Someone recently told me that the time he spent unemployed was the best six months of his life.
"What did you spend your time doing?" I asked.
"I learned about things I was interested in, read a lot of nonfiction books, spent time with people who inspire me, played music, practiced leaning into fear, and spent a lot of time observing how people overcome fear," he said. "But then I had to get a real job."
"Is your real job aligned with exploring these interests and leaning into fear?" I asked.
"Ummm... no. I work in analytics," he said.
"Have you ever thought that your 'real job' could be what you're passionate about?" I asked.
"Sort of," he said. "But isn't that unrealistic?"
As someone who's built a career helping people claim the lives they're meant to live, I couldn't help but obsessively think about how he could parlay his interest of "leaning into fear" into the work he does every day.
In our conversation, he demonstrated all the signs of someone who knows what he's passionate about and loves to do. But he didn't realize his own clarity.
"But I don't really know what I'm passionate about," he said at one point in the conversation.
"Yes you do!" I said. "You just told me. You're obsessed with behavior change and the process of overcoming fear."
This conversation reminded me of nearly every client I work with and every person I talk with about designing their ideal life. There's a gap between identifying what you naturally gravitate toward and gain energy from and how that translates into your full-time work.
The process of closing that gap includes gaining clarity, taking action on what matters, and leaning into the fears that hold us back.
It includes realizing that the greatest opportunity we have in life is the process of discovering what we love to do--and then dedicating our life accordingly.
When we close that gap, we live a life where Mondays are celebrated as much as Fridays and "someday" is today.
Here are three steps that will help you gain internal clarity so you can plan toward your ideal future.
1. Gain clarity around what to focus on.
To gain clarity around how to spend your time in ways that energize you, so that you're as productive and happy as possible, Derek Sivers suggests asking yourself, "What do I hate NOT doing?" Meaning, what, if you don't do every day, makes you feel icky and off-track?
Whatever it is--be it writing, designing, learning to program, asking questions, running five miles, reading non-fiction business books, spending time with loved ones, or meditating--make a list of the top 5 or so activities that you love and must do every day to feel like your best self.
Now you know where to spend your time and energy.
2. Define the world you imagine.
Of all the people I've met who are living their ideal life, true success has less to do with measuring up to an objective standard and more to do with working toward a larger ideal and better world.
For a moment, forget about your family's image of you, your friends' perception of you, and what society at large seems to expect from you. You don't have to live how others expect you to and how you define your "real job" is up to you.
So take 10 minutes and think about the ideal world you imagine. For example, I (the author of this article) imagine a world in which our potential is not governed by what we’re told we can and cannot do, but rather by our highest intentions and inner gifts. By knowing the world I envision, I know why I wake up every morning, it guides how I make decisions, and who I spend my time with.
Now it's your turn. Write out the dream world you imagine, beginning with, "I imagine a world in which __________."
By painting this picture and defining your ideal, you'll create something bigger to work toward and you'll have a vision to share with others too.
As Simon Sinek says, no one cares what you do, they care why you do it.
3. Replace old thoughts with new ones.
We often carry around thinking patterns that no longer serve us or our dreams.
"Who am I to do that?"
"That's not realistic."
"I don't know how to do it."
Guess what? You're the same as everyone else who's made something big happen, it's only unrealistic until you try, and you will figure it out.
Write out a list of all the negative thoughts that are shaping your behaviors. Next to each thought, reframe it in a positive light. While the transformation may not happen immediately, our thoughts determine our attitude, our attitude determines our actions, and our actions determine our life. That's why being aware of what's holding us back is the first step toward change.
By doing these three exercises, you'll gain the internal clarity needed to make your dream world a reality and lean into fear, which we'll address next time. My aim is to provide you with the clarity and action steps to claim the life you're meant to live.
[Image: Flickr user Tom]