Is there anyone who doesn't ultimately aspire to live a life filled with enthusiasm and passion? We all want to make the most of our talents and become the best versions of ourselves we can possibly be, right?
I'd say yes, as would most people, I think. But then why do so many of us settle for a life of mediocrity, in which we spend our time yearning for bigger and better things instead of actually going after them?
In my experience, there are a few pretty common obstacles that get in the way of living in a way that fully supports becoming the self-actualized person we were meant to be. Do you see yourself in any of them? If so, I've offered some potential remedies ...
1. Fear of failure
Our culture teaches us that failure should be avoided at all costs. So, instead of taking chances out of a place of excitement and passion, we choose to stay safe so as to avoid putting energy into something that doesn't guarantee a successful outcome.
Sure, this approach may help us to avoid the possibility of making a "mistake," but it often prevents us from experiencing self-trust, joy and fulfillment.
Remedy: The truth is, a life of purpose often involves taking calculated risks. So, to deal with a fear of failure, look at life as journey rife with opportunities to grow, which involves bouncing back from set backs. When something doesn't go as planned, reflect on the lessons learned, and use the experience as a chance to develop or try out a new strategy. As James Joyce said, "Mistakes are the portals of discovery."
2. Getting too comfortable
Jon Bon Jovi got it right when he said, "Don't get too comfortable with who you are at any given time. You may miss the opportunity to become who you want to be." Though unfortunately, for many of us, staying within our comfort zones is the path of least resistance. It is, as the expression suggests, comfortable. And the predictability that comes with staying firmly inside our comfort zones can cause us to become stagnant. Instead of experimenting with new experiences that could help us develop, we opt for familiarity and complacency.
Remedy: Recognize that we often grow the most as a result of challenges. Just as increasing the intensity of your workout enables you to become more fit, or attempting more difficult math problems increases your skill with numbers, pushing yourself in other areas allows you to raise the bar and develop your talents. Increase your willingness to be a bit uncomfortable, and watch your rate of growth skyrocket.
Too many people let general doubt and self-doubt hold themselves back from living the life of their dreams. Negative self-talk and pessimism can prevent us from taking any action toward our goals. Or, they can cause us to make half-hearted attempts, then come up with self-defeating or self-blaming excuses at the first sign of difficulty. In turn, these explanations provide justification for giving up on our dreams.
Remedy: Research shows that people who are optimistic experience more success in everything from physical health to workplace results. So, pay attention to how you speak to yourself and how it serves you. How do you feel as a result of being hard on yourself? What impact does it have on your life? Challenge your self-talk (or work with someone who can help you to challenge it) and watch your life improve. Trust allows you to take risks. And risks allow you to grow and change.
4. Concern with appearances
In an effort to keep those around us happy, many of us sacrifice our dreams and desires to meet others' expectations of us. In the process we betray ourselves, and can end up living a life that feels constraining and unsatisfying. As Lao Tzu said "Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner."
Remedy: In her book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying palliative nurse Bronnie Ware noted that the most common regret of those who were about to die was wishing they had the courage to live a life true to themselves, as opposed to the life that others expected of them. Recognize that if meeting other peoples' expectations is your main goal in life, you will find yourself in a losing proposition that will eventually lead to disappointment.
So allow yourself to be most concerned with your own view of yourself, and recognize the power that self-perception has on the choices you make — and the results that come out of those choices. This permission will ultimately provide you peace, freedom, and most importantly, a sense of ownership over your life.