Last year, my life was way out of whack.
I was not living with intention. I was not feeling fulfilled. I was not living my best life. I had to make a change.
I was at a natural inflection point — I’d recently finished a three-year evening/weekend MBA, and still had more questions than answers. I didn’t know what to do next, but I knew I could no longer do what I was doing.
I took the first step. I quit my cushy, high-paying job. I’d sworn I’d do this a few times before, but this time felt different. I knew it was for good.
I was lost
To rediscover my core self, I reoriented my life around my health. From earlier missteps, I knew I had to pay attention to all my needs —my emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual health.
I went back to my 10 daily habits. I started running at least 15 miles per week. I began seeing a therapist every week. I got back in touch with friends I’d been ignoring. I cooked every day from scratch.
The biggest improvement came from increasing my reading. I set an ambitious goal to read a book every week this year, 52 books in all. (I read maybe 5 books in 2019).
I’ve distilled the learnings into these 4 secrets to live your best life.
1. Live for the journey, not the destination.
Most of us fall into a pattern in life where we start to take the easy path. We stop stretching ourselves. We get comfortable.
Occasionally, we’ll take a step back and tell ourselves to push harder. But we don’t always think enough about exactly what we’re trying to achieve. More money? More power? More fame?
We end up chasing someone else’s idea of success. We get a graduate degree. We buy a home. We set a goal to become a millionaire. Or go for that big promotion. Maybe we become an entrepreneur.
We typically choose a path that has been carved out by many other people, perhaps believing that such a path will surely go somewhere nice. We’re often disappointed.
There’s another, bigger downside to doing this. I only realized this recently. The risk is that we won’t learn the things that we uniquely need to learn to conquer our next obstacle. In other words, the risk of taking the well-trodden path is that we will not become the person that we must become.
We trade short term pleasure for long run fulfillment. And, given the competitive world we live in these days, we will not get as far as the person who’s constantly challenging herself and facing her fears. In our quest to minimize downside, we’ll never conquer our highest peak.
If the goal is to maximize our individual gains from the ascent up the hill — to maximize our learnings from the journey, then the right answer is to carve our own path. This is the only way to have the journey we uniquely need.
2. Create value and opportunity for others.
“The more one forgets himself-by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love-the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself… self-actualization is possible only as a side effect of self-transcendence.” Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
In retrospect, a higher power has been conspiring to teach me this for several years. It’s the reason I felt so drawn to fatherhood, to taking care of my kids. It’s why work started to feel so hollow and meaningless in comparison. But it wasn’t until I read Frankl’s book that I really understood why this was.
My path, my grappling with the unavoidable urgency of discovering who I must be, has felt long, winding, even treacherous.
I had the opportunity to shift my life toward helping others four years ago. I squandered it. I wasn’t ready — I was too scared. Instead, I went to business school. I took another job in my same field. I chose the easier, more lucrative path, instead of digging deeper and listening to what I really wanted to do. I’m a work in progress.
It’s clear now that to become the parent, the partner, and the person I must be, there’s no avoiding looking deeply in the mirror. Introspection is a necessary prerequisite to refocus on to my higher purpose, and create a life vision.
I’m working through this right now. It’s very intimidating. It’s scary. It’s also 100% required to get me to where I need to go. I’ve told myself many times, it’s too late. But I know this isn’t true. It’s not too late for me, for you, for any of us. We just have to do the work.
3. Almost everything is out of our control. Embrace it.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way… Any attempt at fighting the camp’s psychopathological or psychohygienic methods had to aim at giving him inner strength by pointing out to him a future goal to which he could look forward.” Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning
We make choices every day. We act, react, act, react. Our actions are 100% in our control. What happens next is clearly not.
Beyond this, we choose the conclusions we draw from of our experiences. The story we tell ourselves. And the stories we tell ourselves are a big part of the person we become.
We decide how each of our experiences will change us. We choose the relative importance of each takeaway. We decide what to do next.
But 99% of what happens to us is outside our control.
This is a fact. It’s terrifying, at least at first. But at some point, we realize that if we lean into, instead of rejecting our fear of losing control, we feel much more relaxed. And we give ourselves the opportunity to grow.
Given that the journey is the goal, we don’t need to control the future. If we align our daily activities to our core values — if we stay true to ourselves — the universe will conspire to bring us unexpectedly awesome outcomes.
4. Live on your edge — it’s the only way to grow.
“You’re not helping anybody by being miserable. Regardless of your philosophical beliefs, the fact remains that you were born and you are going to die. During the time in between, you get to choose whether or not you’re going to enjoy the experience. Events don’t determine whether or not you’re going to be happy. They’re just events. You determine whether or not you’re going to be happy. You can be happy just to be alive.” The Untethered Soul
People are wired to try to limit their losses more than they maximize their gains. In fact, for most individuals the pain of losing is psychologically twice as powerful as the pleasure of gaining. Cognitive scientists call this loss aversion. We have to actively fight this powerful cognitive bias.
When I decided my primary goal was not financial, but growth and change itself — I finally understood the fears that were holding me back. I started to let go of my attachments.
I dug deep into my personal psychology to understand what I value and what would make me fulfilled. By being clear with myself, first and foremost, about my north star and my non-negotiables, I moved closer to living an authentic and fulfilling life.
I realize now I can’t be the person I must become unless I am willing to do the work. To grow faster, to grow in the right direction, I have to take bigger risks. I must live past the edge of my comfort zone. Life isn’t supposed to be comfortable. It’s supposed to have its ups and downs. That’s what keeps things interesting.
A paradox of privilege is that those who are best positioned to take risks in the short term are perhaps least likely to do so. Our desire to be comfortable gets in the way. Instead of swinging for the fences, we bunt our way on base. We sell ourselves short.
To recap, here are the 4 secrets to live your best life:
- Live for the journey, not the destination.
- Create value and opportunity for others.
- Almost everything is out of our control. Embrace it.
- Live on your edge — it’s the only way to grow.