This counterintuitive revelation hit me at an uncomfortable time in my life about 10 years ago when I was forced to acknowledge that while my life was pretty perfect, it was wasn’t the perfect life for me. (See my talk here on Failing Forward to UC Berkeley students). I had worked hard to establish the success I had, but I couldn’t keep walking the path I was on… for no real reason other than that I felt empty and unfulfilled.
Most of the inquiries I receive from folks revolve around wanting to be happier despite the fact that there’s nothing really wrong or worth complaining about in their current lives.
This predicament feels like a heavy blanket draped over your enthusiasm and ambition. It weighs down your creativity, covers up any vibrancy for life, and leaves you longing for something different – but you don’t know what, and you’re hard on yourself because you can’t figure it out.
What’s going on here?
We’re going about it all wrong. We’re trained to figure it out – analyze, calculate, and strategize – the path to our goals. Well, we do just that and it leaves us scratching our heads confused about why we feel empty and wondering how to fix it. We hit the realization we CAN’T figure that out. Then we feel stuck.
Figuring it out not only stops working at some point, but it’s also exactly the reason we find ourselves in this very real, very somber predicament.
EVERYTHING you want, everything you think you want, everything you desire, is NOT for the thing. You actually really don’t want those things in the end.
And there’s the crux of the problem. We forget that what we’re after is a feeling. We get so attached to the goals (assuming that equals the desired feeling state) forgetting that what we’re after is a state of being or a feeling experience. We do everything we can to FIGURE out how to achieve the goal (the money, the house, the relationship, the career, the [fill in the blank]) and lose sight of the big WHY.
The superficial why is there, it’ll make us feel better, but barely acknowledged. We all want to feel better so of course, we set out to achieve our goals. But does anyone really stop and double-click on “feeling better” relative to the goal you set?
You say you want to a new job because you’re unfulfilled in your current one. Stop and get clear, what’s it you’re REALLY after? Is it stimulation? Impact? Significance? Diversity? Challenge? Freedom? Connection? Respect? Some combination of these?
Without really recognizing what it is we want to feel, how could we navigate in a direction at all? We’ve put so much importance on the middleman (aka goal) that we put all our effort into calculating how to make it happen. This is usually done DESPITE the cost it has on your desired feeling state, forgetting that this is the whole reason you set the goal in the first place!!
It’s simultaneously obvious and counterintuitive. “Feel it out” sounds new-age and hippy-dippy, and definitely not the derivation of a mathematically trained hyper-rational individual. I know, you should see the look of befuddlement when I offer this up as a full-blown replacement to one’s current modus operandi. “What?! Follow my feeling?? But what if it makes no sense?!”
Exactly!! Look where calculated “sense” has gotten you… sitting resigned and hollow in the “perfect” job that checks off all the boxes.
Except for the most important one – the desired feeling state.
Think of it this way, if you were to truly follow your feeling – HONESTLY follow what was inspiring, life-giving, the path of least genuine resistance sort of way – how could it lead you astray if what you’re after is the best possible feeling state in the first place?
I’m not trying to convince you that it’s worth giving up your goals and throw all your effort to the wind (and let the winds of impulse carry you.) Not at all. Define your delicious goals, ones you’ve actually sat down and mapped out for yourself as an obvious direct line to EXACTLY what you want to feel. Go for it by way of FEELING it out, not figuring it out.
If this at all sounds interesting to you, I recommend you monitor how you talk to yourself to identify which model is prevalent. For example, when you find yourself in a dilemma and are having a hard time deciding what you “should” do (i.e. what’s the best option or what would serve you best in the long run) notice how you speak to yourself about the options:
Figuring it out:
“This option sounds like a good idea… it makes sense… I can’t figure out any reasons why I shouldn’t go forth…” (and, your eyes drift up to either corner while you ponder them…)
Feeling it out:
“This feels right… My gut says… I’ve got an inner sense telling me… This feels lighter (or heavier) when I think about it…”
Following the feeling amplifies the game and makes it a heck of a lot more fun. We become less attached to our goals and more creative in our definition and achievement of them. We start to think of goals, not as a static thing that MUST be achieved, but more of a signpost guiding us in the direction of more fulfillment, more joy, more growth, more abundance. As we get closer to the signpost, our landscape inevitably changes creating new horizons, new perspectives and more clarity on where to throw the next signpost.
What say you? Are you willing to take a chance and see if less emphasis on the intermediary (goals) and more focus on your feeling is worth a shot? What might you risk, feeling better?? 🙂
Figuring this post feels about right,
Amy Eliza Wong is an executive and life coach, writer, and speaker in Berkeley, San Francisco and Sacramento, CA committed to helping people figure out what makes them tick so they can finally live with joy and real purpose. Learn more about working with her.