Our lives are defined by our choices. But often, the choices we make don’t appear at the time to be the important crossroads that they later turn out to have been. We go merrily along our way, taking what looks like a straight and well-defined path, only to realize later how many times we made life-altering decisions without a second thought.
Personal experiences, cultural expectations, peer and family pressures – each of these plays a role in how we look at life and the lives we choose for ourselves. But all of us have a unique and personal role to play in life. For this reason, it doesn’t pay to surrender our life’s choices to the highest (or loudest) bidder.
Reclaiming your uniqueness and your individuality can be a daunting but powerfully rewarding process. The trick is to shut out the clamoring demands of those around us and find a way to listen to the voice inside, the voice of our heart and our soul. Only by doing this, and acting upon what we hear, can we once again get back on our true path and live the life we were born to fulfill.
Lower the signal to noise ratio in your life. Find a way to let your inner voice rise up above the external chatter. How you do this depends on your own preferences and resources. Some people go on retreats. Others meditate. Still others simply go for walks or play their favorite music. Whatever your preference, find a way to shut out everyone else’s voice so you can more clearly hear your own.
During these quiet times, listen to your heart. Think about your work, your plans for the future, your personal life. What are the feelings that come up? Enthusiasm? Dread? Indifference? Confusion? Assurance? Listen to your feelings as you go about your normal activities. Do you find yourself peering into art supply stores, or devouring the real estate section of the paper? Does your heart race whenever a new client calls, and if so, is it from excitement, nervousness or fear?
Imagine that you had the perfect life.
What would your day look like? Where would you be living? What hobbies and routines would you be enjoying? What sort of work would you be doing? Try to visualize your surroundings and activities in as much detail as possible, and listen to your feelings around each aspect of this perfect life. What’s different there? Where are the gaps between your current and ideal lives?
Make a choice and act.
Focus on something that you either wish you were or were not doing, or that you wish you could add or eliminate from your life. Try to determine why it is or isn’t a part of your life, given your feelings about it. Was there something you once loved about a now-unpleasant job? Or was taking the position simply an “inevitable” step, or the result of bad information. What is it about a particular activity or hobby that intrigues you? Why aren’t you doing it, and are there ways to work around those reasons?
Once you’re aware of your motivations and what’s behind them, you can determine what options you have. Once you know that, make the choice to add or eliminate whatever you’ve decided on. Start small, if it helps, but make sure that the choice is meaningful and that you follow through on your decision.
Give the change time to settle in. This could be as little as a few weeks for something minor, or even a few years for something major. Regardless, once you’re out of the “newness” of the change, take the time to really look at how your choice has impacted your life and how you feel about it. Make adjustments as necessary until you’re satisfied that the life you’re living is really yours. If something didn’t work out… well, at least you were willing to give it a try. Accept that not all choices are going to be 100% and move on.
Repeat this process as often as necessary until you’re sure that the life you’re living meets your needs, addresses your desires and reflects your values.
Finally, beware of the myth of “sunk costs.” Too often people feel that because they have invested a certain amount of time, money or energy into a choice that they can’t “afford” to abandon their decisions and start from scratch. But the truth is, you can never really start from scratch. No matter how far afield your choices go, you can’t unlearn or unexperience what you’ve been through. Your network, your training, your education and your experiences can all benefit you as much in your new life as they did in your old. So if something isn’t working out, no matter how much you have invested in it, it’s always better to let go and try something new.
Going in the right direction, even from a dead stop, is always better than making good time while going the wrong way.
Thanks to Energies of Creation for including this post in the Carnival of Creative Growth, to Widow’s Quest for featuring this in the Carnival of Positive Thinking, to PinkBlocks for publishing this in the Blog Carnival on Personal Power, and to The Tall Poppy for inclusion in the Living a Real Life Carnival.