Happy? Under What Condition?

Last week I experienced a tremendous disappointment. I learned that I wasn’t accepted into a program that I was really hoping to participate in. It sucked.

When I got this news the feelings rushed in: sadness, rejection, anger, uncertainty about what this meant. My confidence took a pretty serious blow. I most definitely was not happy. I wanted to blame the impersonal review process for having caused me to not realize an element of my vision for the year. I felt the urge to blame the people who made the unfavorable decision for ruining my plans. All of it was so heavy and I just wanted to crawl into a hole and be wounded.

In the midst of this personal turmoil I was reminded of how many, if not most, of us unofficially but quite thoroughly hand over our actual or potential happiness to situations, outcomes, thoughts and whims that we don’t control. I recognized the pattern taking hold in me last week from my own habits of old, and I also recalled the times when clients have faced the same pull.

I remembered times when I felt like all of my opportunities to do or be happy at work (or in all of life, for that matter) were constantly shut down. I remember going through days on end feeling rejected and denied my chance for fulfillment in spite of how hard I worked. I remember that I’d sometimes get so fed up with trying so hard only to have things not work out the way I thought they should that I just go through the motions of working putting aside any aspiration for happiness. And worse, I recalled how with this attitude, I’d fan the flames of discontent with my colleagues in group gripe sessions.

I was in a pattern that many of us fall into. We have a goal based on a desire to experience a different level of success or achieve more. Somehow we start to depend on something that must happen to or for us thinking that will be the turning point; our reason to be happy.

This is something we almost don’t even know we’re doing. We often look away from any present state fulfillment and happiness, assuming that all the good stuff is coming in the future (if it’s coming at all). So we pile our expectations for satisfaction and happiness on things happening or being decided, often which are outside our control.

People, situations, and results that are not in our sphere of influence therefore gain complete control over our happiness. It’s a subtle hand off, but it creates severe discontent. At the same time it makes us feel very out of control.

Last week, in my disappointment for having had a door closed for me, I had to sit with all of that. I had to see what was at play then I had to work through it. I let the emotion come out. Sadness, annoyance, and concern about what it all meant. I followed my instinct to get some alone time and cut myself off from the world for a few hours. Partly I wanted to hurt in private, but most importantly I knew that I had to find the source for my contentment and my sense of satisfaction with all that is within myself. I had to find the place from which I could decide to be happy and fulfilled even if something I really wanted wasn’t going to be.

In that time I remembered that my happiness is not conditional. It does not depend upon the decisions that other people make or the circumstances that come about as a result of factors outside of myself. I became reengaged with my will and ability to devise and take action to create new opportunities starting with exercising my will and ability to be happy and content with what “is” today.

This isn’t about giving up of aspiration, or throwing in the towel on growth and expanding success. Nor is it about putting on a happy face and just accepting that things will always work out the way they’re meant to in the end. It also is not about never being angry, sad, resentful, or disappointed.

Let’s be real. Crap is going happen to, around, and for us. Things aren’t going to go our way. We’re going to be rejected and redirected, and people and situations will annoy us and make us mad.

So, what is this about?

It’s about how critical it is that we remain aware of our tendency to be comfortable in blaming the company, the boss, other teams, the weather, the economy, leadership decisions (or lack thereof), our commute, and the list goes on, for bringing us down or holding us back.

It’s about letting ourselves respond in the full range of the emotional spectrum, and then knowing that our emotional response cannot be the end point of our process.

It is about reviving our will to do something about our situation, however little it may seem, and reclaiming the control we do have over our own happiness and fulfillment. Whether that’s a simple choice, or a large action, we can create our happiness in a way that it becomes a condition ripe for success not the other way around.

What Do You Mean?

Ever been asked the question, “what do you mean?”

It’s a question people ask to seek clarification. Whether about something you said or otherwise expressed, the question comes from a desire to ensure that your intention or purpose in the expression has been appropriately understood.

What you mean, what you intend, or what you desire is indeed important in your communication. We all want to be understood! We tend not to remember that meaning, intent, and purpose is also critically important in the goals we set.

In this season of (re)starting, (re)committing to, (re)setting, or (re)orienting to professional and personal goals and aspirations I’m going to ask you the same question. What do you mean? 

As you set your goals, now at the start of a new year or any time, are you clear on your intent, your purpose, or your meaning with each goal you set out to achieve?

Without this sort of clarity, the setting and checking off of goals becomes not unlike the creation and management of any other “to do” list. It can become rote, mechanical, disconnected, and without meaning altogether.

This is how it ends up that so many goal setters, achieve what they set out to achieve—start a business, get promoted, land a stretch role in a new firm, go on that long awaited vacation, run a faster marathon, etc.—and yet they remain dissatisfied and unfulfilled. Without a clear meaning or connection with what truly matters or means something to you in the goals that you set, it is quite possible that the goals you’re targeting aren’t of any real value to you. They may feel worth something in the recognition and value that working toward and reaching them brings from others, but that’s a far cry from meeting your true purpose or meaning.

Without clarity on what you mean and how your goals support that meaning, your goals may be adopted from others based on priorities, values, desires and meaning that aren’t yours. If you set goals that don’t truly connect with you, what are chances they’ll satisfy you in the end? It’s no wonder so many of us struggle, despite our amazing achievements—professional and personal—with feeling no meaning, purpose, or value in those achievements.

So let me clarify my meaning here. I’m not saying don’t set goals, I’m actually a big fan of goals. I set them myself and I support my clients in setting and working toward them. Goals motivate us and focus our effort with powerful effect. But pursuing goals that are not connected with what you mean or with your purpose lead to misapplication of energy and inappropriate channeling of resources. Worse, it’s a recipe for discontent, frustration, stress, and frankly, confusion about why all your achievement continues to leave you feeling empty.

So as you proceed with setting goals for the new year and honing your aim at your professional and personal targets, use these questions to gain a solid foundation of meaning, intent, and purpose.

  • What do I mean with this goal? What is my intent with it?
  • What does this goal mean to me? Why and how does it support my overall meaning?
  • Is this a goal that supports my broader purpose or what I stand for?
  • When I envision achieving this goal does the satisfaction come from external sources, or is it from within? (I.e. would I be thrilled about achieving this goal, even if I didn’t get to tell my colleagues or post it on LinkedIn or Facebook?)
  • Will working toward this goal give me a real sense of personal purpose and meaning in the sheer pursuit of it, whether or not I reach it?

If your goals are worth reaching they are worth the investment of the additional thinking and feeling about what you mean and how they support that. This effort put in up front ensures that you’re setting the right goals and targeting what’s truly important to you.

Here’s to your most successful, fulfilling, and meaning-FULL 2017.