Do you ever feel like those carefree, childhood dreams and ambitions of great things have gone forever, and you are stuck in the rat race doomed to repeat the groundhog day of an unfulfilling cycle of work, eat, sleep, always feeling tired and bored, and knowing you were destined for more, but just not sure what that is or how to get there?
We spent our childhood exploring, experimenting, trying things just for fun, living life with gusto, figuring out what we like and don’t like, what we are interested in, what really taps into our deepest desires, passions, dreams and aesthetic senses, what really gets our juices flowing. In that process of exploring who you are, and what makes you ‘you’, you were subconsciously developing a whole set of beliefs and core values – the things which are most important to you – which have stayed with you and shaped your most essential sense of self into adulthood.
That rich tapestry of beliefs and values is what makes you interesting and completely unique and set apart from every other human being who has ever lived. There has never been, nor will there ever be, another human being who is identical to you. Even if you have an identical twin. That makes you profoundly valuable and interesting. You have a contribution to make to this world that no-one else can make, and the world will be a poorer place if you bottle up all that makes you so special and wonderful and interesting and valuable and gifted, and retreat to a ‘comfort’ zone of wanting to be just like everyone else, to blend in, to hold back something of yourself from the world around you. The irony is that this ‘comfort’ zone is anything but comfortable. It is unsatisfying and unfulfilling, and lacking in purpose and meaning, and that can be deeply unsettling, even if outwardly we appear to be ‘successful’.
So what is the number one reason our lives are so unfulfilling? Every single time, it is because we have let our sense of self get lost as we have drifted into a life which doesn’t allow us to fully express who we are. There is a fundamental mismatch between our lifestyle and our core values.
My core values are those of an adventurous, brave explorer. They are values such as independence, freedom, courage, exploration, strength, health, fitness, appreciation of natural landscapes, experience of foreign places and cultures. For me, to be cooped up in a big city office job, chained to a desk, commuting in over-crowded trains, represents a lifestyle which doesn’t allow me to express my core values – my adventurous, explorer spirit. I don’t feel like I can be fully me when I am trying to fit the corporate mould.
Of course there are elements of my senior, corporate career that I love, otherwise I wouldn’t have stayed with it for so long. It’s not all bad. And that is the trap. It isn’t so bad that I was desperate to get out, to change my life. But it wasn’t so good that it gave me the life I always dreamed of or allowed me to feel like I was really making a difference in the world. It is that mediocrity that is the real killer of dreams, passions and hopes for the future.
So if your life is just not satisfying, meaningful or fulfilling enough, no matter how ‘successful’ by society’s definition, how do you turn it around?
There are three steps to getting the life you want:
- Know your core values. To help you figure them out, list all the things that make you feel happy – the experiences, the people, the material things, the places, the aesthetic values. Think about the times in your past you felt happy or fulfilled or deeply satisfied. What are the values that they embodied? For more help on figuring out your core values, see the ten lifestyle types in my book “How to have a midlife crisis”.
- Choose one area of your life where you can make the most difference to your life fairly quickly. Focus on just that one area of your life to begin with, so that you don’t get overwhelmed and give up. It might be physical health, beauty or fitness, it might be career, it might be relationships, or it might be giving something back. There is a free Transformation Matrix on the Resources page at catherinesearle.com to help you figure out where to start. One note of caution: don’t resort to your ‘safe’ zone to avoid an area you are afraid to tackle. For single women, it is most often career or fitness that are their go-to safe zones, when all they really want is to find a partner, but they have a past full of disappointment that is stopping them from really going for it. Life is short. Be brave, and don’t be afraid to tackle head on the one area you know will make the biggest difference.
- Make an action plan. Decide what you need to do differently and set some goals. Your goals should be a mix of short and long term. Include some quick wins so you can see the difference you are making in a very short space of time. Your goals should be things that really target your core values, and allow you to express the real you. If you are struggling with these, think back to the kind of life you always dreamed about when you were young, or the things you have always wanted to try or do. Allow yourself to daydream, and explore ideas online or talk it through with friends who know you and want you to be your best self. You will soon find that you rediscover some long lost dreams, and find that the real you is still in there!
When I was at the peak of my post-cancer mid-life crisis, feeling fat and frumpy, the first things I did were to go vegan, join a gym, get a personal trainer, and makeover my wardrobe. I felt radically different in a matter of days. The combination of a vegan diet and working out gave me such a feel-good factor that I was on a permanent high for months – in fact I haven’t ever really come back down, one year on! It put me in a radical upward spiral, with my newfound health and fitness boosting my mood and vice versa. The reason I was so motivated to make it work is that I realised I needed a strong, fit and healthy body to live the kind of adventurous life that was consistent with my core values.
You can achieve the same radical transformation by taking a few simple (but life-transforming) steps to get the life you want. But the key to making it stick and making sure it is ultimately fulfilling to you, is to match up your lifestyle to your core values, the qualities you hold to be most important to you. If you are trying to live up to someone else’s values or society’s definition of what it means to be successful, and these don’t match what you hold to be most important to you, then you will struggle to find that deep motivation and fulfilment which enables you to see the changes through. But if you do know your values and live them out, you will make a bigger difference to the world around you than you could have ever dreamed of.
Don’t be afraid to let the real you shine through!