The realization about personal fulfillment that pulled me out of a serious depression and helped me understand what is truly important.
Last time, I talked about a mental trick to turn around the habit of thinking that you’re undeserving of what you want. It’s a good trick, and one that I find tends to make an impact in people when I mention it to them.
But that said, I found I came around to my own understanding in a different way. And it has nothing to do with deductive reasoning; it has to do with the realization of responsibility.
Where I came from
A few years ago, things weren’t going very well inside your author’s head. Feeling lost, adrift, lonely and, above all, ungrateful, made for a fairly toxic emotional cocktail. I struggled with feeling undeserving of anything good that could come into my life, while at the same time feeling ungrateful, since I knew how blessed I was and yet I still felt unsatisfied. (And isn’t that the worst? It’s not bad enough to feel bad, but in addition you also feel bad about feeling bad?)
I’d love to say that there was a moment when it all came together, a Eureka moment, as it would have made for a better story. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always come with a dramatic story arc, and that’s probably for the best.
If anything, I eventually just got fatigued by the constant internal narrative about worthiness, and wanted to think about things in a different way.
Eventually, I started thinking less about my own place in the world, and more about my relation to others. I didn’t live in a vacuum; I had friends and family. I had co-workers, and people in line at the grocery store. Even people walking down the street (or near me in traffic) were in some ways affected by me, at least in a limited sense. Taken as a whole, that’s a lot of people.
I knew from personal experience that even a brief interaction can have a ripple effect of others. Meeting someone, say, in a retail situation who is surly and recalcitrant can take a little wind out of your particular sails. Add up enough of those little bummers, and you have a bad situation.
Unhappy people aren’t always the best at keeping their emotions internalized. This is actually a good thing, as holding our feelings in isn’t healthy over the long term. But all this meant that multiple times each day, I had an opportunity to make people feel more energized and perhaps better, or the opposite. With all these people, I had a choice.
Eventually I came to a realization that has changed my life: I have a responsibility to everyone around me to work toward my own happiness and fulfillment. Put another way, I owe it to you to not be miserable. You meaning everyone.
When you follow the ramifications through, an irony becomes abundantly evident: working toward one’s own fulfillment is an intrinsically selfless pursuit.
It is far too easy to dismiss your own goals as being less important than those of others, to be willing to subjugate your own needs out of “respect”. But this has things totally backwards. When you’re not working on your own fulfillment, you are more likely to become a drain on others’ energy, and less likely to be available to be available to help others. Sounds pretty selfish to me.
So I want you to think about your responsibility this year. I take this very seriously, and so should you. Making yourself happy and fulfilled is not only something not to be ashamed of, but is in fact vitally important to others. Oh, and don’t forget that it benefits you in the process. That’s good too.
But enough about me. What do you feel is your most important responsibility toward others?
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