Call me an optimist… an idealist… delusional…or just plain fruitcake-with-nuts…
But there is a certain kind of life that I dream of… for me, for my family, for my kids… and for everyone else out there.
And – what’s more – I believe that it is possible… that it’s in our grasp… to live this way:
- to be happy.
- to have a sense of purpose and value in what we do with our talents and our lives.
- to live life on our terms.
- to live a life without regrets.
I think one of our biggest mistakes that we make (as a society) is to pigeon-hole “success” as meaning one or more of the following:
- A well-paying job.
- A big house.
- Money in the bank.
- To be good-looking (and to have a good-looking spouse).
- An expensive car.
What does any of that mean, anyway?
I know countless people who have well-paying jobs… but who dread going to work every day because they loathe their job so much. What does it mean to have a big house? In many cases it means lots of debt! I know (and I’m sure you do too) many great-looking couples who have horrible marriages and who are constantly at each-others’ throats – many celebrities being a case in point. And our looks? What a fickle obsession! We all get old… deteriorate… and die. Nobody is immune. Looks fade, it’s inevitable. But what have you DONE with your life?
And what does it mean to drive an expensive car? Or carry an expensive, branded handbag? Or wear an expensive watch? And what IS status? I mean… really… who cares? Why care?
To me (and you don’t have to agree with me) … “success” means this:
- Happiness (in general… obviously everyone has their sucky days and seasons).
- Purpose – To me, this is that wonderful, sense of fulfilment of realising: “Hey, I’m ‘made’ to do this thing!”. Purpose is about USING your talents and strengths and doing what makes you come alive! (Bonus points if you’re financially compensated in the process!)… (extra bonus points if what you’re doing is bettering the world in some way). Does this mean you’re giddy-with-glee every single waking moment of every single day? No! But it DOES mean that you wake up with a smile and a sense of purpose… instead of a deep sense of daily-dread!
- To live life on our terms – this is an important one. From a young age, we have all been taught and told thousands of ‘rules’ and expectations on how we are “supposed to” live our lives… and what we “ought to” be doing with our time. School gives us rules… government gives us rules… church gives us rules… society gives us rules… and before you know it, you’re plodding through a grey fog of expectations… and ‘duties’ and the general misery that comes when you live life according to the rules and expectations of everyone else – except yourself.
- To live a life without regrets. The Top 5 Regrets of the dying was one of the most powerful articles I’ve read. When people die… they regret the SAME things… almost without fail. Men regret working too hard and spending too much time away from their families. Women and men regret not following their dreams. Read the article… read the book… remind yourself of what’s really important. Nobody on their death-bed says: “Gee, I wish I had bought another car”… or… “I wish I had invested extra money into those stocks and bonds”.
And now for the quick disclaimers, lest anyone leap to the wrong conclusion….
Am I saying that life should be all ‘play’ and no ‘work’?
No. I’m saying that we need to re-think those terms completely.
I don’t think work and play need to be mutually exclusive. I think there is definitely such a thing as hard… tough… sweat-inducing… laborious WORK – which is simultaneously fulfilling and purpose-filled and deeply rewarding.
I also think there’s “play” that involves a lot of “the hard stuff” too – which makes it equally rewarding.
I am absolutely ALL for “the hard stuff”… BUT hard-stuff for the RIGHT reasons.
I do the hard stuff because I want to… because there is a purpose and a reason behind it… because I’m working towards something… a dream… a desire… something that requires discipline and work. I do the hard-stuff because I’m dreaming about something… because I’m building towards something… because I’m growing something. These are the good reasons to do the hard-stuff.
And there are stupid reasons to do the hard stuff too!
Stupid Reason #1: because someone ELSE expects you to!
- Don’t get a university degree in computer science because somebody else expects you to! Get the degree because you’re genuinely excited about programming computers – and you can’t wait to learn how to develop a new idea (or game).
- Don’t get a job because someone else expects you to. Get that job because YOU want that job – both for what the job entails (and the financial compensation that comes with it).
- Don’t quit your job because someone else thinks it’s a good idea. Quit because YOU are ready to quit – and YOU are ready to take your life in a completely different direction.
- Don’t learn a new skill because someone else is pressuring you into doing it – learn a new skill because YOU deliberately want to learn how to do something… for a reason (even if that reason is nothing more than perpetual curiosity!).
Have I arrived… at this so-called Happy Life… that I advocate for??
I honestly don’t think we ever “arrive”.
I think it’s a journey. A beautiful, enriching, rewarding journey… but only WE can choose the paths that we wish to travel.
I choose the path with the forests… and the flowers… and the rainbows… and the hills… and the hidden treasures… and the corners I can’t quite see around…. and the other happy people – strange though some of them may be… (and yes, the occasional, inevitable valley will be part of it too).
What path do you choose?