There have been periods in my life when I was unhappy and flailing.
Sometimes outside circumstances were the cause of my unhappiness — the death of a loved one, an unexpected and unwanted life change, or the painful behaviors of people close to me. Many of these outside events occurred in my youth or young adulthood, during a time of life when I had little control of events around me.
As a result, I believed that happiness in life rested on the ability to dodge unpleasant events. If you could avoid the land mines that caused so much disruption and pain, you had a hope for happiness. Of course, this requires you to live a contained life. If you venture too far outside of the safety zone, into uncharted territory, you might step on one of those land mines.
Little did I know that by choosing the avoidance of pain as my guiding directive in life, I was creating a much bigger pain — the loss of my freedom and potential.
Maybe you are living a contained life as well. Perhaps you've had wounds and negative events that have led you to hunker down and protect yourself. And maybe, like me, you're starting to realize the “protection” is more painful than the circumstances you're avoiding.
It took me many years to understand that you can't avoid life difficulties if you really want to live. Bad things do happen. People will hurt and disappoint you. This is part of the human condition. But . . . it isn't the only part. In between the occasional disruptions, you have a lot of life to enjoy. Once you're an adult, you do have control over your life and how YOU choose to respond to it, the good and the bad.
If you want to relish life and find ongoing contentment and joy, then you can't spend it avoiding pain. You must live it fully and openly, on your own terms, even if it means encountering some pain along the way.
You CAN change your life by becoming your own CEO, and here some steps to get you started.
Define who you are and what you want.
When we're young, we don't have much control over events in our lives. Our parents create our environments and manage our choices. Maybe they or other adults in our lives guide us toward a career path when we're not really sure what we're meant to do. But it's never too late to reassess your life and change course. I did it when I was 48, completely changing careers and reexamining everything about my life to ensure it meshed with my values.
Knowing your own values is the perfect place to start the process of defining yourself and what you want in life. Your values are your core life principles, and everything important in your life should support those values. If you don't know what your core values are, then sit down right now and define them.
Choose 5-10 top values for your personal and professional life, and then ask yourself if there are parts of your life right now that don't support those values. This is where you need to begin making change.
Address your fears.
Successful CEO's can't allow fear and indecision to control them. If they did, their organization would stall and eventually fail. They do examine their concerns with a realistic eye, weighing the pros and cons, assessing the possibility for failure, and creating a back-up plan for protection.
Risk is inherent with any decision or life change, but if you conduct your own due diligence, and weigh your choices against your core values, then you've done everything you can to make a sound choice. Don't allow your generalized fears to hold you back from changing your life.
If you want to change careers, move to another city, improve your marriage, get healthier, start a business, or make any positive change that could make you happier, then sit down with pen and paper and write down the specific actions you need to take to get started. Then write down exactly what you're afraid might happen if you implement this change. Look at those fears with an analytical eye, and determine how likely they are to actualize. What can you do to minimize your anxieties and your risk? Take control of your fear.
Don't go it alone.
CEO's have advisors and support staff for a reason. You need the perspective of trusted advisors to give you feedback and input. You need accountability when trying to overcome your fears to make big life changes. When I was trying to make a decision about my own career change, I sought out friends, went to workshops, and hired a personal coach.
As a coach myself, I firmly believe that having a coach is one of the best ways to make big changes in your life. Not only does a coach help you uncover exactly what you want and how to get it, they also hold your feet to fire to ensure you follow through on the actions you need to take.
If you can't afford one-on-one coaching, I've found a great online resource to offer you coaching support. I was recently contacted by David Vox, the founder of Goaly, a site that features advice from leading coaches around the world. I am thrilled he's invited me to be an advisor for the site and a featured coach. Check out this great post on common limiting beliefs and how to overcome them with advise from top coaches. One of my favorite coaches, Michael Neil who wrote the book Supercoach, is featured with a great video on reaching your personal potential.
Do something small toward your goals daily.
Successful CEO's are disciplined in their daily routines. They don't allow distractions to pull them away from their most important goals.
Creating and maintaining momentum around your goals for change is vital to building the life you want. Don't try to force big change all at once. Instead, determine small and manageable actions you can take daily to keep moving forward.
It's much less threatening to tackle change in bite-sized chunks. Create a daily habit of working on your life goals. Do this at the same time every day immediately following a trigger (a previously established habit like eating breakfast or taking a shower).
Even 15 minutes a day is enough to do some research, send an email, or make a few calls. As you get comfortable with taking action, you'll be inspired to tackle more challenging actions and spend more time doing what needs to be done to move forward.
Enjoy the process as much as the outcome.
Working toward a goal and a big life change puts you in the driver's seat of your life. It gives you a sense of control over your destiny and pride in your daily accomplishments.
Rather than delaying happiness until you reach your goal, take pleasure in the process. Enjoy the task at hand. Real life happens in the present moment, not in the past or in some future outcome.
Of course if you are working toward improving your life, you WILL enjoy the fruits of your labor down the road. You will feel happier when you live to your potential and overcome your fears. But in the meantime, don't forget to acknowledge and enjoy the work you are doing now to make it happen. For the self-actualized person, life is always a process of growing and becoming.
Take the time today to examine your life and how you need to create change. How are you living outside of your values? What do you really want for your life? What small, daily actions do you need to take? How can you create accountability and inspiration? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.