The answer might surprise you.
Five years ago my therapist asked me a question that changed my life. For months, I’d poured out frustrations about work to him. I felt I had somewhere around four times the responsibility of my pay level. The answer to my frustration seemed simple: I deserved to be paid more and I needed to ask for it. But then my therapist said: “How would you feel if you got what you want?”
Immediately, I felt the strangest sensation: nothing. When I imagined my boss offering me the money I wanted, I felt nothing. The frustration remained. Perhaps I did deserve more money for the work I was doing. Certainly, I could use it towards my student debt. These were good reasons to ask for it, but the ‘nothing’ feeling told me that money alone wouldn’t be enough. So then I thought, “If it’s not more money, what do I want?”
Until then, I’d never seriously asked myself that question. I sought more money and responsibility because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do. That’s what I saw my friends and coworkers doing. But at that point, through twists of fate, I’d already risen about as far as I could in the company, and my student debt was a year or two away from being paid off completely. Sure, more money would only help, but I knew it wouldn’t be enough.
More money wouldn’t amount to the life I wanted. It wouldn’t make me feel, at the end of my life, that I’d truly lived. In the moments after my therapist asked that fateful question, I felt the truth of these realizations. Then I took a long look in the mirror. What was my life missing?
If you haven’t asked yourself these questions lately (or ever), now is the time to start. The sooner the better. You may be like I was: pursuing goals without really knowing why. If you’ve been feeling dissatisfied, take time to discover what is missing. It may not be what you first think.
The first thing I knew I was missing was my health. I’d been neglecting my health for years, using the excuse that I had no time for it. I was drinking too much, eating out for most meals and not keeping a good sleep or exercise routine. The first change I made was to prioritize my health over work. I went looking for help and, by sheer luck, stumbled upon an Ayurvedic doctor, something I didn’t know existed. She taught me how to buy the right food and to cook delicious and healthy meals. My chronic indigestion disappeared, I started to lose weight and I felt a natural increase in energy.
I soon learned that physical health wouldn’t be enough for me either. I also need to feel at peace inside. A lucky google search introduced me to a meditation practice that I continue to study today. The school and the practice have revealed deep places of stillness that I’d never touched before. I can say with confidence I will meditate as long as I live.
For me, even physical and mental health aren’t enough for a full life. I crave growth. I want to expand my limits, learn new skills and contribute to the world in meaningful ways. When I realized this, I signed up for a life coach training course solely because it felt scary. It required a ton of inner work on my values, goals, limiting beliefs and all of the things I would need to help a client do. With no intention of working as a coach, I signed up so that I could do that work on myself. Together with meditation and therapy, I started to see life with a clarity I’d never experienced. I knew then I had to leave my job and start a new life from the ground up.
4 years later, I can honestly say that heath, peace and growth are still the core pillars of my life. They are my guideposts to every major decision. Can I be healthy, at peace and grow while doing that or living there? They’ve guided me to study yoga to cure my back pain, to volunteer with causes I believe in, and to learn Spanish. Now I feel them guiding me to give others (like you) the resources and care needed to find meaning in life. Ultimately I hope to impact entire communities in this way, especially our communities that have suffered for generations.
If I had to pick a moment that changed the entire trajectory of my life, a moment that changed the course of everything that followed, it would be the moment my therapist asked: “how would you feel if you got what you want?” Take time to ask yourself this question often. Check in with yourself. Are you striving for something you think will make you happy? Imagine getting it and notice how you feel. If the feeling surprises you, take the time to learn what will truly make you happy. It’s not easy, so lean on experts and wise people who can show you different paths. Someday you’ll have the chance to do this for another. I suspect there is no greater gift in life.
drawing by sauyce