When we are not living a meaningful life we distract ourselves with pleasure or power. We go shopping. We watch movies. We eat too much. We keep up with the Joneses. We climb the promotional ladder.
We are bored. And life is empty.
But, the good news is, it doesn’t have to be this way. We all have certain contexts we are living within, but there are things that we can be doing right now, today, to make 2016 a more meaningful year!
1. LIVE OUT YOUR CALLING BY USING YOUR GIFTS
To live out a calling would be a sure way to live a meaningful year. However, finding your calling can be a pretty stressful journey.
Is this it? Is that it? What if I choose the wrong thing? I thought this was my calling but then it turned out it wasn’t?
These questions leave many people paralyzed and unable to move. We don’t want to accidentally follow the wrong calling. So instead, we decide to do nothing in hopes at some point it will occur to us. And then years pass.
I was pretty obsessed with the idea of calling when I was in college. I discerned. I reflected. I explored. And after college I got a job that I felt was my calling. But a couple years later the position changed and it felt a lot less like my calling. And then years passed.
I felt a little betrayed about the whole calling thing. I thought I had “arrived.” I thought I had found my calling and I was ready just to settle in. But now I was lost and confused. I thought I had taken my spirit led journey to my one true calling. And now here I was spending most days overwhelmed and running from task to task trying to manage the expectations of my job.
Why did it take me years to make any changes? A few reasons probably, but one of the biggest reasons being that I had confused what the word calling meant. And when the calling didn’t turn out as planned, I was lost. I made no movement forward in any direction. When you are lost, you don’t know which path will make you more lost and which path will lead you out. So I didn’t move a muscle.
So this is where I propose that we re-frame how we understand calling. Living out your calling is simply to use your gifts, talents, and skills. God (The Universe, or whatever you believe in) has called you to use your gifts in this world.
So what are your gifts? What are you good at? What brings you joy to do? Do you have the gift of encouragement that you can use (or already use) with friends and family? Do you have the gift of creativity? What is a way you could use this gift more? Give yourself some time to reflect on what your gifts truly are.
The more we use our gifts, the more meaningful life feels.
2. HELP OTHERS / START A PROJECT
We can use our gifts in everyday life right now, which means we get to live out our calling in everyday life right now. You do not have to wait for a career change or for some circumstance to be different.
Have your gifts in mind and be looking for opportunities.
If you have the time (see Create Space in Your Life) then helping others and/or starting a project is a way to invite additional opportunities for you to use your gifts
Is there a place you always thought of volunteering, but never made the move? Is there a project you thought about jumping into, but hesitated to for one reason or another?
Maybe you will use your gift of photography to give family portraits to those who cannot afford it? Maybe you will use your gift of intelligence to help a high school drop out gain their GED? Maybe you will use your gift of writing to help others traversing similar struggles?
I am all for creativity for it’s own sake, but if you are looking for meaning, use your skills to help others.
Maybe you had an experience similar to mine. You found something that felt like it. The Calling. The One Thing. And then things changed. It changed. You changed. All you know is, it is not as meaningful anymore.
You are allowed to pivot. You are allowed to change directions.
My belief is that the truest form of joy here on earth is when we can use our talents to help others. This opportunity it entitled to everyone. It will look different from other people you know – don’t confuse yours with theirs. Follow your path.
3. CREATE SPACE IN YOUR LIFE
I know where some of you might be at at this point. This all sounds wonderful – but where do I find the time? It’s true, we cannot add to our life without taking something else out. My guess is, your life is already full and stuffing one more thing in your schedule sounds exhausting.
That is why we must create space.
I appreciate this quote by Flora Bowley: Let go of the things you like to make room for the things you love.
It is true, to live a more meaningful life, you may have to let go of some things you like. But won’t the trade be worth it, if in return you are gaining something you love and makes your life feel more meaningful?
Maybe it’s even something small. For me, I would like my house to be immaculate. But I think I would rather live a meaningful life using my talents instead of having an immaculate house. So right now as write this, my house is “good enough” clean.
I don’t think anyone, if given the trade, would take a perfectly clean house over a meaningful life. But this is what often ends up happening. We think, I can’t start this project until this or that is done. And then we spend our whole life doing this or that and we never live the meaningful life we intended to.
Prioritize living meaningfully. This is the most important thing – you will not get to the end of your life and wish you mopped the floors more.
I will also say, a little bit goes a long way. I work full time and often have chores, exercise class, etc filling my evenings. I have no chance to write except for weekends. At 5am, before the rest of the world wakes up, I write. This is my live meaningful time.
And although adding one more “to-do” to life may seem draining or stressful, it’s not. For me, it recharges and gives me more resilience for the rest of my week. When I am off running errands and doing everyday life tasks, I have an assurance that there is more to life than just chores and tasks. Not all moments are rainbows and butterflies, but a few hours a week I am using my creative skill set to write something I can share with others.
So how can your create space in your life to do something more meaningful? Is it allowing your house be a little less clean? Is it having your husband cook instead of you one night? Is it going without some material possessions that would set aside a little extra money to invest in yourself for a meaningful project?
Take a minute to think about it. There is probably something small you can let go of.
(For many more ideas, essays, and practical tools for creating more space/time/money in your life to pursue meaning check out The Minimalists.)
4. GET MENTALLY HEALTHY
I don’t know about you, but for me, if my mental health is out of whack, then I am probably not going to be moving positively in any direction.
For me, it is the self-doubt that takes over. Why would I do that? I am probably not good at that anyway. Why bother?
These are the thoughts that prevented me from starting a blog for a good few years. Who would want to read what I wrote? I don’t have anything good to say. No one will like it.
So how do we change our thoughts of self doubt? I am not saying we should be egotistical monsters who believe we are good at everything. But, everyone is a good at something. And I think on good days you know that you are good at that something. And I think on bad days, you forget, or it’s just harder to believe.
This may sound weird, but sometimes I write notes to myself on my good days that I can read on my bad days. Maybe you would feel too weird doing this, but I am telling you, it helps.
Now, you can’t write things that you won’t believe. You can’t just write You’re awesome! And everyone else thinks you are awesome! I wouldn’t read that and believe it on a bad day. I don’t think I would even believe it on a good day!
But, you can write notes to yourself that are true. Here is an example of what I have written to myself to encourage me in my low moments:
You aren’t feeling good about doing a creative project right now. Acknowledge that right now you are tired, or stressed about something else, and it is affecting how you are feeling. Know that when you are in a better mood, you will feel excited about it again.
So when I read this, no, I don’t start jumping for joy and suddenly feel excited about my creative project. But it does help me avoid the negative spiral of That whole idea was stupid and I don’t know why I ever thought it…etc etc. I believe what I wrote, and even though I don’t feel it in the moment, I believe that I will feel excited again when I am in a better mood.
And sometimes I write notes that have evidence of my abilities. It’s easy when you are in a bad mood to believe you have no skills or abilities, but it is harder to argue with evidence. So, when I am in a negative mindset my brain will start convincing me I am a horrible writer and my ideas are stupid. So here is one example of a note for myself:
Your ideas and writing were well received and praised by your professors when you were in college.
So again, when I read this, I don’t suddenly feel like an amazing writer or idea-ist. But, it stops that spiral. I gave myself evidence that someone liked my ideas or writing. As much as you might want to tell yourself you have no abilities when you are in a negative mindset, it is a lot harder to argue with evidence.
There are many ways to work on your mental health and confidence – going to therapy, reading books, or listening to podcasts are a few. Put good things into your mind on a regular basis. It will be difficult to reach your goals and live more meaningfully if you don’t first believe in yourself.
5. COMMIT TO CHANGE
There are so many factors that contribute to living more meaningfully that it is difficult to stuff them all into one article. Keep in mind that building authentic relationships, helping others with a struggle you have overcome yourself, getting in touch with your creative spirit, and learning/growing are all additional ways to invite meaning into your life. (And hopefully we can dive into these topics a little more in future posts!)
The most important thing of all is to commit to making things happen. Don’t force things to happen (it won’t work). Don’t wait for things to happen (your life will pass you by). Be creative and open minded. You may have imagined using your gifts in one way and it is just not working out – don’t give up – find another way. Use your super power of creativity. You may not feel powerful enough to make the changes you want in your life, but if you are creative, then you have all the power in the world.
I wanted to help people with (surprise) mental health, spirituality, and living a meaningful life. I tried and tried to do this at my job, but it just wasn’t working. My job was too crazy, busy, overwhelming…there was no room for me to do the deep work I actually wanted to do. I pushed. I prodded. I forced with all my might. Nothing changed. So then I tried waiting for things to change. And I waited for two years. Still no change.
It was then I realized I had to find another avenue to use my gifts. Hopefully it doesn’t take you two years to realize this, like it did for me. It doesn’t mean that I still don’t hope for a change in my job or take positive action where I can. But I needed to be open. Sometimes we can become so narrow focused on one way of doing things, that we don’t even see all the other opportunities that are dancing around us – waiting for us to join in.
All the little moments of waiting and forcing and being dissatisfied are the tiny little moments that become your entire life. Don’t let your life pass you by – the world is excitedly awaiting your amazing gifts.
I know that I have gained a lot from reading blog entries and I also know if I took the time and journaled about them for a few minutes they would affect me in an even deeper way and bring me to some truths I may have not come to otherwise. So if you have a few extra minutes and your journal handy…here you go!
- List 5-10 talents/skills/abilities that you have. How do you use these skills in your everyday life? In what ways could you use them more in your everyday life?
- In what ways could you use your gifts by getting involved or starting a project? Is there something that came to mind? Or something you have always thought about doing? What are the barriers? If it feels too big, is there a way you could do it in a smaller way?
- Where do you need to create space? Is there something that you need to let go of that you like in order to make room for something that you love?
- In what ways is your mental health holding you back? Is it self-doubt? Anxiety? Something else? What ways will you work toward a healthier mental landscape?
- How will you commit to change? How will you make sure your life doesn’t pass you by? Do you tend to be a “forcer” or a “waiter” when it comes to goals and dreams? In what ways could you be creative in making these goals happen?
I WOULD LOVE TO HEAR YOUR COMMENTS!
Let me know if this entry helped you in any way, if you have any further questions, or if there is anything else you would be interested in learning related to this topic!
Also, I would love to hear what action steps you are deciding to take to live more meaningful in 2016!
Thanks for reading!