This article is part the Follow Your Yellow Brick Road Series a five-part series about living a meaningful life.
There are certain things society expects us to do.
Get a respectable job.
Fall in love.
Get married (and never, ever get divorced).
Buy a house.
We might not be told we have to do these things, but it’s implied – by magazines filled with rich, thin, successful people with really good hair. By the disdain expressed for people on welfare. The awkwardness when someone is fat, or depressed, or poor. Even the standard design of the modern house is set up for married people with kids.1
We’ll I’m sorry society. I don’t fit your criteria. When everyone else is at work on Tuesday, I’ll be growing out my beard and taking a nap on my parents couch.
I take issue with the conventional definition of success, and not just because I don’t meet the criteria. My problem lies in the fact all conventional indicators of success are goals. I love goals like I love lemon meringue pie, but if you measure how well you are doing in life by the things you have as opposed to who you are, then you’ve got yourself some weird priorities.
Achieving a goal requires two things: action, and luck. You can set out the best of intentions, plan it all out and work your butt off. But achieving some goals, particularly those related to money, love, and career, always come down to a certain level of chance.
My goals for my life, as written down by me five years ago, included being a qualified clinical psychologist by age 28. Circumstance came along and said, fuck your plans Roisin, this is how it’s going to be, and there is nothing you can do about it.
But who cares?
I don’t want to live by a definition of success that requires a giant portion of luck. I want to live by a definition of success that is dependent solely on things within my control.
And the one thing we can control is our behaviour.
You can’t control whether you get that job, or whether you fall in love, get sick, lose a limb, lose all your savings, or have a mental breakdown. But you can choose how to respond to whatever happens to you. And the ability to be yourself and do what is important to you, especially when faced with adversity, is what I call success.
Who you are is of fundamental importance. Are you being your authentic self? Are you spending your time doing what’s important to you?
The Follow Your Yellow Brick Road Series is all about finding out who you are, what you want out of your life and how you want to conduct yourself. Today is about asking yourself, well what actually is most important to me? And am I living my life in a way consistent with that?
The best news is you don’t need to have completed the previous activities to do this one, and it only takes about 10 minutes.2
1. HOW IMPORTANT IS THAT LIFE DOMAIN? (5 minutes)
Below are some broad life domains that people usually find important.
For each of the life domains below, write down how important each area is to you using a scale of 0 (not at all important) to 10 (extremely important).
Community (this could be your wider community, or a group you below to)
Fun & Leisure
If there’s another area of your life not covered by this list, feel free to add it.
Don’t rank or order them. You might have more than one thing that you rate as a 10. You might have some 0s. And remember, this is about how important each area of your life actually is to you, not how important you think it should be.
2. HAVE YOU DONE WHAT MATTERS LATELY? (5 minutes)
How well have you done what matters to you in the past two weeks?
Taking it one life domain at a time, rate how consistently you have lived in line with your values in that area. Are you living your life in a way that reflects how important that area of your life is to you?
Rate it on a scale of 0 (not at all consistent) to 10 (extremely consistent).
Remember this isn’t about how successful you actually have been, not how successful you want to be.
And don’t be too hard on yourself. Sometimes when I do this, I’m like “oh, I didn’t do everything perfectly, so I’m a total failure” and I write down a 3 for consistency. When in reality, I did lots of little things that are important. Count the small things, especially the small things you do regularly.
Is there a discrepancy between your ratings of importance and consistency?
If so, congratulations! You are a normal human being.
If you don’t have a discrepancy, you are either an extremely effective human, or you’re kidding yourself (and it’s probably the latter).
We get discrepancies because sometimes we lose sight of how important something is to us, or other people’s ideas of what should be important influence our behavior, or we’re too scared to do what we really want, or we focus all our efforts on one area but neglect others.
The reality is, you’re never going to get a perfect rating in every area of your life, all the time. Perfection is not even the point. The point is to be yourself and focus your efforts on doing what is important to you, as consistently as you can. There’s no time to frantically run around trying to be perfect. Life is too complex, too demanding, and filled with way too many surprises.
If you’ve got a discrepancy in some areas, I hope you feel inspired to make some changes. But you might feel like shit about it, and that’s okay. Just work on it. That’s all you can do.
Which areas are you most successful in?
Which area needs the most attention?
Image credits go to Dollar Photo Club.
- I read this interesting article in the New York Times about single people who are joining forces by living in the same area, and eating meals and stuff together. The author made the point that houses have been designed for families since the 19th century. But alternative designs might be better for groups of people who are single but who also want companionship. ↩
- The following activities are based on values exercises as used in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a therapeutic developed by Steven Hayes, Kirk Strosahl, and Kelly Wilson. ↩