Several months ago, I offered a survey to my subscribers and community exploring a number of critical life and career questions. To date, 771 people have responded, and their answers have been riveting. Working with professionals every day, I hear first-hand what they deeply long for. But what’s so intriguing about these responses is that it’s becoming more obvious with each passing year that the things we humans desperately long for today are not only universal and timeless, but also have become even more elusive and challenging to access and sustain, even as we “evolve” and develop in this tech-frenzied, time-crushing world.
The key question this survey probed was this:
“If you could say in one word what you want more of in life, what would that be?”
Of all the things people indicated they want more of, the following were the eight mentioned most frequently. Here’s my take on what’s missing in life and work today, and why we can’t get enough of these elusive ingredients and experiences. (The quotes below are from actual respondents, about what they perceive to be the biggest challenge in the way of what they’re longing for):
No. 1: Happiness
Biggest challenge: “Not knowing what I want to do.”
The No. 1 mentioned missing element – Happiness — has become so hard to achieve, and even harder to maintain. In my work with professional women, I’ve seen that happiness continually escapes them because, first, they don’t understand exactly what will make them happy. They just don’t know themselves well at all. Secondly, they search outside themselves for happiness – in a job, a husband, a family, a title, a paycheck, a fancy house. As a result, happiness is constantly out of their control and a perpetual moving target that never stands still long enough for them to grasp. I’m not saying that these things don’t bring happiness – of course, they can. The key point is that if everything you’re searching for remains outside of you, you’ll always be chasing and scrambling.
No. 2: Money
Biggest challenge: “Not having enough money or time to accomplish the things I want to do.”
I’ve worked with millionaires, as well as people who earn mid-six figures and far, far less. Isn’t it fascinating that no matter what we earn, we somehow feel we never have enough? I know people with literally over a million dollars in their retirement accounts, yet they live in such a constant fear state around money that they never have a moment’s peace and can’t enjoy spending for anything, even for family vacations that are supposed to be joyful. The question is: how much money do you really need to bring about the life experiences that will truly fulfill you? And if you want more money, do you understand the key principles and behaviors required to generate it? Finally, do you understand your own money story and how you habitually operate with money?
No. 3: Freedom
Biggest challenge: “Having the freedom to find my ‘true purpose’ or being lit up by the day-to-day at work.”
Ah, freedom. We all want it, yet so many people I meet are resistant to doing what’s required to get it. We want to “feel” free, yet are scared to muster the courage to do what’s necessary to “become” free.
What is necessary to experience freedom? I’ve seen that it requires making yourself right (not wrong), following your own authentic values and beliefs, and building strong boundaries to protect yourself from what others will tell you is right for you or try to force on you. And it takes forging your own path in life and work, despite the challenges and the naysayers. It requires boldness and courage to make yourself your own highest authority on life and work, and that’s no easy thing today. Sadly, most of us aren’t taught or trained (particularly women) how to stand up powerfully for what we want and believe in, and to go after it with undying passion and commitment.
No. 4: Peace
Biggest challenge: “Lack of clarity about who I am and my purpose.”
We long for peace, desperately. Peace from noise, chatter, pressure, responsibilities. We also want peace from the painful thumping inside our own heads – the conflicts and strain we inflict on ourselves every minute to be better, stronger, smarter (prettier, thinner, better parents, _______ [you fill in the blank]).
Peace, I’ve found, doesn’t come from being better at anything, or even figuring anything out. Attaining peace is a practice that we need to cultivate and commit to, regardless of what’s going on around you. Peace in today’s times will never just fall in our laps – it’s too chaotic a world. We have to carve out space within ourselves and in our lives to bring forward the experience of peace, then do the work to expand peace as a feeling and experience that we’ll commit to daily, regardless of what’s around us. You don’t have to know your purpose to be at peace – you just have to commit to being at peace, and building daily practices that will support you in that commitment.
No. 5: Joy
Biggest challenge: “How to find the right role or position for me now that will bring joy in my work.”
I’ve observed how the process of stepping up to our highest potential and honoring our best visions for contributing to the world in a meaningful way does indeed pave the way for more joy. I believe (and have lived) that we simply can’t feel joy in our lives if the work we do pains us. We’re not able to effectively separate who we are from what we do (and why would we want to?).
So when you’re stuck in work you hate, with people you don’t respect, supporting outcomes that feel wrong to you, then your life as a whole can’t help but be joyless, even if your personal or family life brings you happiness. Joy comes from the process of becoming more of who you already are. Discover that and honor it, and you’ll be on your way to a more joyful, rich life. (Here’s more about learning what your dominant action style is, which is critical to your success.)
No. 6: Balance
Biggest challenge: “Balancing my need/desire for flexibility while making enough money and having the benefits I want.”
I’ve researched work-life balance extensively, and believe that it’s doable only under one condition: that you understand clearly what your top life priorities are, and you defend and honor those priorities fiercely, every minute of the day. It takes understanding your non-negotiables (what you won’t compromise on, what you won’t say “yes” to), and then living from that knowledge, and making the right decisions that align with your top life priorities. If you can’t do that, you can’t create or sustain balance.
No. 7: Fulfillment
Biggest challenge: “Utilizing my potential in the best possible way, for myself and for others.”
Fulfillment can be defined as this: “Satisfaction or happiness as a result of fully developing one’s abilities or character.” We simply can’t experience fulfillment if we’re not living up to what we know is our highest and best potential. Have you ever settled for something much less than you know you want or deserve? It hurts – a lot.
But to live up to our highest potential, we have to leave our comfort zones behind, and perhaps even leave behind the definition we’ve crafted of who we think we are (even what we think our “authentic” selfis), and the stories we tell ourselves about what we’re capable of, so that we can become the person we dream to be. We may also need to leave some people and relationships behind (the ones that don’t support us to soar higher and grow because it threatens them).
Fulfillment is possible when you are filling up your cup, honoring your own potential, not forsaking yourself by putting everyone else in front of you. Fulfillment comes when you take bold actions that say “yes” to the future vision of you, even well before it’s “hatched.”
No. 8: Confidence
Biggest challenge: “Feeling like I have something to offer now, rather than feeling constantly as if I’m not ready and need more training.”
I’ve seen in working with thousands of professionals, and in my former therapy and corporate work, that we humans only see what’s at the tip of our noses. When we’re in situations that are hurtful, demeaning, challenging and worse, we lose confidence. We get rocked and we stay rocked. We forget who we are, and what we are capable of, and see only the boss in front of us who’s yelling or the colleague or family member who’s tearing us down.
Sadly, many millions of us around the world have been raised and culturally and societally trained in ways that degrade our sense of self-confidence. We’re often taught that it’s not advisable to think for ourselves, and we shouldn’t follow our own path if it conflicts with the values of our “tribe.” In short, we’re taught not to believe that we can govern our own lives well if we don’t listen to our authority figures, family members, teachers and others around us. Parental and societal training that keeps us stuck living someone else’s life, is extremely damaging and severely limits our potential and our happiness. Confidence comes from acknowledging our own magnificence, not shying away from it.
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The reality is that it’s a tough world out there, with many challenges we’re simply not prepared to face. But throughout those challenges, there are countless ways we can remain true to ourselves, leverage our gifts, and foster our self-esteem and passion for life and work. And we can continually build our confidence, happiness, and fulfillment, despite these challenges. For that, we need an abundance of self-love, and also support from others who don’t want to tell us what to do, but instead, want to help us follow our own, internal value system and beliefs. And we need to believe in ourselves without fail, despite the evidence around us that says we’re not “ready” to soar in creating what we long to.
Take my new quiz to learn your dominant action style, and how to leverage it to be happier.
This article originally appeared in Forbes.