I once heard a story about a convict who tried to escape from prison. As part of his daring escape he managed to get hold of a ladder and quickly scaled the prison wall, almost tasting the freedom he would gain on the other side.
Unfortunately for the prisoner, he’d made a fundamental mistake. At the top of the wall, rather than finding the freedom he was looking for, he found himself looking straight into the prison staff’s office headquarters instead.
If you want to climb a ladder, first you need to make sure it’s leaning against the right wall. Taking an action which takes you in a direction you don’t want to go just leads to disappointment and is a waste of time and energy that could be spent on something worthwhile instead.
This is the reason many people are dissatisfied in one or more areas of their life. Dissatisfaction is a strong indicator that we are not living according to our values, are moving in a direction we don’t really want to go in and have been doing so for some time.
Sometimes this happens because we’ve designed our lives according to the expectations of society or other people in our lives, sometimes it’s because people are living according to what they think they “should” be doing, rather than what they love, and sometimes it’s because people have stopped moving altogether, letting themselves fall in to a rut and letting that rut get deeper and the dissatisfaction stronger because they don’t know where they want to go instead.
This is not a good way to live life.
Instead, it’s far better to get clear on what it is you really want out of your life, and take actions from there, rather than taking actions blindly, or against your instinct or what you love, only to regret it later.
So how you do know which wall to lean your ladder against? How do you know which direction will lead to happiness and fulfillment?
The most important thing here is to really listen to yourself. If the idea of something makes your heart sink or your gut twist in knots, it’s not a good plan. If it feels like a drag or you have to make yourself do it, think again.
On the other hand, if it’s a real joy and you’re motivated to do it, that’s a really good sign. If it makes your heart sing and puts a smile on your face, that’s a great recipe for fulfillment, now and in the long term.
And if your life needs a major overhaul, it’s good to start with values. What is it that’s really important to you in the context of your career? What’s most important to you in your relationship? And in the way you spend your day to day life?
I’ve heard of people who’ve spent years of their lives and a great deal of money studying only to find out that they hate their new vocation, and others who’ve packed up and moved their families to the other side of the world, only to decide it wasn’t for them and move all the way back again a couple of months later.
By using the questions above to get clear on your values, you are able to avoid this, and figure out the criteria against which you can evaluate possible changes and directions.
It’s good to keep evaluating too, doing a life audit every so often that allows us to take a step back and have a look at what we’re doing with our lives. We can use that time to evaluate, and consider whether what we’re doing is fulfilling, or simply taking time away from things that would be.
And when we find that what we’re doing is taking us in a direction we’re not happy with, we need to find the courage to make a change, to identify our values and to make changes accordingly, taking out the things that bring us down and replacing them with the things that give us pleasure.
PS: To really get clear on your values so you can design or redesign your life in a way that will lead to happiness and fulfulment, please get in touch and we can dedicate a session to getting clear on your values and deciding where and what kind of changes are needed, plus how to go about making those changes.
Alternatively, to do it yourself, use the question above (“What’s really important to you in the context of ___?” and keep asking until you run out of answers), or click here to go to my free training ‘5 Things You Need to Know to Fast Track Your Success’ and do the visualization exercise in section 6 - ‘You need to lean your ladder against the right wall’.