How to Wake Up Feeling Whole and Satisfied
Regardless of age, many of my clients report that after achieving their professional and personal goals, they feel more empty than proud. They are told that they should be happy with themselves, that they are role models, but they feel unbalanced and uncertain.
They come to me either looking back at their past and wondering what they’ve lost along the way, or worrying about the future and wondering what’s next. What they hope for rarely involves money; they want to feel whole and complete when they wake up. They wonder if their feeling of imbalance has a spiritual or physical remedy as they try to settle their condition with logic.
Parker Palmer, author of On the edge of everything: grace, gravity and aging,1 says that our sense of imbalance stems from the fact that we live a life where our personal values cannot be expressed in the public world.
Living a divided life
I read Self-presentation on a daily basis by Irving Goffman over 40 years ago. Dr. Goffman used the metaphor of a theatrical performance to explain how we present ourselves in professional and social situations, separating our backstage and onstage lives.2 All our life we have received messages about who we should be and what we should do. We don’t want to be judged, shunned, or belittled, so we don’t express the parts of ourselves and the desires that don’t fit those messages. We deny our values - what is most important to us – to fit in.
In the times of our lives when we are not occupied with work or family, the gap creates either a feeling of emptiness or anxiety. We feel, “Something is wrong with my life” or, “Something is wrong with me.” The years of self-sacrifice have taken us away from our goal. Some people tell me they feel like they don’t have a soul.
How do you find meaning in your life? How can you feel a connection with others that allows you to be spontaneous and real?
“So a key spiritual practice for me is trying to pay close attention to my choices,” says Parker Palmer, “…at key times, asking the questions about what I put out into the world and how i take the world in…we must understand that no reward the world can give us could be greater than the reward that comes from living according to our own best lights.Palmer says we should live, “no longer be divided” , so that we can appear as ourselves.
Realign your inner and outer self
Start with compassion and generosity towards yourself. Then discovering what you value most, giving voice to what is most important to you, is a good place to start. Here are five things you can do to help you feel like you are living your inner and outer life in alignment:
- Discover what gives you meaning. Notice during the day when you do something that opens your heart. You might feel fulfilled. You might feel gratitude for the life that brought you to this moment. You might feel motivated to recreate this moment often before you talk yourself out of it. Write down what happened so you can keep it as a reminder of what fulfills you, especially when life feels exhausting, lonely, or stressful.
- Make a list of what you value the most. Values are tangible things/relationships and circumstances that give us a sense of security, fulfillment and happiness. Examples include health, romantic relationships, adventure, play/movement that brings you joy, an environment that nurtures your aesthetic sensations, freedom, achievement, learning, contribution, advocacy, or hit. Choose your top five values from this list to help you compose your future, a fulfilling life.
- Recognize what can lead you to live in complete alignment with your values. Your values may conflict with those you live and work with. You may need to delay your life in alignment with your values depending on current circumstances. Can you imagine a future where you more fully live a life that honors your highest values? Write or draw this vision, or print out pictures that you can paste into a collage, that represent the life you can create. This vision will help you to keep hope in the face of helplessness and gratitude in the face of resentment.
- Make a “redirect” list. At least twice a year, find a quiet place to reflect on your life’s journey. When you compare your current life to what you want to create, what is holding you back from addressing or resolving? The “redirect” list may include exhausting people you need to drop or cut time with; the habits you want to replace; or tedious tasks that can be automated or delegated so you have more time to focus on your life.
- Remember who you are. Michael Bungay Stanier in his book, How to start,3 says you don’t have to be perfect to be good enough to start living a life that matters. On your journey, when you doubt yourself, stand up and say, “I am…” and declare out loud your five best qualities. Recall a high point in your life when you felt moved or proud of what you did. What gave you energy: your courage, your love, your patience, your determination, your faith, your humor, your courage, your passion, your creativity, your strength? Claim your top five powers. Remind yourself daily that you have enough of what you need to take even small steps toward creating life worth living.
Remember that others may judge your choices by using the dreaded word “should” as they try to convince you to hide your dreams. Their judgments are not under your control. What is in your control is to nurture your desires because you feel worthy of creating a life that matters. This is how you wake up feeling whole and satisfied.