Many people are living lives they don't want to live because they don't know how to start living the life they want.
At this point in the human experience we have more options available to us than at any point in recorded history. Between technology and resource production, we have the ability to solve all of the world's material problems. For all the material abundance available to us, humanity is clearly not at the happiest point in its history.
Many people that I speak to aren't happy with their lives. If you pay attention to the news and look beyond the curated life on people's social media feeds, it doesn't seem that humanity overall is very happy. Of the six primary emotions that people experience (happiness, boredom, anxiety, anger, sadness, and fear) happiness is the only positive one. Yet, it seems to be the most fleeting one.
If humanity's advancement over the past century was predicted one hundred years ago, you'd expect its happiness to increase correspondingly. Why hasn't it? Most people aren't living the life they want to. That's not to say that most people aren't living their dream lives (they aren't), most aren't even living a life they necessarily want to live.
Humanity's rapid advancement came with a cost. In the name of productivity and it's close cousin, efficiency, humans lost the ability to pursue their passion and purpose. Instead life was neatly packaged into pre-designed careers. Over time this led to a significant decline of each individual's creative energy.
We are on Earth to be creators. To be happy, we need to be able to create the life we want, not merely follow the path of a life designed by someone else. The good news is it's never too late to start creating. With a little bit of practice, you be able to convert the very things that prevent you from being happy into a bridge to the life of your dreams.
One of the biggest causes of experiencing the five negative primary emotions is our careers or jobs. By definition we give our power away in exchange for security when we have a job.
What career we commit to having determines what our lives look like in many ways. If you're a full-time worker who sleeps for eight hours a night, you spend at least half of your waking hours at work. That’s not counting the additional time spent preparing for, commuting to, and thinking about work. When our jobs become a source of negative emotions, it affects our entire lives.
If a person causes us to experience negative emotions, we can stop talking to them. Even if it's someone close to us, we have the option. It may be difficult and it may affect our lives, but it's possible. With a job, it's much more difficult to up and leave when you realize it’s a major source of negativity in your lives. Although, the ongoing Great Resignation shows that for some it's getting easier.
The Great Resignation illuminates the level of suffering people were going through. It's timing, after COVID-19 forced the world to go remote, is a strong indicator of what happened. Not being in the office every day, people realized just how much of their power their employers had been taking from them. The American full-time in person employee's life is almost completely devoted to their job. Once people saw what they were giving up, some simply refused to give away their power any longer.
While such a drastic move shows how deeply unhappy people are with their careers, many of the employees that quit their jobs had no back up plan and ended up taking jobs that didn't put them any closer to reclaiming their power or happiness. Sometimes life can be so unbearable that you need to take the plunge into the deep not knowing how you'll cross the abyss but knowing that you're one heck of a swimmer. Fortunately, for those not ready to face such uncertainty, there is a way to build a bridge to the other side.
It all starts with taking your power back, but you don't have to try to take it all at once.
What is your power? Your energy. It's what allows you to create, to build the life that you want. The reason so many people aren't living the life of their dreams is they've completely surrendered their energy to their employers. Aside from the time commitment, so long as we treat our employers with reverence for the paycheck they give us, they own our energy.
The first step to taking your power back is realizing that your employer needs you more than you need them. We weren't put on this Earth to work. Working is a means to the most basic human need of all, survival. Surviving isn't that hard in this era. If you lost your job, you would find another way to survive. You could find a new job, you could temporarily take a gig job, you could stay with friends or family while you retool and learn a new skill or go back to school.
Companies on the other hand aren't just here to survive, their first priority is to make a profit. It costs companies on average one to three times a person's salary to replace them. This is why many companies are so selective in their hiring process. When they hire someone, they don't want to fire them. This means so long as you are not an unproductive employee, you don’t have to give all of yourself to your employer.
Get your job done well. But unless you are working at your dream job where you feel that you are exuberantly living your life's purpose each time you clock in, there's no need to do anything more.
No more working outside of office hours unless that's what you signed up for. No more answering emails outside of working hours because you want to look good or you're scared you'll lose a customer. No more going to nonmandatory meetings or doing things outside of the scope of your formal duties. You don't need to be a quiet quitter, but if that level of detachment is what it takes for you to feel you're getting your power back, do it.
One of the keys to doing this effectively is to do it while not being stressed about it. If you feel guilty about what you're doing, it will only lead to anxiety, sadness, or fear. You're not doing anything wrong. You're deciding to live your life on your terms. Make sure you’re clear about this with yourself. You should feel good about consciously making these decisions. Stop worrying about what others think of you and start living the life of your dreams instead.
Once you've reclaimed as much power as you can from your employer, use that additional energy to build your bridge or your lifeboat.
When you get this additional energy it may be tempting to start trying to improve your life on the margins. To use the free time to watch Netflix or spend quality time with friends. Resist the temptation. The job is only halfway done. If you recycle that energy into your recreational life for temporary bursts of happiness, you'll still be spending the majority of your life doing a job you don't want to do.
The key to successfully living the life you want is to stop trying to find work life balance as if work and life are two separate things. Work is such a large part of our lives, any attempts to bifurcate it from the rest of our lives are cosmetic at best. To live the life you want you must find a way to make the balance happen at a higher level. By integrating the decision of how you'll make a living with your passions and purpose, your job stops becoming something outside of you and becomes an extension of your values and vision.
Successfully getting to that point is how you reclaim the rest of your energy. To get there, you need an exit strategy. This can be one of two things. The first thing you can do is start building a bridge to the career and the life you want to be living. The other option is to build a lifeboat, that is to start building your own business on the side so when the time comes you can cut the dock rope and sail into your new life.
If you're going to build a bridge, you want to focus on learning and acquiring the information and skills required to be successful in the new field you've chosen. Online courses and certifications, reading everything you can, speaking to experts in the field, or even returning to school part or full-time can be parts of building that bridge. Learn what you need to know to be ready and when the time is right, you can walk across that bridge right into the life you want to live.
If your going to build a lifeboat, start building your business in your spare time. Depending on your level of knowledge and experience in the new field, you may be ready to start right away and are only missing funding. Or you may need to learn somethings as you go. With all of the tools available to us at this point, if you've identified your passion and want to turn it into a business, there's nothing preventing you from doing so relatively quickly.
“If I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it, even if I may not have it at the beginning.” ~Mahatma Ghandi
The most important thing of all is to make sure your bridge or your lifeboat will navigate the same path as your passions and purpose. The last thing you want to do is put in all of that work in building something completely different only to find out you still aren't happy. The surest way to do this is to follow your passions to your purpose, or to find a purpose and develop your passions.
Is there something or things you are passionate about or have been naturally good at your entire life? Following those passions is the surest way to find your purpose. Your purpose doesn't have to be something you know from the time you're a child. It can be, but it's more likely that you'll discover it. Following your natural talents and interests is one of the simplest ways of discovering it.
You don’t have to have natural talents or passions that are innate to you. If you don't, you need to decide on your purpose and use that to develop your passions. Ask yourself what you truly care about? If you could be known for one thing after you leave this planet, what would it be? Once you determine your purpose, you can see where it aligns with your skills and interests. Determine what venues there are for you to do what you feel your purpose is. Which ones align with your values, skills, and interests?
Those are the ones you want to follow and develop into your passions. It's never too late to learn any new skill or to develop a new passion. While doctors used to think the human brain became fixed after a certain age, scientists have proven that neuroplasticity allows our brains to form new synaptic connections at any age if we stimulate with enough learning. That means it's never too late to build your bridge or your lifeboat.