At least once a week, I talk to my accountability partner, Belinda Smith, the well-known songwriter from Nashville. Last week, she announced that she quit her part-time job working at in a government agency.
She is a very successful songwriter and creativity coach, but she’s held onto this job because she grew up conditioned that having a government job was important.
We laughed together as we discussed the speculations that could be made about her quitting her job. (After all, no one in her entire office had ever succeeded at doing it before.)
“She must know about some sort of money laundering scheme!”
“She probably caught her boss having an affair.”
“I’m sure there’s some sort of scandal of epic proportions!”
She’s really funny – sometimes I think she should just drop the songwriting and become a comedian – and she said to me in her southern twang, pretending to talk to her colleagues, “I’m an award winning songwriter, did it ever occur to you that maybe I’m quitting my job to pursue my dreams?!”
Then she confided in me and said, “Skye,” with her southern twang, it sounds more like “ska,” as in ska music. “Skye,” she said, “I’ve thought about quitting this mind-numbing job for a long time. I’ve been traveling across the country all year giving concerts and lectures and workshops, I just released my live album… I just always felt like I had to keep this ‘steady job’ because so many people told me that music and the arts aren’t a ‘real job’.”
I’m sure you’ve heard that a lot. I know I have. I don’t know an artist who hasn’t.
She continued with an unbelievable story that had me laughing hysterically in sadness.
“You aren’t going to believe what happened in the office this week, Skye. I told you about the crazy crackheads that come in here, right? Ok well this week, this woman was so dissatisfied with the service she received that she dropped trou and big fat pooped on the floor!”
“WHAT?!?! Are you kidding me?!?!?!” I couldn’t believe it.
She said, “I know, I couldn’t believe it either. It was THAT moment that I knew I had to let go of these old rules I had floating around in my head that being a singer/songwriter wasn’t a worthy career and I had to do something I hated. This just ain’t happiness right here. I mean, I woman just pooped on the floor in my office! I’m done. I don’t belong here. I don’t need another sign. I gave my notice and I’m going to live the life a life I love, a life of happiness, a life where I’m making a difference in the world and people aren’t poopin’ on my floor!”
High five to Belinda, right?
Not from her boss, though. He couldn’t believe it. He wanted to give her an extra month to think it over. People in her office couldn’t believe it, either.
“Come on, what ‘dreams’? No one has any dreams by the time they’re 40 years old.” (Don’t kill me, Belinda, everyone knows you recorded that live album on your 40th birthday… secret’s out!)
No on has any dreams by the time they’re 40 years old.
Is that really true?
I feel like it’s getting truer and truer younger and younger these days. Sometimes when I ask students about their dreams, they’re just waiting for me to tell them what to say so they can say what I want to hear. It makes me sad.
This discussion with Belinda made me reflect on what it means to pursue your dreams, to pursue happiness.
Just to be clear, by “happiness,” I don’t mean a temporary emotion. I’m talking about something you experience on a much deeper level, even when you don’t feel particularly cheerful. I’m talking about long-lasting fulfillment.
Based on this definition of happiness, I’ve notice that most people I interact with are unhappy. I’m by no means a happiness guru, but I’ve noticed some mistakes these people make in the pursuit of happiness – mistakes that cause them to be UNHAPPY.
Here’s what I’ve come up with:
Mistake #1: Give up on your dreams.
I’m not so idealistic to think that any time is a good time to pursue your dreams. We all have responsibilities and obligations to fulfill, but that doesn’t mean we should give up entirely on our dreams. After all, dreams are what make us fully alive. Even if our childhood of becoming an astronaut fades away, it’s still never too late to dream a new dream.
Mistake #2: Neglect the people closest to you.
At some level, we’re aware that life is all about relationships. Life can get busy and it’s easy to neglect the relationships that mean the most to us. Let’s remind ourselves that doing this is a sure path to unhappiness.
Mistake #3: Don’t take full responsibility for your life.
Taking full responsibility for our lives doesn’t mean that we can control everything that happens to us, because obviously we can’t. It does, however, mean that we recognize our power to choose our attitude in every situation, no matter how unfair or horrible the situation may seem. It also means that we never blame anyone else for how we’ve been feeling or the disappointments we’ve been experiencing. (That’s not an easy task.)
Mistake #4: Try to please everyone.
We can’t be everything to everyone, so let’s not even try. This is one thing we’re sure to fail at even if we give it our best shot! Bill Cosby says, “I don’t know the ket to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”
Mistake #5: Say “yes” way too often.
Jim Collins observes in his book, Good to Great, that the enemy of great isn’t bad. The enemy of great is good. Most of the time, bad decisions are obviously bad, so we’re not tempted to choose them. Good decisions—ones that are beneficial in the short term but harmful in the long term—are the ones that distract us from making great decisions. If we want to find happiness, we’ll need to choose the path of intentional abandonment of everything good, in pursuit of only the best. We must say “no” to every single good thing and say “yes” to only the great things.
Mistake #6: Don’t accept yourself fully.
Although we should be firmly committed to improving ourselves, we also need to accept ourselves fully—talents, strengths, flaws, mistakes and all. Not doing so will result in low self-confidence and a feeling of inferiority. I can tell you from experience that it’s hard to be happy when you feel that way.
Mistake #7: Continually live in the past or the future, instead of the present.
It’s tempting to live in the past, where our regrets, failures, and hurts lie. There’s a million reasons we do this from being conditioned to feel guilty to feeling entitled to something more because the past was so rough.
It’s equally enticing to live in the future, which is filled with our worries, fears and hopes. “What if we lose the competition?” “Everything sucks right now, so I’ll just pretend I live in the future and be past it.” (Funny, because in the future, we end up looking back to this as the past…)
We need to constantly remind ourselves to live fully in the present, because it’s in the present moment that we take action and create real success.
Mistake #8: Complain.
When we’re whining, we’re not winning. The only purpose that complaining serves is to justify our feelings of anger and aggravation. The angrier and more aggravated we feel, the less likely it is that we’ll be happy. Oh snap!
Mistake #9: Watch a lot of TV.
Surveys show that the average person living in a developed country watches three hours of TV or more per day. I hope that statistic scares you. I’m not saying that there aren’t any TV shows worth watching, but just imagine all the other things you could be doing with your time. In addition, many TV shows inspire you, but in the wrong way. Many shows inspire greed, lust, fear and hatred. Definitely not the way to find happiness! I stopped watching TV two years ago… it’s been GREAT! No horrific news, no time wasted watching trash… it’s like a mental diet!
Mistake #10: Make decisions while in an emotional state.
Unhappy people are often unhappy about their circumstances, which are frequently a result of their poor decisions. When we feel extremely sad, angry, afraid or frustrated, we’re not in the best mental and emotional state to make good choices. As we’re all aware, choices have consequences. Where possible, let’s wait until we’re feeling calm and composed before making a major decision.
Admittedly, the primary aim of life isn’t merely to be happy. In fact, in order to lead a life of courage, service, commitment, determination, kindness, generosity and love, we’ll undoubtedly have to do many things in the short term that will make us unhappy.
But the people who find enduring happiness also tend to be the ones who make the largest contributions and leave behind the greatest legacies.
So let’s pursue happiness for what it is: a means to an end, not an end in itself. In this pursuit, let’s not make any of these 10 mistakes. The world is counting on us to be happy and to make a difference.