Here are three important things I’ve learned about creating a life that tickles your soul.
1. The person with the most joy wins…and joy begins with inner peace. While toys are terrific -who wouldn’t enjoy a fabulous new car, house on the beach, or unlimited shopping card?- they don’t always please. Things that we think we want often fade in value once acquired. Perhaps that’s because we sometimes seek what we think we should, rather than what is personally meaningful. I remember when my management consulting company was about five years old, everyone encouraged me to expand. Add staff, increase accounts, and grow revenues was a widely accepted strategy. Except by doing so, I ended up managing a firm instead of consulting with people, which was and is what I love to do. So although the increased income allowed me to buy more toys, it didn’t buy me joy. Bigger is not always better, I learned, and doing what you love is priceless. I downsized the business to a practice of one, and have never regretted it.
If an achievement, possession, or toy brings you joy-terrific. But if it seems a bit hollow, check to see if the “cost” is too high, or if it’s something that’s not really meaningful to you. Sometimes the outer things we seek are just poor substitutes for an inner state we crave. If what you really want is love, self-respect, or validation (and who doesn’t?), you won’t find them by acquiring toys. But when you do experience the inner peace that comes from being the kind of person you aspire to be, you’ll find joy around every corner…in all the toys, experiences, beauty, and relationships that come your way.
2. Passion for life does not wear out…it fades from lack of use. If you have ever felt older than your years…a little tired, worn out, as though life is passing you by, you’re not alone. At various stages of life we hit plateaus and then the choice is ours: coast downhill or climb to a new peak. The choice involves expansion or contraction, feeling alive or shriveling up inside. If we make the effort and muster the courage to move forward in some dimension of life, we feel renewed. Energy and passion climb, and we feel fully engaged. But pass on all things new, and we get stuck in a rut of the known – smack in the middle of our comfort zone. And status quo never yields the high returns of personal growth.
Think of the last time you tried something new – learned a computer skill, visited a foreign country, went to a party alone, or just tried a new food. Even if it didn’t turn out as you expected, chances are you got a lift from taking the risk. I remember the high I felt after finally taking a hot air balloon ride. It was a glorious experience that bumped up my zest for life, and although it wasn’t a climb up Mt. Everest, it did require pushing past fear. A lesson I learned that day was that beyond the familiar- just past fear – is where life truly expands. Passion needs exercise.
3. A meaningful life is born in the soul, grown in the mind, and lived from the heart. A sense of purpose, making a difference, leaving a legacy…these are things that can evade us if we follow along with today’s busy-is-better crowd. One day blurs into another and though dancing as fast as we can, we often feel no sense of accomplishment. You’re busy, but what are you busy about? Are you keeping commitments to your self? Growing the gifts that you have been given? Being of service to others? If not, you’re probably wondering, “Is this all there is?” That’s what I was wondering during a particularly hectic time of my life when I was rushing from one speaking engagement to another, flying in and out of airports but never really visiting any of the cities. Outer success does not equal meaning, I learned. And meaning does not just plop into your lap; it is created every day –with one thought and one act – at a time.
Each day provides a myriad of ways to live more purposefully, but we’re often too busy doing to see the opportunities. Staying on purpose requires listening, I learned – not to the cacophony of our 24/7 world – but to the wisdom in our hearts. Adding the practice of meditation to my day got me off the fast train to nowhere and back on track. Writing projects long put on hold suddenly found their way into my day. Making a difference – every day, for someone in some way – has become a habit. Saying “no” to time wasters is easier when you say “yes” to inner success. Silence, focus, conscious choices. I’ve learned that these are the things that add meaning to life.