I used to spend long nights wide awake, wandering around our huge house, wondering what I was missing in my life. I blamed myself for feeling this way. How could I be ungrateful when I had it all—a beautiful family, an amazing career in journalism and politics, a successful business, and even the perfect house (white picket fence included)?
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I grew up with the conviction that my studies, my job, and my perfect future family would make me happy. I gave my all to becoming happy and successful. I made sure to be the best girlfriend, the best mom, and the best daughter I could be. I lived like a robot, trying hard to live up to my own and others’ expectations.
My story is not unique. We live in a world filled with demands and expectations—what’s right and wrong, good and bad, what will show success and not failure. There are many voices telling us what to wear, what to eat, how to exercise, whom to marry, and what we should achieve. Even our bodies are great targets for judgment. In our quest to fit in and do the right thing, we create stress, anxiety, exhaustion, and depression. Not feeling great, or even well, has become the norm for many.
Then I made an amazing discovery: I realized I had been living someone else’s life. Other people’s. Society’s. My family’s. Anyone’s but my own.
What was missing in my life wasn’t another promotion, a higher salary, or a more perfect man. What was missing was me.
Today I no longer try to fit in or be perfect. I had lived so much life based on what other people expected that I didn’t even know what was true for me anymore.
Sound familiar? Here are five questions that I ask daily to create a life where I’m included—a life that’s different, more joyful, and vibrant.
Create the Life You Really Want
1. Am I acknowledging myself?
Most people look for someone else to acknowledge them when they’re not acknowledging themselves. In the past, what I really longed for was to be seen. To be validated. Today I know that only I—no one else—can give myself a sense of worth. Acknowledging that opens up the magical place I knew as a little girl, the magical place where everything is possible, because everything I need is within me.
It also helps to actively choose to see what’s beautiful and amazing instead of what’s missing and wrong. When you wake up, see the sunlight streaming through the window, not the wallpaper that needs fixing. When the familiar voice in your head says there’s something wrong with you or that you’re not good enough, just say to yourself, “Stop!” Then tell yourself, “I’m brilliant, just the way I am.” Be your own cheerleader.
2. What do I truly want to do?
Ask yourself: If I were to include myself and my desires in my choices, what would I choose? Do I want to travel the world? Do I want to live out in the suburbs or move into the city? Do I want to become a politician or a volunteer in Ghana? Only you know what is true for you. Start asking questions to access your knowing.
Not sure whether to accept that job offer? Imagine being at that job. Being in that office or gym or classroom. Do you feel light or heavy? If you feel heavy within yourself, you know that job isn’t right for you or that something needs to change before it is. You don’t need to start practicing this technique with something as big as a career change. Start with small decisions—what movie to see, what to eat for dinner, whom to hang out with over the weekend.
3. Who says that’s true?
We’re all spiritually, emotionally, and physically aware beings. We pick up stuff from the world around us—and the result is that many of our thoughts, feelings, and emotions aren’t our own. Instead we pick them up in different conversations, situations, and motivations from those around us.
If you find yourself buying into a point of view that doesn’t feel right, ask yourself: Is this point of view mine? Did I buy into it somewhere along the line? Am I choosing what’s true for me or what everyone else is choosing? In the movie Runaway Bride, there’s a breakfast scene in which Richard Gere asks Julia Roberts what kind of eggs she likes. Her response: “Whatever you’re having.” With each of her three former fiancés, their favorite eggs had been her favorite eggs. Have you ever asked yourself what kind of eggs you really like?
4. What’s not working in my life?
Cut out those things that aren’t working—and add the things and the people that make you happy. Sign up for that yoga class you never seem to have time for. Set aside a night to have dinner with friends who make you smile. Paint your office. Join Toastmasters. Go out dancing. Book that trip you’ve always wanted to go on. Shake things up!
Most of us keep creating our lives more or less within our comfort zone. Repeating slightly different versions of past choices feels familiar and helps us predict the outcome. Even though this often means that we recreate undesirable and destructive situations, we imagine that stepping out of our comfort zone to try something new must be worse. What would you choose if you knew that was a lie?
5. What if there’s nothing wrong with me?
Instead of judging your body because you think it’s not thin enough to fit media-set expectations, try expressing your gratitude for its wisdom and its beauty, for all it’s done for you, for how it’s carried you through your life and still does.
If you find yourself wanting to switch career paths—to leave that perfect job for a startup or one that pays less but will make you happier—instead of judging yourself for being foolish, you might congratulate yourself for daring to choose something different, something you feel is right.
The Bottom Line
Understanding how the different points of view around you become the filters through which you see and create your life opens a space where you can start looking at them and asking if they serve you. If they don’t, why keep them? They’re not you. You are.
If only you and your point of view creates your reality, then who are you? What can you create? What is possible for you? I invite you to take hold of your life and your future. Start living today for you! You’ll be amazed at what unfolds.