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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Lead a Life That's Fulfilling, Not Filling

Many of us are dissatisfied with our lives, but have no idea how to change.  Many of us, too, have no idea that we are dissatisfied, but we wake up lethargically, plod through the day, plop ourselves on our couch after doing the mandatory dinner, and fade off to a restless sleep.  We don’t live: we exist.

Of course some of us are driven.  We work hard and long. We strive for material acquisitions – the markers of success.  But they are markers only for external observers.  Inside, we still plod, intent on achieving and acquiring, but not knowing what our target or where our finish line is.  Indeed, the finish line keeps moving, and we are forced to continue the marathon of hopelessness.

It is not reaching the pinnacle that creates dissatisfaction: it is not knowing that we have reached our pinnacle, or, worse, that we are climbing the wrong mountain.

When I was twenty-two, I married for the first time.  For the three years that the marriage lasted, I climbed four rungs in the corporate ladder, built my own house, purchased new vehicles, new RV, new furniture, and so on.  I started my own business, while still working full time.  I went to night school to obtain a diploma in Business Administration.  All this, to prove to my father-in-law and myself that I could be a success, beyond what he had achieved.  And, all that, simply because he had the lack of class to tell his daughter that she could do better, that I would not amount to anything. 

So, I succeeded, financially and materially well beyond what he ever achieved, in less than four years.  But, more importantly, I failed myself, and I failed my wife.  Material success meant no time for any social interaction or family time.  In the end, I learned that money really meant nothing to me, and that the milestones and markers that others set for me were worthless and insignificant.  I needed to find my own route to becoming a whole “me.”  That learning process did not come quickly, cheaply or easily.  It has taken a lifetime, but it has been the most valuable (make that invaluable) acquisition that I could have made.

It is simple, yet difficult to discover and implement the strategies that are most fulfilling in one’s life.  There is a huge difference between fulfilling and filling.  Like an obese man gorging on food, we can fill ourselves and still not feel fulfilled.  Mountains of toys, gadgets and luxurious material possessions can fill our lives, but create a void inside us.  How we define fulfilling may vary, but it rarely is defined by measurable, visible markers.

I live a minimal lifestyle, by choice.  Having built multi-million dollars businesses, I have achieved.  Having hit rock-bottom financially, I have failed.  At the same time, when I owned those successful businesses, I was a failure, and when I had no money, I was a success.  The difference is that, by allowing external forces to determine what we see as success, we give away control of our lives.  When we willingly live a Spartan lifestyle, we may (but not always) take back that control, and that feels like success to me! 

Locus of control: internal versus external.  Pop psychology often defines one as the willingness to blame and give credit to outside forces for events in our lives, from Satan to God, from other people to events themselves controlling us.  Pop psychology defines internal loci of control as taking credit and blame for every thing that impacts on us, from the way we respond to the world to the way our behaviours, in turn, control the world outside. 

How ludicrous is it to suggest that Satan made me kill someone, while God made my favourite team win the big game?  If we believe our religious teachings, we have free choice, so to blame or give credit to God, Allah or the devil is preposterous.  Similarly, to suggest that, because I did something that I shouldn’t have done at work, my wife or child became ill suggests that I overinflate my own significance and power.  In truth, balance in belief is necessary.  We – all of us -- need to see ourselves and the world more dispassionately, and acknowledge that, at times, we control events, and at others, events occur regardless of our impact. 

The very first step in achieving a greater level of true satisfaction in our lives is to recognize that, when it comes to measures of success and greatness, it should not be what others think or see about us that matters, but we see in and think about ourselves that counts.  However, that inner assessment needs to be tempered by understanding that we are a part of, not the centre of the world around us, and that we have a role to play in the outside world, while it has a role to play inside us.  We need balance, and we need to establish equilibrium between internal and external loci of control.

The next step in achieving an enhanced level of true satisfaction is to separate what is needed in our lives, from what is wanted.  That, for most of us, is the hardest step.

Yes, I live a minimalist lifestyle, and drive an eco-friendly Prius.  Yet, I do not begrudge those that drive Hummers and own lavish homes.  Each chooses his own route.  But to own the Hummer because others will think you to be successful is as equally weak-kneed as living as a minimalist because all your friends think better of you for it.  Those choices should be a matter of internal reflection.

In my book, The Last Drop Of Living, I described the steps to living simply.  The methodology by which we de-clutter our living space, enjoy less more fully and simplify the world around us can be applied effectively to increasing our satisfaction levels in life.  It may not be tough, but it likely will be challenging; like giving up all sweets in your diet. However, the key and inaugural step in reaching that level of comfort in your life is straightforward.  Recognize and acknowledge that you can take control of how you see life and the world, while also accepting that many aspects of the world cannot be altered by you. Tackle the areas that are important to your feeling of wholeness, and refuse to be channelled by those outside forces that should not impact on you.  Accept responsibility and gain freedom in the process.

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