Instead of enjoying the heady view from the top, many of us face a strange paradox – the higher we go, the deeper the secret feelings of gnawing discontent, despair or depression. The solution to this confusing and disconcerting state of mind can often be found in determining what really matters to us and resetting our priorities in pursuit of those things. The curious part is that so many of us find it difficult to identify just what those meaningful things are.
Start finding out what really matters to you by asking the following questions:
1. What are the things I most regret NOT having done in my life?
However painful this question might seem, the answer may provide insight into what’s missing today. The worst thing that can happen is that you’ll discover you wanted to be a rock star and now you’re too old. Nonetheless, you will have uncovered a former passion, an area of interest, an important part of yourself. The good news is that it’s never too late to reinterpret your dreams to fit your current day situation in some form or another. This can only happen if you address what you originally wanted. Until you reassert your core desires, a feeling of hollowness is bound to exist. And, the more you try to bury your initial urgings, the more they will slow down your personal development and evolution. Courageously face those things that are missing in your life and there’s a good chance you’ll be able to reclaim some rich, untapped part of yourself.
2. What are my greatest original gifts and am I using regularly them?
What came naturally to you? What did everyone say you were so good at as a kid? What did your friends always count on you to do? There will be immense satisfaction in identifying every single innate talent you ever had and making sure each is fully active in your life today. Humorist Erma Bombeck stated the goal well when she said, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’"
3. What are the things in life that have always made ME feel the best?
Regarding the causes of high level burnout, Dr. Seven Berglas wrote in Reclaiming the Fire, “Since they do not love me for who I am, I will have to make them love me for what I do, achieve or accomplish.” Early on, many of us abandon or forget the things that made us the happiest because they did not meet the expectations of those most important to us – parents, teachers, siblings, friends. Only when we uncover and follow our own deepest held dreams and desires will we ever feel complete. This process begins when we bravely decide to put ourselves first in the process of determining what really matters.
4. What on the planet needs doing that I can do?
This is not about your vocation. This is about your world. What do you see wrong, unfair, undone in the world that you can help make right or better? You’ll probably be able to easily come up with a list of at least 50 things that you think need to be done or changed that you can address. Writing these things down is very important so that you can see your concerns and interests rather than just thinking about them. Once you’ve made the list, bring the most important issue to the top and – one by one - commit to becoming involved in things that deeply concern you.
5. What am I willing to do to ensure that my life is richly balanced and complete?
In the best-seller Tuesdays with Morrie, author Mitch Albom quotes the star professor, “So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half asleep even when they're busy doing things they think are important. This is because they're chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” Author Anna Quindlen completes the thought, “ Don't ever confuse the two, your life and your work. The second is only part of the first….It doesn’t matter what you do for a living as long as it makes you feel whole and fulfilled. It doesn’t matter how old you are when it comes to looking for love, your dream or the adventure of being alive… Find your spiritual center, your generosity for others, your compassion for the world. Take nothing for granted. Get committed to things you care deeply about that were chosen for their goodness. Life goes so quickly. Use every bad thing to good advantage. Use every loss for gain. Find the lesson in every day living. Listen. Give back.” In short, find out what really matters to you and live it.