If you’re like me, the last couple of weeks you’ve been reading and thinking (and possibly writing) a lot about getting mentally prepared for the New Year. Drafting up lists of resolutions, cutting and pasting images for your vision board or trying to find your word for the year.
For many, this time of year is energising and liberating, a chance to envisage, and get excited about, the life you want to experience in the coming year. But for others, all this ‘New Year, New You’ stuff can be a huge source of anxiety and stress as they diligently try to follow the principles or frameworks provided, only to find that they fall at the first hurdle – with the realisation that they have no idea of what they really, really want.
Resolution making, vision boarding and all the other intention setting frameworks are based on the assumption that you already have a clear idea of what you want to change, achieve or experience. But what if you don’t? What if you have no clue as to the life you really want to lead?
Authenticity, relatedness, competence – the keys to a fulfilling life?
When you break it down, what do we really need to experience to be fulfilled? My take on this is that we need the confidence to be ourselves, to connect emotionally to other people and, to feel like we are competent human beings.
I’m borrowing here from self-determination theory which was originally developed as a universal theory of motivation. But, as with many of these ideas, it has been picked up and applied to organisational life. In particular, the principles of good job design are often linked to the assertion that, in order to motivate people to do stuff (i.e. be productive), you must provide employees with jobs that deliver the opportunity to experience autonomy, relatedness and competence.
I prefer authenticity to autonomy and, I like to view this framework through a different lens. Rather than as a way to motivate other people, I like it as a way to consider the elements that make up a fulfilling life. So, with all the appropriate disclaimers and apologies to those who would prefer I applied it in its purist form, let me explain what I mean.
In order to be yourself, you have to first know yourself
At first glance, being authentic seems like a no brainer. What could be easier than simply being yourself? I mean really, who else could you actually be? But, as many of us know from experience, being yourself without knowing yourself is an almost impossible task.
So what does it mean to be yourself? To me, there are two key components – what you think or believe and, how you behave. In the world of pure authenticity these two elements would always be in synch but this where things can get a bit tricky.
What we think or believe about something is often fluid. Opinions can be hastily formed and changed by experience, contradictory evidence or a persuasive argument that completely transforms your world view.
And this can be a very good thing. Open mindedness, one of the cornerstones of both tolerance and creativity, is dependent on the ability to look at the same things through different eyes and the willingness to change what you think.
But, as the saying goes ‘if you stand for nothing, you fall for everything’. Being too willing to change your opinion to whatever the last person you spoke to believes, can lead to a situation in which you really have no idea of what YOU truly think or believe.
This can create all sorts of issues in trying to live your best life. How do you prioritise if you don’t really know what’s important to you? How do you decide where to put your energy and resources if you can’t distinguish between the worthiness of one activity over another? And how do you decide which relationships to invest in if you can’t actually recognise the kindred spirits you come across in your daily life?
Your vibe attracts your tribe
Relationships matter. I’ll go so far as to say that, for most of us, they matter most of all. But having a relationship is not the same as just having people to hang out, or do stuff, with. Real relationships, those that provide the opportunity to truly relate to someone else, involve a connection on a deeper level and, as a consequence can include people with whom you may not share any other interests, but do share values and beliefs.
When I think about my eclectic tribe of girlfriends there is very little, on the surface at least, that you could point to and say we have in common. Each one is different to the others and to me. We all have different life stories, do different work, enjoy different hobbies, vote for different political parties and dress in our own unique style.
And yet, the connection is there. I get them and, they get me, in a way that transcends the superficiality of whatever life situation we might find ourselves in at any particular time. Which is not to say that the situational friendships I’ve developed over the years have no value, they certainly do, but they are just not the same.
Now, again you might be thinking, well duh, of course relationships matter! But here’s the thing, in order for someone else to truly get you and be able to connect in that deep, authentic way, you actually have to be YOU. You have to be real in order for the relationship to be real. And, as we’ve already discussed, in order for you to truly be yourself, you have to know the real you.
I feel good about myself when I…?
Fill in the blank. When do you feel a sense of accomplishment? Achievement? Intrinsic reward? Feeling that we are competent human beings is also one of the core components to feeling fulfilled in life. But, as you’ve probably already guessed by now, this is not always as simple as it seems.
A lot of us are good at things that matter a lot to us but don’t matter at all to other people. For example, I am enormously proud of my dishwasher loading competency and feel a great sense of accomplishment when I shut the door knowing I couldn’t fit a single extra item in. But I am alone in this. My husband couldn’t care less and when I tell others of this hidden talent, I get some very bemused looks.
Does this mean I should discount or devalue the joy I get from this simple act? Of course not. Your sense of competence – that belief you are somehow ‘winning at life’ – is deeply connected to your your authenticity in relating to your world. So whatever it is that matters to you, matters, regardless of what others might think.
It also means that we shouldn’t feel obliged to take on other people’s beliefs in terms of what counts as important or valuable in terms of how we spend our time, energy and resources.
You may find that if you have a particular talent for something, a lot of people will try to convince you that this is what you should do with your life. But if applying that talent doesn’t feel like an authentic expression of yourself, you may find yourself grappling with an internal conflict that can be difficult to resolve, especially if you don’t really know who you are and, by extension, what you really want.
Shouldn’t that be PARC life?
In recent times Purpose or Passion have taken centre stage in discussions on how we should spend our lives. Sometimes used interchangeably, I’m increasingly seeing them as quite different, often unrelated, and sometimes complementary, things.
To me, purpose is that thing that gets you out of bed in the morning. It has a sense of drive and determination about it which sees you through whatever obstacles or challenges come up along the way. Purpose is often externally focused – what you see as your contribution to making the world a better place – which can manifest in a myriad of ways.
Passion, on the other hand, speaks more to the experience of pure delight. My passion at the moment is interior decorating. Nothing makes me happier than finding yet another fluffy item to add to my increasingly hygge home but, I’m pretty sure that’s not my purpose in life :-).
So what’s more important, purpose or passion? I think we need both – something to drive us and something that delights us – but they don’t have to be the same thing.
In my case, they are complementary. I’m pretty sure that my purpose has something to do with communicating and teaching concepts and ideas in ways that people can relate and apply to their own lives.
So it makes sense to me that, as I spend a lot of my working time in the intangible world of ideas, my passions should be more tactile. Being domestic and making my home more comfortable and cosy, provides a visceral grounding that acts as a much needed counter balance to the esoteric skew of my work.
So where to begin cultivating the PARC of your own life? Perhaps begin with the passions – those little sparks of involuntary delight that only you experience. It’s my hunch that those little sparks are connected to the authentic YOU which is, of course, the best place to begin figuring out the life that you want.
Tricia Alach is a career and life coach & wellbeing professional who specialises in helping busy people create happier, healthier & more fulfilling lives. To learn more about what she offers visit www.flowmindandbody.com or connect via Instagram, facebook, or @triciaalach