How to Live the Life of Your Dreams
September 10th, 2013 by Katie Morton
Dr. Brené Brown writes about the 10 Guideposts of Wholehearted Living — practiced by people who live “amazing and inspiring lives” — in her book The Gifts of Imperfection. I began living wholeheartedly before I knew of Brené Brown, and I was astounded to read about the journey I’d already begun. This article is part of a series that explores Dr. Brown’s Guideposts and how they look in my life.
Guidepost #4: Gratitude and Joy, and Guidepost #5: Intuition and Faith
Shame went out the window as I sat in a conference room, my face in my hands, and sobbed. The HR manager who just delivered the news that I’d been laid off from my job wore an expression of pity on her face.
Despairing thoughts whizzed through my mind: “Oh my God, the mortgage, will we be able to pay the mortgage? How are we going to eat? How will I interview for jobs with a newborn? How can I start over somewhere else when I’m up all night with the baby? How are we going to afford this!?”
What I didn’t know yet was that this was the best thing that ever happened to me.
For me, these two guideposts of gratitude and “faith” – or belief, as I’ve been calling it in my writings – are inextricably linked. Gratitude is enjoying my current experience, allowing joy in the present moment. Belief means knowing that I will always have access to gratitude and joy in the future. I don’t need certainty – I don’t need to know what’s going to happen – in order to believe that joy awaits me as long as I allow it.
Scarcity and Uncertainty Obstruct Gratitude and Belief
When I was laid off, I was operating under a different set of priorities. I was rooted in both scarcity and uncertainty; our financial situation was set to hum along as a two-income household, and to me, anything less than that was a disaster on a survival level.
To me, certainty meant the “stability” of a corporate job. While I was 100% wrong, I felt certain that if I traded my life away in hours, I would be taken care of in terms of food and shelter – survival. I was merely surviving in that corporate job.
To a lot of society, my former situation looked like Easy Street. I worked for Discovery Communications, the television network. How interesting. How exciting. I made a solid income. How secure, how lucky.
But what I believe now is this: we are here on this planet to experience variety and to connect with other people. My life was the opposite of that as I commuted to work on a traffic-y, curvy stretch of beltway where there are accidents nearly every day, to go to a workplace that is institutional grey and lit by rows of fluorescent bulbs, to sit in a closet-like office in front of a computer day in and day out while I paid someone else a large sum of money to cuddle my baby. That was a sad, sad existence.
My layoff was an enormous blessing. It devastated me at the time. Being laid off was one of the scariest experiences I’ve ever had, and that’s because my priorities were deranged. I thought that “certainty” as Dr. Brown calls it, or “stability” as I call it, is an illusion. Or rather, it’s not – we just don’t know what real certainty or stability actually looks like until we have “faith” or belief. To me, belief is simply that everything is going to be more than okay. We can choose to feel comfortable knowing that we will always have more than we need in each moment to thrive.
Gratitude Is a Choice
We can choose to understand that we have more than enough. Regardless of what my balance sheet says right now, or how small our apartment feels at times, the real questions we can ask are these: Am I breathing? Do I have a roof over my head? Do I have enough food to eat? And most importantly, do I have the love of my family? Yes. I have more than enough to thrive and to feel gratitude and joy. I’m certain that I always will. I have faith. I believe that I’m supported and loved and have what I need to thrive, both now and for the rest of my life.
When I went to an office every day, did I feel gratitude and joy? No. No, I didn’t. Because while I had enough money for nice clothes and fancy cars and vacations, my daily experience was stressful and boring and joyless.
Now, would I like my life to improve right now? Sure. Improvement and growth and opportunity are wonderful things!
And this is where belief comes in. When you don’t believe, when you’re trapped in a need for stability or certainty, then you feel paralyzed and powerless; you don’t quite believe that if you take the right actions, you’ll see the right outcome, so why bother. Belief is a requirement to go after improvement, growth, opportunity and true abundance.
How to Live the Life of Your Dreams
I think that we’re on this planet to live big, expansive, playful lives full of novelty and interesting experiences. But our fear of the unknown can prevent us from taking action. Belief is required to take action towards living a big, blissful life – belief that everything is going to turn out great. Believing helps us to put in the work.
Sometimes we screw up this formula. We think if we believe hard enough, then great things will land in our laps. And then when great things don’t simply plop right down in front of us, we think the system of belief is broken. But a big part of the equation is putting in the work.
As Marianne Williamson put it, God can make you an orchard, but you need to mosey your butt across the road to pick the fruit.
I recently pitched a BIG international magazine that I was hoping would launch my business into the stratosphere. I was getting crazed with hope and belief, and I had the feeling I would be devastated if my pitch wasn’t accepted. And then I heard *nothing* back. I followed up, and still, crickets. However, I wasn’t disappointed. I realized that it’s not that I can’t have what I want, but I’m not ready yet. I haven’t put in the work. I haven’t moseyed my lazy derriere across the road to the orchard.
A crucial part of getting whatever it is we want in life can be summed up neatly in this equation:
Vision + Belief + Responsibility = POWER
What’s Your Dream?
Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream. This is the first part of the equation: your vision. You need to get clear on what you want to see happen. You can’t be the change you want to see in the world until you get clear on exactly what that looks like.
Take a moment to answer this question: What’s your dream? What do you want your life to feel like? What do you want to pay more attention to that you already have? And what do you want more of?
Do You Believe in Your Dream?
Belief is the next part of the equation. King had belief in his vision. He was handed plenty of reasons to doubt that his vision would happen, but he decided to believe in his vision anyway. Belief is a choice. Specifically, belief is the choice that you’ll succeed. Belief is the choice to take action until you see your dream realized.
Doubt is the choice to fail. Doubt is an excuse to make weak decisions. So if I think, “I doubt my magazine pitch will get accepted,” it’s basically an excuse to forget about it, chalk it up to a failure, and move on. When really, there’s still a lot more to be done.
When you think of your dream, do you choose to believe you can make it real? Or do you find yourself making excuses for why you can’t have what you want?
You give yourself a fighting chance when you believe you can succeed. When you’re confident you can achieve your vision, you fuel your ability to make the right choices and to take action.
Before we move on, I’m going to show you that equation again so you remember where we’re going with this:
Vision + Belief + Responsibility = POWER
Responsibility Means Discovering What You Can Do and DOING IT
Responsibility is making the decision to take right action. When we don’t take responsibility, we blame outside circumstances for our failure instead of taking right action.
When something doesn’t work out for us, it’s much easier to say, “It’s their fault.” They didn’t live up to my expectations. They disappointed me. (You know, whoever “they” is.) They should have done X. When the very thing we need to always look at in life – and this is a very important message – is what WE can do.
It’s paramount that we do everything we can, everything in our power, to get what we want. Stop relying on them. Stop giving your power to other people and outside circumstances. When we blame others because something didn’t go the way we wanted, we put them on a pedestal. We say they are controlling our experience. We are excusing ourselves from what we could have done or what we could be doing in order to change our lives for the better.
Dr. King took responsibility by taking consistent action. He had plenty of opportunity to doubt and to abdicate responsibility. He could have said, “Too many people oppose my dream. White lawmakers can prevent my success.” But thank God he didn’t; he chose to believe in his vision, he took responsibility every single chance he got, and thus he operated from a place of power.
I can think, “THEY should have accepted my magazine pitch.” Well, actually, taking responsibility would look like building my business slowly via hard work, and pitching media small to big so that I can grow at a reasonable rate. That way A) it’s more likely that “they” will have heard of me and thus they’ll pay more attention to my pitch and B) I will be ready for the coverage and the resulting growth of the business when the time comes.
When we take responsibility, we do what it takes to succeed. Of course, without belief, it’s difficult to put ourselves through the hard work and the perseverance that taking responsibility entails. When we allow doubt to creep in, we fear all that effort could be wasted. But when we choose to believe and we choose to be responsible by taking the right actions, we gain the power to succeed.
Where in Your Life Do You Allow Fear to Prevent Joy?
Yesterday was my daughter’s first day of school (preschool, actually.) She didn’t want to go. She was scared, resistant, freaking out, tantrumming, dragging her feet, and generally making our morning unpleasant. We were really running late by the time we finally got her out of the house.
When we arrived at the preschool, the other children were doing no better. There was a lot of SCREAMING. The volume was up to eleventy. All the hysteria was catching. You could see the bottom lips beginning to protrude on the calm kids as one poor little girl in the class went 100% bananas when her mother shoved her into the room and slammed the door shut behind her. It was hard to leave my own little girl, who was calm now, but barely, amidst all the howling.
My husband and I walked around outside nervously, trying to distract ourselves from how it all must have been going in there. When it was time for playground recess, we spied on the class: they were happy, smiling, joyful.
Such are all of us when it comes to change of any kind. We cower, we’re fearful — and unfortunately — because we’re adults and we don’t have anyone to shove us into the room and slam the door behind us — we often don’t take any action at all. We stay stuck in that fearful place instead of taking action.
If we would push ourselves over the transom and into the pool below, we would experience calm, clear water. Once we got over the tumultuous-ness of change, we would experience joy, like those kids on the playground.
Where are you stalling? Where are you stuck in fear? Where are you preventing joy in your life because you have a fear of the unknown? What action can you take, right now, to make the most of this moment?