During my college years (we don’t need to mention what decade that was in) I spent a great deal of time dreaming about what my life was going to look like as an adult. Over cheap wine and bad food my friends and I would compare our stories of what we would be doing five, ten, and twenty years down the road.
For some of my friends, a full life included a small army of kids, the ability to be a soccer mom running from parent pick-up to sports, to making dinner for the family. That wasn’t me.
I had dreams of adventure and traveling around the world. I wanted the freedom to explore and the money to stay somewhere a step above a hostel.
I had big vocational goals too; I saw myself in business suits, a leather briefcase (remember those?!), and great looking shoes. I also saw myself as an athlete; running marathons, completing triathlons, and keeping my body in Jillian Michaels shape (although at the time it was more like Cindy Crawford).
As I neared the end of my 20’s and found myself trying to still live out all of my dreams, but I now had the soccer mom profile with kids, husband, and dog. My life was feeling overfull. I was overwhelmed with responsibilities at work, at home, and my life was starting to feel like it was barreling out of control.
Somewhere along the way I redefined my definition of success. I realized that in order to enjoy my work it didn’t matter what I wore (although I still enjoy the feeling that I can take on the world in a power suit). It didn’t matter how much money I made or if I was climbing my way up the next rung on the corporate ladder. What I finally realized mattered more than anything was that I felt passion for the work I was doing and had a sense that my work had purpose. I needed to feel as if I was making the world a better place.
GRATITUDE GOES A LONG WAY
At some point I also came to realize that our outlook on life makes a major difference in our overall happiness quotient. You’ve heard the question, “is your glass half full or half empty”? At first I didn’t really understand what that meant - who cares how you see things and what does it really matter? Apparently it does matter.
Looking around at my friends and family now, I see that the people that are the happiest aren’t necessarily the ones who achieved all their goals or have all the things they dreamt of along the way. They may not be the ones with the most money, the biggest house, or perfect health. But, what they do have is not only a sense of purpose but they are grateful for what they do have.
MINDFULLY ENJOY THE MOMENTS
They also have the ability to be present and to appreciate the small moments in their lives. They are not the couple you see in a restaurant scrolling through their phones across from one another but yet worlds apart. They are instead the partners who are talking, laughing, and actually enjoying the time they have together. They are the parents who take the time to play with their kids on the playground, jump into the lake on a hot summer day, and chase them around their backyard. Don’t get me wrong; they are just as busy as you and I, but they have discovered a way to be mindfully aware of the small, yet meaningful moments and take mindful breaks to enjoy them.
As I now teeter on the verge of turning 40 I have redefined my vision of a full life. I have finally realized that what I dreamt about all those years ago and what I still yearn for at this stage in my life is to experience joy. In my 20’s I was seeking joy through adventure and prestige. Over the last two decades I have come to realize that true joy comes from living out my purpose and feeling as if I am making a difference. It also means having an overwhelming sense of gratitude for family, friends, and all the abundance I have in my life. It is experiencing the moments (little and big) with presence and appreciation.
It has taken longer than I care to admit to, but I’ve finally figured out a formula to living a full life.
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