“high-rise buildings during daytime” by chuttersnap on Unsplash
By: Daniel Whalen
A short expression of a monumental actualization.
Peruse the landscape of social media, advertisements, workplaces, relationships, your own head space, and you’ll find a common theme: we’re obsessed with what makes us happy. And that’s totally valid. It’s a crazy, unpredictable world out there and we’ve got a limited amount of time to make the most of it.
I’m not excluded from this paradigm, either. Many of my days are centered around what I want, what’s going to bring me pleasure and less pain, what’s going to bring my life a little more significance than what already exists. Ultimately, I’m out to be happy and ride that wave as long as I possibly can.
When happiness ensues, I feel unstoppable. My confidence is heightened, appreciation for life kicks into overdrive, and my patience grows to near Zen-like.
The only caveat — my personal happiness has limits. There’s a certain threshold I’m unable to transcend despite my peak condition.
What do I mean?
When I’m not busy writing, I manage a business. This business, by conventional standards, is a pretty successful one. We’ve been lucky enough to stave off the black hole responsible for sucking up approximately 90 percent of small businesses within their first decade of operation, and surpass revenue marks that only 4 percent of businesses ever see in a calendar year.
Throughout my career — whether this business or another — fulfillment eluded me, and I couldn’t figure out why. Neither money, nor accolades signified a cure. Take a look at the laundry-list of painfully successful individuals that slip into deep depression and you’ll understand it’s a harder code to crack than meets the eye.
I was bound to be a part of this group if I didn’t figure it out (by no means am I immune to reverting back, but I feel pretty good about what I’m about to tell you). It didn’t matter how big the business got — the more it grew, the less responsible I felt.
I’d need about 20 more minutes to let you know what happened, but I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version here in three simple steps (Yeah! Listicles!) to unlock the greatest gift that life has to offer:
1. Give Up Looking Good
I’m not certain but if I had to guess, I’d say a big reason why the depression worsened for many high-profile individuals short of a chemical imbalance, is what they were experiencing internally didn’t match what society said they should be feeling.
Life can easily become about doing just enough to look good for everyone else, blind to the fact that something’s inherently missing inside you. You know this intellectually, but catching this inclination in the moment is a taller order. The truth is always fleeting, and it’s up to us to grab hold before it surpasses our reach.
To avert this involves pushing through the constraints when something needs to be said from your heart or gut. We’re all very similar at the core, yearning for the same things. Why make such a big deal about saying something everyone else is feeling? The reaction may be hard to handle on the surface, but beneath the superficiality and cynicism, you’re making people feel less alone.
2. Rescind Efforts For Self-Preservation
As you’ve probably heard, your brain isn’t always your friend. It’s hard-wired for protection first and foremost, which can get us into rather sticky situations more times than not. This comes in handy when violence is afoot, but the rest of the time, it acts like a suppression button.
Protecting ourselves is nearly automatic but it’s near-impossible to protect something and love something simultaneously. We’re not that developed. Multi-tasking is a pipe dream. We can only focus on one thing at a time. Left to our own devices, protection will always win out.
Only when you suspends these efforts for self-preservation will you experience the fruits of the other side. I’m far from a seasoned professional in this area, but damn has it been liberating without this reflex part of my daily behavior.
3. Get Inside Another Person’s World
Once you free yourself from looking good and protecting yourself all the time, you need somewhere to invest all this energy energy and focus. We forget almost moment-to-moment — thanks to that lovely age-old cognitive conditioning — that our lives don’t revolve around us. We’re each participants in the game of life. We share our experience of it just like we (are supposed to) share the road.
It’s no accident whenever something incredible happens to us, we’re literally pulled to share the good news with someone. It’s not enough to just sit with it ourselves. That’s because life has no meaning without others. Anyone left alone on this planet would most certainly lose their mind — it would simply be a matter of when, not if.
Our experience of whatever we’re experiencing multiplies when others are involved. Connection is one of the most sought after human needs of all, yet many of us struggle — myself included — because we’re too concerned with our (you guessed it!) looking good and self-preservation. Giving these up allows for you to venture away from yourself and over to the other person, truly taking in what they’re experiencing in that moment. You start to get present to what they’re thinking, feeling, wanting, and afraid of, irrevocably giving you the keys to what we’ve been building toward this entire passage.
Yes, in my humble opinion, what’s even better than happiness is beautiful, wonderful, honorable, life-altering contribution. So few conquer what’s in their own way to make a lasting difference with others and so few get out of the way what’s in their way to truly appreciate it when it happens — which makes contribution, when it really clicks, the most awe-inspiring aspect life has to offer.
The most revered individuals throughout history became the titans they were by virtue of standing for something or someone other than themselves. I don’t know how happy they were every second they were alive, but I’d bet the house that they wouldn’t change a thing if offered a do-over.
Do you have to “change the world” to contribute? Obviously not — we’d all hold out forever if that were the case. This stuff is available every day — my apologies for venturing into cliche mode — simply by letting go of the pre-programmed defaults and being with people.
Remember the business I spoke of? The most fulfilling moment of my career happened today, and it never would’ve made my Top 10 had action items 1–3 not been executed to a tee.
One of our Operations Managers notified me of his planned departure from the organization to move closer to his family in North Carolina. We both knew this moment was coming — another when, not if situation — and had hired a wily veteran to eventually slide into his role when the time came.
Over the past few months, not-so-quietly in the background, an admirable example of passion, commitment and grit has been churning away hoping to land the soon-to-be open position. He made remarkable alterations in his personal life, health, and communication with our team members to showcase how badly he wanted this opportunity. Was he totally ready? Debatable. Did he want it more than anything in his life? Absolutely.
I’ve wanted few things in life as badly as I wanted to tell this man the job was his. I rescheduled my conference call this afternoon and called him in on his day off (oops). Needless to say, that didn’t matter once I shared with him the why.
This was our text exchange after he headed home post-meeting, walking on air as (finally!) our new Operations Manager. I get this could be perceived as ordinary, but life can’t just start once the record books or public notoriety gets involved. It’s happening all around us — all the time. Life sucks for many of us because we perceive most everything as ordinary — when in fact, it’s truly remarkable.
Why is it remarkable? Because people stick their necks out for things. They gamble their futures for a chance at a better one. They give everything they’ve got knowing they may get nothing in return. And they don’t just do it for themselves — they do it for families, friends, communities, and world causes.
Go be with that with someone for a second — away from yourself — and tell me it’s not remarkable. That’s our humanity right there. A thing called hope.
I’m embarrassed it took me this long to get to the point where I could forego looking good and protecting myself to be in another person’s world and contribute, but in a way, the length of the journey to this point made the satisfaction and fulfillment that much greater. And I can’t wait to continue along this path.
I can’t offer everyone a promotion, but I can sure as shit get creative and connect my own experiences to what I think may make a difference for others.
My desire to look good and protect myself is sure to rear its ugly head again, so I’ve got to remain acutely aware not to fall back into the trap. Once I get past those two snarky defenders however, it’s a wide-open sprint to the end-zone.
It’s no mystery the best NFL touchdown celebrations involve several teammates. In a way, it’s everyone acknowledging each other for doing their part.
Nothing great gets created alone — even happiness. And you’re not as alone as you may think.
Get out there and find out.
I look forward to celebrating with you.