Delightful photography by the ever-patient Drew Corby
(following on from yesterday’s post: What to do when your life doesn’t inspire you to high five strangers)
It turns out that most of us live with a perpetual sense that fulfilment is somewhere in the future.
When we get that A+, that degree, that job, that promotion, that house, that SUV, that sex-god(ess) partner, that marriage, those kids, that dog, that picket fence, that holiday, that Pandora charm thingee, that Weber BBQ… THEN we’ll be happy.
I bought right into the idea. I’ve always been hell bent on succeeding at everything I do, so I worked my ass off and succeeded at being top of my classes, at getting A+s in my architecture degree, at always being a hard worker and succeeding in every job I worked.
But no matter how highly I achieved, there was always the nagging feeling that I wasn’t heading in the right direction.
Even so, I soldiered on, because I didn’t know what else to do with my life, and I felt that the wrong direction was at least better than no direction.
But the dissatisfaction of continuing to do something that I didn’t love made it harder and harder for me to put energy into making a decision on what I did want to do.
It was all a big chaotic mess in my head, and it kept me stuck for years.
Until I realised that something really wasn’t right, and I was the only one that could do something about it.
When I made the decision to throw in the Architect towel (or was it a scrunched up piece of drafting paper?), it was like a huge weight (paper weight?) was lifted off my shoulders.
And it was magical. For AT LEAST a day.
Until it was replaced by a much weighty-er weight of overwhelming indecision.
What the hell should I do instead??
“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, […] and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”
I remember reading this quote from the Bell Jar and feeling that Sylvia Plath and I would get along really well.
But she was not a happy chappy, and I did not want to end up in her very glum shoes.
I felt stuck between a rock and a hard place – stay with something safe that I didn’t have a huge passion for or tackle the overwhelm of the unknown.
So I turned to the only thing I knew I was passionate about.
And I was baffled that even though friends constantly told me I was “living the dream” – and externally, I really was – I STILL didn’t feel particularly fulfilled. More free, sure, which I loved, but somehow the lack of lasting satisfaction followed me around from country to country, job to job, boyfriend to boyfriend.
It was like I was carrying an extra backpack filled with heavy, useless things that weighed me down no matter what I did. I couldn’t seem to be rid of it.
I kept looking for fulfilment externally until I finally started to suspect that fulfilment couldn’t be solved by external means.
I’d always had a niggling feeling that that was the case, but I didn’t want to accept it, because I didn’t do ‘feelings’ and ‘inner work’.
I thought all that crap about feelings and stuff was, well, crap.
Also, I suspected it would be very hard, for such a cynical person as me to become un-cynical. Surely I couldn’t be changed.
So the easier option for me was to keep moving countries and creating new external circumstances so that I could live off the fleeting high that each change brought me.
But after succeeding in every mission and adventure I put my mind to – yet still feeling no greater sense of fulfilment; I had no choice but to conclude that the answer must not be outside.
And shit, that meant I’d have to start looking within.
I did not like the sound of that at all.
My previous glimpses of my inner state had given me a fright.
All that chaos and stress in there – I preferred to immerse myself in travelly distraction, boys, Facebook and alcohol, thank you very much.
Anything I could do to avoid having to sit with my own thoughts.
So I started to cast around for some answers as to how to tackle my inner chaos.
(Argh, if my former self could hear me now she’d give me a swift backhand to the face and call me a tool.)
I’ll be honest, working out how to do the inner work was tough. I was very resistant to it, and so much of what I found was too airy fairy for me to stomach.
But after much research, travel, and experimentation, I found some answers that worked for my practical self.
The first, and most life changing technique that made any difference was mindfulness.
It’s one thing to have read about mindfulness, to have given meditation a bit of a go, hell you could even have a PhD in mindfulness, but until you learn how to integrate it into your day to day life, it will remain a concept.
Additionally there is a LOT of weeding to do when it comes to self-development stuff.
But don’t worry, I’ve done the weeding for you.
In Bloody Good Life 101 I’ll give you all the best resources I’ve found – articles, books, podcasts, apps – no crap, just the good stuff.
It makes sense, and it works.
I’ll explain the self-development techniques I’ve learnt and the science behind them. I’ll show you how to work them into your life in a way that works for you, and I’ll answer any questions you have.
It’s all about training your mind, and it’s not something many of us have ever done before.
Think of it as having a personal trainer for your mind.