Life is a journey. We are born, we are granted a certain period of time in which to live, and then we die. This may seem a bit morbid to some and I acknowledge that I’ve simplified it a bit, particularly for those of us who believe in an afterlife. However, when you strip it back to here and now, that’s basically what we have been given. And depending on who we are and what resources we have at our disposal, we are able to control a lot or are limited in where our life takes us – what sort of journey we go on.
Where am I heading in my life?
For a while, I have not been particularly happy with the direction in which my life is heading. I’ve written about this discontent before, and how I’ve tried to ignore it for a number of years, given how many blessings I have had in life. However, a few months ago, I realised it was not going away and I needed to address it as it impacts so much of my life and the lives of those around me.
I’ve been trying to work out my life journey – what are my life goals and values? I’ve struggled through numerous self help books, articles and radio programs, blogs, and commentaries on the topic. I’ve been going to workshops (well, one or two), presentations, lectures and sermons, praying, mediating, and seeking counselling. Significantly, I’ve only just realised why I am consuming novels like there is no tomorrow – some of the greatest truths can be found in fiction. I don’t think I have ever read so many books in my life before!
Why don’t I know?
Despite all this effort, I couldn’t come up with goals and values that meant anything. Sure, I can set some shorter term goals which can be pretty good – – our family trip to Europe this year, for instance, or the Oxfam walk I am currently training for – but life time goals? No.
The best I could do was identify the goals I thought I ‘should’ want, not goals that I ‘do’ want. These goals seemed fake. I felt no commitment to them. I did not know what it was I wanted – what I was meant to do. I have been completely frustrated – and this frustration has flowed through to the way I interact with others (including my family), how focused I’ve been at work, how I care for myself. It impacts on my whole life. So it has caused a problem, as you can imagine.
Light bulb moment!
And finally, I’ve had a bit of Eureka moment, in the process of reading yet another book, by Matthew Michalewicz. The book’s title – ‘Life in Half a Second’ – alludes to the limited time we have to be ‘effective’ or ‘successful’. The author defines success as the achievement of outcomes consistent with your values or goals. That part I already understood – and was struggling with. But, he then goes on to talk about the importance of aligning our goals with our desires. Desire – ‘the fuel’ that keeps us going, the ‘rightness’ that comes from doing what we are meant to do. As he says in the quote below (which I’ve shortened a little):
Ah! That’s what I was missing. And that was why I was finding this process so hard.
You see, I then realised that, for the most part, I have never really allowed myself to work out what I truly desired. There are a few key exceptions – when my husband and I decided to marry, to establish a home, and to create two beautiful children. And I count my blessings every days for them.
However, in the rest of my life – how I spend my days, how I use my skills and interests in an employment or volunteer capacity, what I am aiming to contribute, how I care for myself and others, what I want to do for fun and how I can build on this, what role I form within my broader family, friends, community – no, I have not thought of these issues. I have not been ACTIVE when making most decisions – rather I have REACTED because decisions have had to be made (or so I thought).
Some reasons for being a passenger
I’ve been thinking about why I have been reactive in so many areas of my life. I think there are a range of reasons:
I have not wanted to offend people
Sometimes making decisions may put me at odds with others. However, going along with other people’s decisions can put me at odds with myself (and it can take me some time to realise this).
I have discounted what is important to me
I have – not always consciously – often placed other people’s needs, systems, approaches, traditions, above my own. If others feel strongly, well, sometimes it feels churlish to argue (and there is so much arguing in the world already – do I want to add to this?)
I have thought I knew what others needed and I could deliver it.
My desire to ‘fit in’ and ‘not offend’ people has been a big issue for me but it can cause problems.
It means I often make assumptions that may or may not be true about what others need, or want me to do or be like, so I do ‘fit in’, or ‘make them proud’ or ‘meet my obligations’. I am then resentful if they haven’t appreciated what I have done, or given up, or been acknowledged for this.
In addition, it is an extremely passive approach to life. Blending in – it keeps me very much in the background.
At times, it has been a matter of expedience or not making the effort.
Sometimes being the decision maker takes energy. It’s not always a bad thing to leave those decisions to others. However, if it involved matters which are important to me, then this can cause problems.
I am risk adverse
If I am following others, I can kid myself that if they don’t work, the responsibility doesn’t rest with me. But in reality, I am actually just kidding myself.
Where to now? Onto the next leg of the journey …
I realise that this list sounds a bit harsh – surely I should cut myself a bit of slack? But I am trying to shake myself out of a life time habit of being a passenger. So a bit of harshness may be necessary.
It is also clear in writing this that these are very strong reasons for me to feel resentful. And resentment, not articulated, can take the form of discontent. That’s probably why I am where I am. So I need to take a more active role.
However, I don’t think I need to completely change my personality to achieve this. I am hoping that I can work out a more assertive approach that still sits well with me, and with others. I also know that, as this is a real shift in approach for me, it will take time to become more active in driving my life. Time to work out goals (I have a few identified already) and also time to develop and maintain a new approach to life.
Setting goals is not a hard and fast process. For different reasons, the goals may change over time – not least because there are a number of other people on their own life journeys who will impact on my journey. I do know, however, that I have a lot ability to control my life than I have recognised in the past.
So it is time. Time no longer to be a passenger, but instead, a driver of my own life.
How about you? How do you navigate your way through life?