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Fulfilled life may have as many interpretations as the humans on earth. Philosophers, spiritual leaders, scholars, academics, artists, literati, scientists, and everyone else thought about this subject and have given insights which help to understand this complex subject. The major complexity arises out of the fact that we include our desires, ambitions, likes, and needs to determine what a fulfilled life means for us. The second issue is that the definition changes with changes in the circumstances. For example, a poor person would say that his/her fulfilled life would start when they would enough resources to live comfortably. Later, when they have more resources, the definition would change. I may refer to the famous ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ by the American Psychologist Abraham Maslow. He published a paper in 1943 titled ‘A Theory of Human Motivation’, in which he proposed that people had five sets of needs. The five levels are shown as a pyramid which has two interpretations. One, that as one set of needs is fulfilled, people move up to the next level. Two, as the levels go up, the number of people is constantly reduced. The largest majority remains stuck at the basic level of physiological needs, and tiny few reach the highest level of self-actualization. With this limitation, no wonder, majority of people remain feeling unfulfilled.
For professional people, fulfillment is a combination of professional and personal achievements, status, perks, family comfort and social recognition. The time when a person comes into a job to when she or he can claim having settled down, takes about twenty years. Starting from age 25 to age 45, are the most stressful, yet most happening years. On the job, lot of learning and effort needs to be done to grow; on the personal front, family life starts, children arrive, and their schooling starts. If both partners are working, stress may be unevenly distributed. All in all, these twenty years are physically, mentally, and emotionally, most stressful, but we cope because we are mostly young, healthy, motivated, and energetic.
Problems occur when midlife starts and brings the typical midlife crisis. Some professionals become so much engaged in pursuit of professional achievements that they destroy family lives; some get attracted towards the power and glamour that comes with executive positions; some other feel defeated, get depressed and lose on all fronts. These are all forms of unfulfilled lives. Some people start raising questions about purpose of life, the legacy they will leave behind, doing things for others, and still feel unfulfilled.
To me, fulfilled life means we are at peace with ourselves; we have given our best to receive the best, we have cultivated great relationship with family, friends and beyond, and we shall leave a positive legacy behind us.
To achieve fulfilled life, certain steps shall have to be taken. Based on what I have learned, following steps are recommended.
Know thyself is among the ten commandments also. It is universally recommended as the steppingstone to reaching a fulfilled life. It is not just knowing about our own self, but also our place in the world, and our purpose in life. Sigmund Freud, the pioneer of psychoanalysis, advised that a psychologist aspiring to become psychoanalyst, must go through his/her own psychoanalysis first. Unless we know ourselves, we cannot understand others.
Take Care of Yourself
It is not being selfish; it is being logical. Recall the standard announcement at the take-off of a flight about decrease in cabin pressure and use of oxygen; they insist that if are traveling with a child or elderly who may need help in using oxygen mask, you must wear your mask first, and then help them. You can only do something for others if you are in a condition to do so. If your own condition is compromised, you cannot do anything for others.
Identify with Your Work
Do you like your job? Do you love your job? If not, do you feel caged and imprisoned in where you? If yes, have you tried to understand why it is so? Can it be changed for better? Have you tried to change the job if it causes so much stress? Majority of people feel stuck in their jobs. They cannot say what it is they do not like about it; they do not know what they would like to do instead. At the beginning of my career, I suffered from this problem and therefore can relate to it. Get to know your present work fully, understand what bothers you, and try to make things better. In most cases, you may be able to change your view and feelings. If you conclude that the present work is definitely not for you, then change.
Negativity comes in many forms; it arises out of our own self when we become critical and find faults, when we dislike someone, when we fail to develop good relations, when things do not turn up as per our expectations. Negative thoughts create negative feelings which are quite powerful. Each negative thought costs us heavily, disrupts our peace, and rattles our inner self. Negativity also comes from poor company, from people who are always complaining, who are always belittling others. Avoid such people, get out of negative relationships, and develop the habit of looking for good things in people.
When I started traveling in Africa, a lot of long-held ideas in my mind were busted. Africans in their own countries are wonderful people, very caring, very giving. Even when they do not have much, they are willing to share the little they have. Marshall Goldsmith, the #1 Executive Coach, recently shared a list of ‘things you will never regret’; giving is one of those. We can give much actually; the knowledge we have, the skills we have learnt, the wisdom we have gained, empathy, compassion, smile, care, ear, shoulder, time, money, things, and more. You must have noticed that the material things are few and come at the end. There is a long list of intangibles which make bigger difference in the lives of others. Giving is among the most desirable human virtue which makes both the giver and receiver happy.
The list may be further expanded with as many or even more things to do. I , however, believe doing less but effectively, is more.
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