Have you ever wondered what makes certain people successful when you struggle? Is success in one area of your life making you lopsided? If you could have more of what you need and want, would you be willing to make changes?
If you answered yes to the first question, you have curiosity on your side. If you answered yes to the second question, you could benefit from creating more balance in your life. And, if you answered yes to the latter question, you are ready to learn how to prioritize your resources, focus on what is most important, and create a life that is intentional, meaningful, and joyful.
Hierarchy of Needs
Abraham Maslow was a psychologist who came up with a theory about human needs. He claimed that while we all have needs, our needs are hierarchical and we must meet our needs based on a sequence. Starting with our most basic physiological needs that sustain us, we focus on getting shelter, food, water, and sleep. Without these vital life-sustaining elements, it is fruitless to focus on anything else.
If you are reading this article, chances are you have secured the first level of the pyramid. You’ve met the most basic needs that keep you alive. And, even though that’s true, when we become highly stressed in our lives, our sleep suffers, we start to eat poorly, and we substitute caffeine and sugary for water. So rather than take this first level of needs for granted, we need to continually monitor our behaviors and make the best choices for our wellbeing. By doing so, we are establishing a strong foundation, a foundation that will lead us to our ultimate desires.
Once our foundation is established, we climb up to the second tier of the pyramid. We focus on issues surrounding safety. Beyond physical safety, we want to create stability in our lives. Financial stability is attained through employment. And while there are good reasons why we focus so intensely on this aspect, we often get stuck here.
I’ve worked with many smart and talented individuals who were making far more money that I ever made at their young age. And yet, it seems that despite their economic success, they were struggling. You might be able to relate to this, especially if you have a job that is filled with high demands, that expects you to sacrifice much of yourself. You might find that you pour all of your energy into your work and yet it is never done. So you have no choice but to stay late and, even then, sometimes you take it home with you. If this is sounding like your story, your job is taking up two of your valuable resources in exchange for one: time and energy in exchange for money.
But there is more to the story. Many of the people I’ve worked with struggle with feeling like what they make is never enough. When they get a raise, they upgrade their lifestyle. They buy fancier cars and eat at more expensive restaurants, so they need more money to continue to match their expenses. Some of them actually think about retirement and how to create passive income, and this is crucial, especially because so many of them are miserable being married to their jobs and want an exit strategy. I am certainly a proponent of planning ahead and creating multiple streams of income, but what I see with a lot of my clients is that they get stuck when it comes to issues of safety, so much so that they never attain the next level of the pyramid. As a result, no matter how much money they have and how great their lives may seem on the outside, they are miserable.
So let’s dive into level three of Maslow’s pyramid and see what’s ahead for those of us who want more out of life.
Level three is about love and belonging. It’s about your relationships to other people including friends, family, and your romantic partner. As Brene Brown put it, “we are all wired for connection.” We are social beings (even us introverts) and we cannot derive true meaning from life without relationships to other people. In fact, in the book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, a palliative nurse collected the regrets of her dying patients. Here is what we can learn about a life not fully lived:
“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” Sometimes, as an attempt to be loved and belong, we take on other people’s wishes and make them our own. We forget to listen to ourselves. We get lost. We live inauthentically to please. So while we need connections, it is important to be true to our desires and rather than fit in, we need to strive to belong. Consider what you do and the choices you make. Are they what you truly want? Is someone living vicariously through you despite the fact that you would rather be doing something else? Be honest with yourself.
“I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” It is standard in 21st Century America to work a minimum of 40 hours a week with only two weeks vacation. But if you’re reading this article, you’re not average. You likely fall into the high-achievers camp which means you work upwards of 50 hours per week. And high achievers are also those who often fail to take their vacation days. It’s no wonder we burn out. We have so much to prove to ourselves and others and the work is never done. But when you’re on your death bed and you look back at your life, you realize you missed the boat. You had opportunities you passed up because you were too busy. You could have taken the easy route, at least part of the time, but you had something to prove. You wanted to feel accomplished and it never felt like it was enough. It’s time to rethink this paradigm so you don’t end up with regrets. How can you work less, relax more, and enjoy the lifestyle you are working so hard to build?
“I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.” Relationships are about communication of our innermost worlds. This includes our needs, our desires, our thoughts, and our feelings. We all want to feel seen and understood, but if we don’t express ourselves, how will others know us? In many cultures, talking about your feelings or even just showing your feelings to others is considered a sign of weakness. We learn to zip up our emotions and keep tightlipped about them. Like any belief, this one needs to be challenged. It is outdated and research confirms that holding our emotions inside can cause our foundation to crumble. When we don’t express ourselves, our emotions can turn into physical pain and even autoimmune diseases. We suffer inside and our relationships to others suffer on the outside.
When someone shares a story of personal hardship, how do you think of them? Often times we consider this an act of courage. We forget that showing vulnerability brings us closer to others. When it comes time for us to be vulnerable, we shut down. We are afraid. It is time to end the double standard. If you want to maintain your health and cultivate relationships, you must open up to others.
“I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.” Are you so caught up in your stressful life that you have no time for your friends? The older we get and the more entrenched we are in our work, the more isolated we can become. Why are friendships important?
According to Aristotle, friendships served several purposes. “In poverty and other misfortunes of life, true friends are a sure refuge. They keep the young out of mischief; they comfort and aid the old in their weakness, and they incite those in the prime of life to noble deeds.”
Gallup Organization’s director, Tom Rath, conducted research on friendships and came up with these three important findings: (1). We are five times more likely to lead healthy lives if our best friend does so; (2) Married people conveyed that the friendships they have with their partner is five times more important to their relationship than their intimacy; (3) We have only a one in 12 chance of feeling engaged at work when we have no friends there, but when we have strong relationships with even one coworker, we are seven times more likely to feel engaged at work.
We are affected by our proximity and the level of intimacy we have with others. When we are surrounded by someone who is very negative, who is critical, or who is unsupportive of us, we tend to shut down. We feel unappreciated and despite our innate desire for closeness, we want nothing more than to either convert this individual into our personal fan or to run the other way. Conversely, when we are surrounded by someone loving and supportive, we flourish.
Relationships can be both stressful and stress-fighting, depending on the nature of the interaction. Because we are most affected by those closest in proximity to us, it is an important reminder for us to actively pursue people who are positive and encouraging as well as environments that attract like-minded individuals.
“I wish that I had let myself be happier.” As we get caught up in the rat race, in our desire to be accomplished, we sometimes forget to slow down and enjoy the journey. We seek happiness often in the form of material pleasures, but find this unsatisfying. So why don’t we pursue more happiness? For many of us it boils down to a belief that we don’t deserve it. We may believe that we aren’t worthy, that we are “bad,” or that we are “fine.” Author Mel Robbins wrote a whole book about the latter in the hopes of getting us to wake up to the truth and push the boundaries to truly reach our potential. In Stop Saying You’re Fine, Robbins outlines how often we are our own worst enemy. We get comfortable in our old ways even when they keep us miserable. We fear change, so we convince ourselves that everything is “fine.”
How can you push the envelope and fill your life with greater joy? If you could have the kind of life you only dream of, what would be different? Surely, you wouldn’t be working as hard as you are, you wouldn’t be as lonely as you feel, and you would enjoy the comforts of your life more. So why not turn that dream into a reality? It’s really up to you.
Assuming that you’ve created amazing heart connections with others and have cultivated the friendships and love relationship you desire, what’s next? According to Maslow, level four is about Esteem. This corresponds with your personal power, your sense of self, or the way in which you project yourself out into the world. It starts with how you see yourself. Do you feel confident to take on new challenges? When someone acknowledges your efforts or pursues your friendship, do you feel worthy? Often, despite the fact that we have earned what’s in front of us, if we believe we are inadequate, we will resist opportunities to advance our lives.
I recently worked with a client who in her first year at her job really struggled. After getting her performance review, she decided to buckle down and really work hard. This translated into putting in more time and energy than anyone else at the company. By the end of her second year, she was recognized at the company party as the Most Improved worker. She felt she did not deserve the recognition because of her belief that she is inadequate.
The same pattern could be seen in her relationship. She has been dating the same loving partner for the past five years. When I inquired about the plan for the next stage of their relationship, she said her boyfriend wants to wait until he has enough money to buy a home for them to live in. She saw this as a rejection of her, which caused her to want to prove herself to him even more. Despite all her attempts and despite his acknowledgments of her, she kept blaming her inadequacies for his stalling. Only after I pointed out that he seems to have a similar belief to her own (i.e., that he is inadequate) and that his belief is driving his behavior to demonstrate his worth to her, did she consider this alternative possibility.
Contrary to popular belief, you are not the only one with an imposture syndrome. Perhaps you have taken the fake-it-’til-you-make-it approach and are shaking in your boots each time you think someone will discover the truth about you. Even if you don’t struggle with a sense of inadequacy, chances are you see others as more capable in comparison because you don’t see them as flawed.
It is important to remember that while you are keenly aware of your own anxieties and limitations, what you know of others is only skin deep. While we don’t know the inner workings of those around us, we can be certain that everyone has some regrets, makes mistakes at times, and has compulsions to contend with.
When we have stage fright, the classic recommendation has always been to imagine the audience members as naked. Why is this supposed to help calm our nerves? It is because by seeing everyone else as just as vulnerable as us, we feel similar to them.
If it is true that we are just like everyone else, then we are just as likely to be able to manifest success, fulfillment, and happiness. You might just have to re-wire your brain to start believing this fact so you can start to reap the benefits it can bring you.
The needs that correspond to the first four levels of the pyramid are considered Deficit Needs. That is, when one of these needs is not fulfilled, we feel a sense of deficit which leads us to pursuing it. However, once those needs are met, we feel content. They do not motivate us to reach our full potential.
The ultimate goal, according to Maslow, is to be self-actualized. We reach the top of the pyramid when we realize our full potential which results from a state of harmony and understanding. The values Maslow associated with this state include ones of integration, self-regulation, simplicity, effortlessness, playfulness, and self-sufficiency. In short, a balanced, happy, and easy life. It’s what we all want deep inside, but what so few of us experience.
So how can we reach this ultimate life goal?
Creating a Balanced Life
When people hear the word “balance,” they automatically think about an even split between work and personal life. Given the demands of the jobs that employ us, this seems impossible. But balance is not necessarily about an equal quantity between the two camps.
In more recent times, writers have referred to the term as work-life integration. What does this actually look like?
Recall that we have a whole slew of needs. When we focus on work, we may be taking care of our physiological, safety, and even esteem-related needs. But when work takes up too much of our resources, we end up not having the time to pursue meaningful relationships or the energy to take care of ourselves properly.
Remember the regrets of the dying? They lamented working “so hard” because while they thought what they were doing was important, they realized at the end of their lives the missed opportunities. When you think ahead to your last days, how do you want to remember your life? Chances are you want to feel like you lived your life fully, that you felt loved by those around you, and that you left behind a legacy as a contribution to those who will live after you. So where can you be spending more of your time? Who can you be investing in besides yourself? How can you implement more relaxation and self-care into your every day to ensure you don’t burn out or end up living with regrets of your own?
I have heard many people say that although they know how important it is for them to exercise, for example, that there just isn’t enough time in the day. And even when there is time, they don’t have the energy for it. On the surface, all these claims are valid. But there is another way.
You know how when you really want something, you find the time, the energy, or the money for it? A coach I worked with once said that we all have resistance and make excuses. He used to share with prospective clients that if presented with an opportunity to buy a $100k car for only $70k, they would somehow find the money. Why? Because they would see it as an opportunity, a deal they cannot refuse. They could easily turn around and sell the car for an instant profit.
How can you think about your health and relationships as that profitable investment? Instead of thinking of what you’re lacking, ask yourself how you can muster the energy, the time, and the money to do what you really want.
Being an entrepreneur brings with it many challenges including the fact that you do not have a guaranteed income, no one pays your health benefits or funds your 401K, and you have to be self-motivated to succeed. But one of the true benefits to being self-employed is flexibility.
During my live events, I often quiz my audience members. I explain that I work from home two days a week and work out of my clinic the other three days. Then I ask them, during which two days of the week they think I go to the gym? Often, they say during my two work-from-home days. It seems logical that when we have more time, we will be able to get more of what we want done. But in truth, the two days I go to the gym are during two of the three days I work out of my clinic. Why? Because of proximity, not because of time.
I purposely positioned my office close to my gym. I created breaks in between seeing clients during which I can walk to my gym and work out. Because my gym is about a 20 minute drive from my home, I am less likely to work out on the days I work remotely.
How can you use the principle of proximity to accomplish your goals? Whether it is proximity to your gym or to the kinds of people you want to associate with, you have more control over your outcomes than you realize. You just need to be strategic in your planning and get creative in your thinking.
Even when you have proximity on your side, you might find that you have no time to engage in some of the activities on your wish list. I consider this “backward thinking.” You should start with what you want first and figure out how to plan the rest of your life around those activities. Want to join a meditation circle? Find out what nights during the week it is being held and put it on your calendar. Want to eat home-made meals when you come home from work, but feel too mentally exhausted that you end up eating take out? Consider meal planning in advance, especially if you can find healthy and quick recipes you can easily assemble without too much mental energy.
On the flip side, we may be spending too much energy on socializing. Have trouble saying no when someone asks you to hang out after work? If so, this may be taking up your remaining resources and not leaving much for you to be able to rest properly or engage in other activities. Figure out what a more balanced picture would look like.
I recently worked with a client who struggled with this exact issue. She found herself going out night after night and was drained from working all day and socializing every evening. Once she decided that she would like to cap her social outings to two nights per week, she was able to reserve her remaining time and energy for other opportunities and felt more rested in the process. What outside of work is taking up more of your resources than you care to admit? Create boundaries around your time and you can find more of it for the things you want.
Creating a Happy Life
Happiness. So much has been written on the subject. It is what we are all after, but we don’t always go about it the right way. We seek immediate gratification because we don’t want to wait to feel happy. But what greets us now doesn’t always add up to joy. So how can we create a purposeful and happy life?
Let’s go back to one of the regrets stated by those palliative patients mentioned earlier. They wished they could have had the courage to be themselves. Are you living for someone else’s happiness or your own? Do what makes you happy. Be authentic and listen to your inner voice.
If relationships are a big piece of the puzzle toward happiness, consider the different relationships you have in your life. Who is in your inner-most circle? Rate the quality of your closeness to those individuals. How can you continue to foster those most important relationships, whether it is a spouse, a life partner, your children, or your closest confidant? Then consider who is in your second and third tier circles. Are you investing your time and attention outside of work according to these tiers or do you need to rethink your paradigm? If you want to create new relationships, what are you doing about it? Are you out there dating if you are seeking a romantic partner? Are you investing energy in forming a community? Are you keeping in touch with those old friends? And are you finding ways to spend quality time connecting to others outside of social media?
Lastly, ask yourself how you could let yourself be happier? You may come up with some ideas, but feel some resistance in pursuing them. If so, challenge the limiting beliefs that hold you back, beliefs that you don’t deserve to feel happy, that it’s not possible to have what you want, or that it is too scary to face change. Focus on how you will feel when you accomplish the items on your list and let the end result motivate you to take action.
Creating an Easy Life
It is true that it takes effort to make things happen. It is also true that you may feel exhausted by all the responsibilities you are already carrying and overwhelmed by the prospect of taking on anything else. But consider this: life doesn’t have to be difficult.
Our beliefs are what drive our behaviors and if we believe that something has to be difficult, we may either find ourselves struggling or resisting it altogether. By using the power of the mind, we can focus on attaining what we want and perhaps making it easier than we would otherwise estimate it to be.
There are tools such as visualization that have been shown to help us manifest our goals more smoothly. Once we see ourselves having the success that we want, going through the motions in real life is less daunting. Moreover, there have been countless reports from people who have used their spirituality to manifest their goals in less time and with less effort. Accounts of this sort were highly discussed in books like The Secret. Don’t knock it ’til you try it.
What would an easier version of your life look like if you could integrate your professional and personal life and feel happy? Jot down some ideas as they come to you. As you start to investigate more about people around you who are successfully balancing their lives, who seem fulfilled and happy, and who find ways of being effective and efficient, write down what you can do differently to obtain similar results.
You have the power to design your life, to live with purpose and intentionality, so that at the end of your days you can reflect back and feel contented and fulfilled.
Success comes in many forms. We have to reach beyond our materialistic world to find meaning. We find it when we are living authentically, when we pursue what we want beyond what we need, and when we surround ourselves with other people. Remember: Friends are the people who pull us out when we are in a ditch. They keep us out of trouble and comfort us when we are in pain. The bond we have with them allows us to be healthier and more engaged. Consider your personal and professional goals. Who do you need to be around to have a similar success mindset? Be strategic about your proximity to others and use your resources accordingly. Use your curiosity to turn inward and share outwardly.