When we droop with fatigue, overwhelmed by the relentless pace of change, yet yearning for a better life, it is helpful to turn back to basics – hopefully a little wiser. Wouldn’t it be nice to have the heads up on a few things we may encounter along the way?
I sure could have used a few pointers along the way to smooth out the kinks! However, a huge range of life experience taught me some valuable lessons, and I am happy to share them. Here are eight insights from my personal playbook on surviving in this world of marvel and change. May it encourage, embolden and inspire you!
- You will pass from this life leaving an unfinished To Do list behind.
Shocking, isn’t it – and that despite your very best efforts every day! Today more than ever, there’s no reason to assume any fit between demands on your time – all the things you like to do or feel you ought to do – and the amount of time available. Thanks to capitalism, technology and human ambition, these demands keep increasing, while your capacities remain largely fixed. It follows that the attempt to clean up your To Do list is doomed.
The upside is that you need not berate yourself for failing to do it all, since doing it all is structurally impossible. The only viable solution is to make a shift: from a stressed-out rat race trying not to neglect anything, to a life intentionally lived and consciously choosing what to neglect in favor of what matters most.
- When stumped by a life choice, choose enlargement over happiness.
Jungian therapist James Hollis said that major personal decisions should be made not by asking, “Will this make me happy?” but “Will this choice enlarge me or diminish me?” We’re usually terrible at predicting what will make us happy: the issue quickly gets bogged down in our narrow preferences for security and control. Yet choosing enlargement elicits a deeper, intuitive response. You tend to know when leaving or staying in a relationship or a job, even though it might bring short-term security, would mean cheating yourself of growth.
- The capacity to tolerate minor discomfort is a superpower.
It’s shocking to realize how readily we set aside even our greatest ambitions in life, merely to avoid any level of unpleasantness. You already know it won’t kill you to endure the mild agitation of getting back to work on an important project, initiating a difficult conversation with someone, asking somebody out, committing to a workout routine, or checking your bank balance – yet you can waste years in avoidance! This is exactly why social media platforms flourish: they provide an instant, compelling distraction from reality where we can escape to at the first hint of unease.
Instead, you can truly empower yourself by gradually increasing your capacity for discomfort, similar to doing weight training. When you expect an action to bring up feelings of irritability, anxiety or boredom, you can stick to your commitment; let the feelings arise and fade while doing the right action anyway. Once you experience the rewards of tolerating discomfort, it will reinforce this path of walking straight ahead as a more appealing way to live.
- The advice you don’t want to hear is usually the advice you need.
I spent years fixating on becoming hyper-productive before I finally started wondering why I was staking so much of my self-worth on my productivity levels. What I needed wasn’t another personal goal, but asking more uncomfortable questions instead.
Yes, it isn’t fun to confront whatever emotional experiences you’re avoiding – if it were fun, you wouldn’t avoid them – so any advice that could really help is likely to make you uncomfortable, too. And that is okay! If you can muster up the courage to go where you really don’t want to, you may just break through to a deeper level of personal truth.
Be especially wary of celebrities offering advice in public forums: many of them pursue fame to fill an inner void, which tends not to work – so they are likely to be more troubled than you are and by the time you buy their snake oil, they’d have already moved on to the next gig.
Here is a bit of reverse psychology that does work: ask yourself what kind of practices strike you as intolerably cheesy or self-indulgent. Is it a gratitude journal, mindfulness meditation, or seeing a therapist? If you feel resistance rising, it might well mean that the very issue your ego is resisting, is the one worth pursuing.
- The future will never provide the reassurance you seek from it.
As the ancient Greek and Roman Stoics understood, much of our suffering arises from attempting to control what is not in our control. And the main thing we try but fail to control is the future. We want to know, from our vantage point in the present, that things will be OK later on. Yet we never can!
It’s wrong to say we live in especially uncertain times. The future is always uncertain; we’re simply very aware of it in current times.
No amount of fretting will ever alter this truth. Accept that certainty and it will set you free.
While we live in uncertain times, it is still useful to make plans. Make your plans with the awareness that a plan is only ever a present-moment statement of intent, not a lasso thrown around the future to bring it under control. The spiritual teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti said his secret for peace was simple: “I don’t mind what happens.” That does absolve you from trying to make life better for yourself or others. It just means not living each day anxiously braced to see if things work out as you hoped.
- The solution to imposter syndrome is to see that you are one.
In the current era of incompetent leadership, it is not possible to ignore corrupt governments and egocentric self-indulgence amid global threats of destruction to the point of extinction. Yet the way forward lies neither in complaining nor in passively accepting that we are all doomed.
I believe the answer lies in recognizing that you – unconfident, self-conscious, insecure, and all-too-aware-of-your-flaws – you potentially have as much to contribute to your field and to the world as anyone else.
Humanity is divided into two: on the one hand, those who are improvising their way through life, patching solutions together and putting out fires as they go, but deluding themselves by arguing for their limitations; and on the other, those doing exactly the same, except that they know it. It’s infinitely better to apply yourself and accept your failures and successes both as intrinsic parts of life.
Remember, the reason you can’t hear other people’s inner monologues of self-doubt is not because they don’t have them. It’s simply because you only have access to your own mind!
- Selflessness is overrated.
We respectable types, and women especially, are raised to think a life well spent means helping others – and plenty of self-help gurus stand ready to affirm for a price that generosity and sacrifice are the way to happiness. There’s truth here, but it generally gets tangled up with exploitation of deep-seated issues of guilt and self-esteem.
If you think you should be doing more, that’s probably a sign that you should direct more energy toward your true passions and ambitions. As Buddhist teacher Susan Piver said, it feels radical to ask how we’d enjoy spending an hour or day of discretionary time – yet the irony is that you don’t actually benefit anyone else by suppressing your true passions anyway. Instead of being disciplined about hating on yourself to get things done, try being disciplined about remaining close to what brings you joy. It takes a lot of courage, actually.
- Know when to move on.
And then, finally, there’s knowing when something that meant a great deal to you has reached its natural endpoint. All things in life come to an end, both the good and the bad. Your most empowering response is not to bewail the ending or unfairness of it all, or to hang on for dear life until your claw marks scar the very thing you loved most as life pulls it away from you. Your most creative choice in the face of endings, is to let go and to turn to what is next. The rest of life awaits, both for you and for me!
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©Copyright Ada Porat. For more information, visit http://adaporat.com. This article may be freely distributed in whole or in part, provided there is no charge for it and this notice is attached.