The world blurs as the young girl races through the trees. Branches reach out to scratch her arms and face, and she moves faster. She trips on a tree root, and falls face first into the dirt. That won’t stop her. She’s up moving again.
Tree after tree, it all looks the same. The area is actually different, but she only sees it for what it is not – it’s not where she wanted to be when she started running. Fatigued and bruised, she walks now.
To the right, she sees a small clearing. A couple hundred feet away is a willow tree overlooking a small pond. Yes! This is the tree she has been looking for. But she’s an old woman now. She had been running for years, searching and not finding. Now aged and weary from running, she finally rests against her willow tree and dies.
Is this story a story of hope or of tragedy? That depends on your viewpoint. In the end, the woman found what she was looking for, but it took her a lifetime to find it. We’ll revisit this story later, and perhaps you’ll see it in a new light then. For now, if you feel like the young girl running through the forest, you’re not living the right story.
Here’s what you need to do about it.
Changing Your Story
One day we arrive on the planet, to our own surprise, unprepared and unaware. We are taken care of as tots out of necessity. As soon as we begin to develop our cognitive ability, we’re put in school and taught a variety of things about the world – math, science, history, art. This is the common story for people of the developed world.
It’s a cool setup, but it is lacking.
We aren’t taught these vital skills, unless we have “the .01%” of parents…
- How to choose a life path for ourselves.
- How to carve out our life path confidently.
- How to think independently of the systems in place.
- How to stop and think about trajectory – if I’m here living this way and continue, where will I be in 20 years?
We’re told about jobs, but not about fulfillment. We’re lambasted with data, but infrequently encouraged to create our own. We’re in a system that teaches about other systems, but not told why.
Essentially, we’re taught what to think instead of how to think. The school system is life on rails until you’re 18. Only then (or after college) do we become free, but by this time we’re indoctrinated. So what do we do?
We live the wrong life. That’s the easiest way to keep the rails on and the rails are oddly comforting because we were raised on them.
The things in life that are supposed to make us happy, only amuse us. We might thrive and achieve all there is to achieve in our path, but feel empty because it doesn’t suit us. We were taught the reverse – if we suit the job and have the skills for it, then it’s a fit. Well, that’s wrong.
Step One – Find Fulfilling Work
If you don’t love your job, stop doing it.
Take the risk and quit or work tirelessly to line up something else first. It doesn’t help the world if you’re miserable at work because it means you’re not contributing as much as you can. The world needs your best contribution as much as you need to have a job that fulfills you. There are so many problems that need attention! Find a way to get paid to solve a problem you care about, either with a company or on your own.
Consider human spending – we spend money on fixing our problems. Hunger and lack of nutrients are problems, so we pay McDonald’s to solve our hunger problem and other restaurants to solve both. Boredom is a problem, so we pay to watch movies and buy nice televisions. Being cold? Jackets, central heating, etc. Wanting a more fulfilling life? That’s the problem Will and I have a passion to solve.
Work is step one because it’s income and that provides our most primitive needs. Relationships are still a close second (and could be argued for number one). We need to eat to live, and excessive debt tends to ruin all other aspects of life, so your occupation is extremely important to your well-being and enjoyment of your story. On average people spend a massive portion of their time on earth working, so by that measure, it’s a big deal. Don’t settle!
As for finding the right job, that’s another entire post (my thoughts on finding a career). I recommend reading the book “Do What You Are,” which uses the Myers-Briggs system to match you with occupations. I found it very helpful in understanding what I need in a job to be fulfilled. Will, would you recommend any of your books for career direction?
As for the job function, think about problems you can solve.
My friend loves energy and efficiency, so he gets paid to audit AC/heat systems in homes and suggest/implement improvements. It’s enjoyable for him and he’s solving a problem. LeBron James is paid millions to entertain people, and he loves it, but very few people are skilled enough to get paid to play basketball. That’s the key – you have to get good enough that people to want to pay you for your products or services.
Step Two – Find Fulfilling Relationships
Life is difficult because of the balancing act it requires. Career takes up so much energy and effort, and then we’re supposed to find fulfilling relationships too? Lucky for some people, this happens naturally and they have excellent family and friends to enjoy their story with. If that’s you, congratulations! Your story is solid here already. If it isn’t, read on!
Start hanging out with the wrong crowd and it can be hard to stop. They’re fun and you’ve known them forever, but you know something critical is missing in your life because you have the wrong friends. It’s awkward to “break up” with friends, but if they are doing anything but uplifting you and making you more of the person you want to be, you need to remove them from your life (non-lethally).
Next, meet quality people at church or find people with similar interests using meetup.com or similar sites (I’ve never used it, but it’s a great idea). It’s really not that hard to revamp your friends and social life, it’s just uncomfortable enough that most people never attempt it. But once you do it, your story will get a lot more exciting and meaningful.
Step Three – Find Contentment
If you think you need more than basic needs and relationships, you’re wrong. Go to Africa and watch a poor family with just enough food to survive be twice as happy as a rich family. It’s true that being poor has a negative effect on happiness, but there’s also a strong bonding effect that takes place when a family struggles together. They have to be a team just to survive – which is so sad and so beautiful in different ways.
The key for your story might not be finding the perfect job or meeting the perfect person. It could be that all your story needs is a new perspective. I’m guessing if you’re reading this, you have a lot going for you. You have internet access. That’s great! Hey, just because you’re used to it, doesn’t mean it’s any less incredible.
Back to the running girl in the forest. What can her story teach us about perspective?
Well, what if she had stopped running for a moment? She was looking for the willow tree, but as she looked frantically for it, she missed the fact that she was in a beautiful forest. If she had admired the trees around her, maybe she would have found something to appreciate in them.
In the same way, your life can always be better. Their will always be another willow tree you seek, and that’s perfectly fine. As a personal development blogger, I recognize this and encourage people to seek improvements and a better tomorrow. But that desire must be balanced with appreciation for where you are now. If you’ll never be content with what you have, what is the point in pursuing better things?
Many hearts have been broken by thinking “if I could just get this one thing.” Don’t be fooled into thinking, “just one more willow tree,” or you’ll miss the biggest, best willow tree of them all. It’s the willow tree everyone is looking for, but it’s well-hidden and out of sight. You won’t find it by running to the ends of the earth, obtaining the world’s greatest treasures, or by meeting the perfect person.
The giant willow tree is called contentment and it can only be found within you.
Article by Stephen Guise
PS. A big thank you to Will and White Dove Books for recently awarding my blog (Deep Existence) as the top Personal Development Blog For 2012!
About the Author: Stephen Guise is content. He genuinely loves to help people live better lives and does so at Deep Existence – Personal Development’s Deep End. His book, Stress Management Redefined, helps people permanently remove stress from their lives. If that’s something that interests you, you’re invited to subscribe to Deep Existence and as a bonus, you’ll receive the book instantly!