Looking for work is hard. Being in a job you don’t like is hard. Being in a job you like, but struggling to work full-time, raise kids, and find time for laundry is hard. Basically, life is hard.
But it’s also beautiful and creative. And there are lots of ways to make it work and make it joyful.
Here are some methods to keep it together no matter what. I’m not going to say something as contrived and annoying as, “It’s the journey, not the destination,” but let’s at least agree that an unhealthy focus on “some point in the future where it all magically comes together, and everything is really crappy until then” is of no help.
With that in mind, what is of help? I think a certain type of attitude and perspective, as well as realizing a few small, but critical, things:
It may look like they do. They may even tell you that they do, in myriad ways that are subtle and not so subtle. If you really need to verify this claim, just hop over to your Facebook feed. That’s all of us, nervously whistling in the dark, as we each say, “I’m okay.”
But nobody has it all figured out. Some are further along than others, but even that may be temporary. Things can fall apart very quickly, right? We know this.
Everybody is fighting their own battles, doing their best, trying to keep it together.
Don’t compare. There is no winning here. Comparing yourself with someone less fortunate and considering yourself blessed is as silly as comparing yourself with someone you perceive as having more and feeling unblessed.
The more serious issue with comparing, beyond the despair it causes, is the fact that it’s a precious loss of time. It’s very difficult to stay focused on keeping it together if you are constantly distracted by other peoples’ business.
Look, I won’t lie. I’m the first person to throw up my hands and be all, “Well, since this one thing isn’t happening, everything sucks, and I give up!”
Here’s the thing, though, as one very wise friend put it to me recently: it doesn’t matter how many people are on your side, cheering you on. If you can’t get on your own side, what’s the point of any of it?
What’s the point, indeed? Get on your own side. Be your own champion.
Who you are today is a result of all the actions you took and decisions you made yesterday. Even when we feel like we haven’t done much, we have. You’ll actually find it quite shocking once you’ve realized all that you have done–and all that you have become–if you can just pause and really think about it. Trust me, it is good enough. And “good enough” is the new “perfect.”
So, take out your notebook and write a few things down:
- What are you doing today that you couldn’t have done five, three, or even one year ago?
- In what way have you stepped up in the last year that you might have found inconceivable before?
- What are some concrete ways in which your life has improved compared to this time last year?
- What negative behavior or thought have you stopped engaging in that you never thought you could quit?
And if you’re really having trouble with this little exercise, ask a friend or family member. They may see transformations in you that you don’t.
You’ll be relieved to know that who you are isn’t really defined by what you say, or feel, or analyze in you head, or are inspired by, or aspire to, or post on social media.
Who you are and your future self are not determined by how you feel. Feelings are not facts. It’s not determined by what you say. Talk is cheap. And it’s certainly not determined by Ouija boards or vision boards or psychics or manifesting.
Your struggles–what you are willing to struggle for–determine the quality of your life. End of story. If you’re ever confused about what really matters to you, just watch where your feet take you. That’s who you are. I’m not saying forever. I’m saying, for right now, that is who you are. Today.
The same goes for following your passion–the reality of what is involved in executing on this very Steve-Jobs-Do-What-You-Love work trend is much less glamorous than people think. What you are willing to struggle for and willing to give up will determine 90% of the outcome.
When I say, “Identify what’s important,” I don’t mean “I’d like to have a nice job and a nice family.” I don’t mean “I want to be a good person, help others, and be a contributing member of society.” We all have these types of goals, from the material to the non-material. But what I mean by this is–really, truthfully–what motivates you? What makes you tick? What are the underlying motivators?
Validation? Admiration? Power? Reputation? Money? Love? Service? Security? A warm place to land? A hard edge to conquer?
Understanding your underlying motivations can have a bigger impact on your life than providing a decent answer to a popular interview question. It can help you make better choices and avoid situations that lead to conflict.
The key is to be honest with yourself. If you say you like to be of service, is it really to be of service, or to be liked and needed? The latter is perfectly fine, as long as you recognize it as your real motivation.
As the theoretical physicist Richard P. Feynman once said, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”
—Hira Fernando is founder at Careerly, a Washington, D.C.-based career coaching company that helps millennials and MBAs find cool, creative, and meaningful work.