How I'm finding fulfillment

Mar 1, 2021

Every self-improvement book claims to have the key to finding happiness and fulfillment. Some ask you to follow the 7 daily habits of the most successful people, others offer hollow truisms that are sold as the panacea to all problems.

And if doomscrolling wasn’t enough, social media has made it easy to get caught up in a cycle of

joymining

and gleefreshing.

In my own experience, I’ve found that the “happiness” you experience from reading a trite quote or following someone else’s good habits is short-lived. Instead, I’ve learned that finding fulfillment is a lifelong pursuit that comes from living authentically. What does it mean to live authentically and how does one go about doing it? I’ll share the steps that have helped me on my journey along with some practical resources.

Remember to take all of this with a huge grain of salt. I’m still early in my journey and I certainly don’t have it all figured out. The purpose of sharing this is simply to encourage you to start on your own path to fulfillment.


Step 1: Cut your ego in half

In Ego Is The Enemy, Ryan Holiday talks about the dangers of ego, how it can cloud ambition, and hinder personal growth. An unchecked ego can lead to negative consequences and wreck careers.

But the solution isn’t to get rid of your ego entirely. A complete lack of ego also means a lack of drive and ambition. The goal is to tame your ego just enough to cut through the BS and see things as they are, including yourself. For me, this has proven to be a liberating and effective tool because when you contain your ego, you realize there’s exactly one person you need to impress: yourself. Trying to be a better version of myself has made my life simpler and better.

Social media has allowed us to connect with each other and stay in touch with family and friends across the world, but amongst its worst offenses is the normalization of extrinsic motivations. It has trained a whole generation to attach their self-worth to getting likes from (mostly) strangers on apps made by a bunch of other strangers.

Here are some things that are helping me manage my ego:

  1. Remembering that wisdom is a never-ending project and embracing a growth mindset makes me want to read as much as I can and keep learning. The more I know, the more I realize how much I don’t know.
  2. Maintaining a meditation practice has been invaluable. I recommend the Waking Up app which goes a level deeper than other apps to help you understand the contents of your mind, consciousness, and self.
  3. Regulating my social media diet has probably had the most profound effect. I stopped using Facebook and Instagram a few years ago and instead opted to keep in touch with family and friends through direct messaging apps. But I’m no saint. I still use Twitter regularly, and more recently Clubhouse, because they help me maintain my first goal of embracing a growth mindset.
Step 2: Get to know yourself

This one took me a while to get to, mostly because I didn’t realize I needed it. If you want to get somewhere, you need to know where you’re going. Sounds obvious right? Yet oftentimes, we find ourselves sleepwalking through life. Doing things because we “have” to or because “that’s just how it is.”

Truly understanding yourself is about getting in touch with your values, drives, and motivations. Not the things you think you should care about, but the ones you really do care about. The only way to do this is by looking inwards rather than outwards and impersonally separating your intrinsic and extrinsic motivations.

This can be very tricky and requires you to be honest with yourself by avoiding mental gymnastics. That’s why lowering your ego is an important step before you can begin to truly understand yourself.

Here are some specific resources that I’ve found helpful:

  1. Working with a life coach has allowed me to see things more objectively. If you can afford one and can find a coach that you jive with, it really does pay off. Consider it an investment in yourself.
  2. Doing the Rokeach value survey was surprisingly illuminating. This simple exercise didn’t necessarily reveal anything surprising to me, but it gave me the language to express my values and a framework to make decisions around.
Step 3: Align your life with your values

Now that you’ve created the space to get to know yourself better, the next step is to align the things you do and the choices you make with the values that define you. This is what it means to live an authentic life.

This, of course, is easier said than done. Sometimes circumstances or responsibilities get in the way. Other times, you need to spend more time on steps 1 and 2 before making big life decisions.

But when the right opportunities present themselves to align your life with your values, keep your eyes open and take the leaps. I’ve done this multiple times with decisions big and small and never regretted them. This doesn’t mean you won’t have ups and downs, it just means you’ll learn to recognize the failures as steps on the way to success.

When it comes to living an authentic life, I don’t believe you can “fake it until you make it.”

Here are some tools that may help:

  1. I read this excellent Tim Urban blog post about picking careers once a year. For better or worse, our careers are central to our lives so it’s important to take a step back once in a while to examine if you’re on the path you want to be on. If you refresh your wardrobe at some regular interval, shouldn’t you re-examine your life and career choices as well? Consider where and how you spend your time and if that aligns with your values.
  2. When I’m unable or unwilling to make major changes, I try to take incremental steps first. This could mean working on side projects or finding ways to “try something on before buying it.” The goal is to build enough conviction to eventually make the big leap.

Finally, a word of caution. The process of finding fulfillment by living an authentic life is not a linear process. It’s messy and often involves going back and forth between the different steps. It’s something that I’ve found I have to keep working on.

Finding fulfillment is much more like watering a plant than baking a cake. There’s no recipe you can follow blindly and expect to see immediate results. You have to work with the conditions, consider the seasons, and understand the needs of each unique plant.