.”
Human beings are either driven away from pain or towards pleasure. You may find that some of what drives you towards success is more about what you don’t want to happen rather than what you truly desire.
For example, you may be overworking to prove yourself to your parents so they don’t think you’re a failure. Or, taking on clients you don’t like because you don’t want your revenue to drop.
When you take a step back and objectively watch your thoughts, you’ll be able to identify the disempowering beliefs that are holding you back from achieving success as you define it (not what others expect of you).
3. Audit Your Life Marie Kondo-style. I’ve written about using Marie Kondo’s wisdom to tidy up your own life before, but here’s the gist of it: what sparks joy and what doesn’t?
Who are the people in your life wasting your time and energy? What activities do you think are a useless waste of time? What things should you cut out, and which items should you add?
Make a list of everything you like and dislike about your current situation. Then, come up with a solution to tackle each problem.
I like to refer to the four D’s for everything: do, delegate, delete, or defer. Do the things you love. Delegate what you don’t want to do. Delete what’s unnecessary. Defer things that can wait until later.
You’ll find many creative ways to solve your issues. Hate replying to emails? Automate it with a canned response. Hate grocery shopping? Use Instacart and have your food delivered. There are dozens of creative ways to tackle your most pressing issues.
I used to have a false sense of urgency about how fast I needed to make money and become “successful.” I realized my life ended up being an endless cycle of chasing dollars instead of making time for myself.
So, I finally cut back on the things that weren’t bringing me joy – accepting calls at any hour of the day, admin tasks that could be outsourced, taking on projects that weren’t aligned with my bigger vision – and began to focus more on the things that did. I gained total autonomy over my once restless life. I was no longer working myself to the brink of exhaustion. Instead, I was making time for the most important person I know: myself.
4. Reverse Engineer Your Legacy. Start with the end in mind and think about the impact you want to leave on the world. Then, reverse engineer the actions and steps you need to take to start building that.
Rather than focusing your life force on the hours worked or checking off society’s external measures of “success,” honestly ask yourself what you’d like to create on this planet that will leave ripple effects long after you’re gone. Your legacy is how people will remember you.
This could look like a piece of art, sustainable efforts in your company, or even writing a book.
After all, a business is just a way to make money, but a legacy is something that will last far beyond your life. A legacy is something that will continue to impact future generations. It could be something as simple as a book that parents read to their children or a nationwide business on every street corner.
Imagine telling your story that will inspire thousands of people. The world is looking for authenticity, and writing a book is a powerful way to share your deepest thoughts, dreams, and desires that will lay the foundation for your legacy. Shift your focus on what actions you can take that will reach far beyond a business alone. Wealth and success come and go… but the legacy you leave behind, and with intention, will last forever.
Originally published in Forbes.