How do you know you are on the right path in your life?

1.      You spend your time doing things that give you energy rather than deplete your energy. 
I took a class titled “Power and Glory in Turbulent Times” with Nancy Koehn.  We studied all types of leaders from Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill to Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs to Oprah and U2.  Nancy Koehn was insane – so much exuberance and intense knowledge of a wide variety of topics.  She’d recite David Foster Wallace passages and Abraham Lincoln letters from memory on a whim.  She’s the most bad-ass person I’ve ever known.  I’ll be watching a documentary about Henry Ford, and think, “Why is this voice familiar?”, and then realize it’s Nancy Koehn.

At the end of the semester, a group of students had lunch with Professor Koehn.  After telling us about a PBS documentary she was interviewed for, all of these New York Times articles and books she’s writing, and her love for horse-riding, I asked her, “How do you decide how to spend your time?”

She responded, “I just do things that give me energy.  Last week, I was recording for a PBS documentary in New York, and I was so energized afterwards that I skipped all the way to Penn Station.  I thought, ‘Hmm, I should do more of these.’  After I record our show for NPR, I’m so excited that I jingle my keys on the walk to my car.  Writing is so hard for me.  It’s so solitary and so gut-wrenching, but when I finish, I’m so excited and so glad I did it.  I just pay attention to what gives me more energy and just make sure I do more of those things.”

2.      You consistently take the option you care about more.
Another bad-ass professor I had at HBS, Youngme Moon co-taught a class titled “Branding + Different”.  A lot of her business insights are included in her book “Different.”  I figure if I am plagiarizing people, then I should at least plug their books.

On the last day of class, all HBS professors do a final lecture, a revered tradition in the school where professors share deeply personal stories and heartfelt advice on personal and professional success.  Professor Moon dropped a lot of knowledge on us, but one thing she shared that seems relevant here is a story about her son.

Her son one day said, “You always tell me to do something I’m passionate about, but what if I’m not passionate about anything?”  She responded, “If at every choice you come to in life, what job to take, what subject to major in, what city to live in, if at every fork in the road you take the option you care about more, the option that gets you excited and whets your curiosity … then you’ll come to the next fork in the road and you’ll take the option you care about more… then you’ll come to the next fork in the road and you’ll take the option you care about more … you’ll keep coming to these forks and keep taking the options you care about more, then one day, you’ll wake up and realize that you’re doing something you’re passionate about.”

3.      You find your sweet spot.
Find your sweet spot where what you love, what you’re good at, and what society values intersect.  I stole this and am doing a terrible job paraphrasing it from the class “Authentic Leadership Devleopment.”  We had the book “True North” by Bill George, so maybe I am stealing this from that book, but I’m too lazy to double-check.

This is the framework I found particularly helpful for making sure one’s on the right path in life.

Pulling this all together.
For me, making sure one’s on the right path in life is not a simple checklist or a one-time litmus test, but rather the result of a series of good decisions.   Or maybe it’s not even the series of good decisions but rather amassing diverse experiences and later piecing them together, as illustrated in Steve Job’s famous connecting-the-dots Stanford graduation speech.

Either way, if at every decision point – taking a new job, moving to a new location, starting new hobbies, teaching a class – you take the choice that gives leaves you more energized, tempts your curiosity more, and is at that intersection of what you’re good at, what you love, and what society values, then I imagine you’ll be well on your way to your right path in life.

Questions people don’t ask themselves

  • Do I really need this?
  • If I weren’t already in the middle of doing what I am doing would I still do it?
  • Is it time to walk away and try something new?
  • Does this actually make me happy?
  • What assumptions led me to that conclusion?
  • Is this thing worth the time and effort it took to earn the money to buy it?
  • Aside from “he’s evil,” or “she’s insane,” What are some reasons he or she may be acting that way and what would have to happen to me to make me act the same?
  • When considering the things I am absolutely sure I’m right about, in what ways might I be wrong?
  • What is my basis for claiming X?
  • When considering a phenomenon, view, or system over which people usually take sides — or one for which I’m on a side — what are some ways that both sides are right/wrong?
  • Why am I doing what I am doing?
  • When will I start taking my own advice?
  • If money were not an issue, what would I do with my life?
  • Why the hell do I do this everyday?
  • Before I ask this question, if I take 5 seconds to contemplate it, can I answer it myself?
  • Do I want to be right, or do I want a relationship?
  • What do I need to start doing?
  • What do I need to stop doing?
  • What do I need to stay doing?
  • Is there another way to think about this?
  • Could I be wrong even if I am right?
    Even if everything I believe about a situation is right, and everything I am doing is technically correct, could my actions have unintended consequences? What if I went about solving the problem in a way that caused turbulence?
  • Why do I believe in what I believe?
  • Is this what I really want?
  • How can I best take the advice I am giving?
  • If I loved myself truly and deeply, what would I do in this situation?
  • Is this any of my business?
  • Why do I exist?
  • Am I happy with how I just spent those 10 minutes that I can never get back?
  • If I had it all over again, would I hire/start/build X?
  • Am I making an ass out of myself?
  • Am I procrastinating?
  • Do I really understand what is written here/what he is saying?
  • Is what I’m saying going to offend someone, and if so, am I right in saying it?
  • Why would I act unethically?
  • What’s the worst that could happen?
  • Am I doing everything possible to achieve my goals and if not, why?
  • Am I making the other person feel heard?
  • Am I living in the moment?
  • Am I living my life in a way that makes me happy and makes the people around me that I love happy?
  • Am I making this decision for myself or someone else?
  • What would I do if today were my last day?
  • What would I do if I was not afraid?
  • Is this the best I can give?
  • Will doing this help me become a better person in any way?
  • Can I do better?
  • Is this reaction or belief I hold about other people and and their actions or
    beliefs due more to my unfamiliarity with their practices than it is to some rational and defensible position?
  • Am I spending enough time with the people I care about?
  • Just because I’m thinking it, should I believe it?
  • Will I regret this?
  • Will I regret not doing this?
  • Would I believe in this even if I were the only person in the world believing in it?
  • Am I doing this for the right reasons?
  • Did I do anything right today?
  • Will I be glad I did/am doing this 10 years from now?
  • How are my parents doing?
  • When is the last time I called them?
  • Why didn’t I speak up?
  • Why did I go through with the charade?
  • Why did I stay?
  • Why do I let it continue? 5. When will I be brave for myself?
  • Will I have to serve time?
  • Am I really good enough for this, or am I just wasting everyone’s time?
  • Am I happy?
  • What would make me happy?
  • Am I over-thinking it?
  • What would I do at a juncture when I am satisfied with the money and material possessions I have?
  • If today were the last day of your life, for what would you ask God for extra time?
  • Isn’t there a better way to do this?
  • Who did I help today?
  • What did I learn today?
  • What am I thankful for?
  • Am I being honest? Honest with myself as well as with others?
  • Do I ask myself enough?
  • Is this true for ME?
  • Do I care enough knowing that this will bite my arse in the future?
  • Does this really make sense ?
  • Is what people tell me the truth and based on evidence, or is it just their version of the truth or based on nothing but hearsay?
  • Am I ok?
  • If I knew what I know now, would I still do it?
  • What is the underlying  hidden premise in any universal wisdom
  • Is there an alternate way of looking at it ? explaining it ?
    Is it co relation or causation ?
  • Can Both parties to a debate be wrong (or Right )?
  • Will it matter 10 years down the line ?
  • Why I am spending so much time on Quora
  • Why do I live here, exactly here, in this house, in this neighborhood, in this city?
  • Am I drinking enough water?
  • What limiting beliefs are you holding on to?
  • How can I become the best in physical, mental and social aspects of my life?
  • Did I treat others they way I want to be treated?
  • How many calories is this?
  • Am I happy? if not how can my life be better and what changes should I do to make it better in order for me to be happy.
  • How can I be a better me today?
  • Am I being too hard on myself?
  • where is this heading ?
  • Who am I?
  • What are my weaknesses?
  • What have I done to make a difference?
  • Is it really just the world that is mean all the time? Can I not be wrong sometimes? (If everybody asked themselves this courageous question, they (we) would be able to hate the world and its people a lot less.)
  • How does what I am doing and saying affect other beings?
  • When is the next time I’ll be able to pee?
  • What exactly are we doing now, while pretending to argue about something?
  • Why do I want what I want?
  • How aware of my feelings am I while sitting in front of my screen?
  • At my deathbed, will I be happy I spent so much time in front of a screen?

How You Find The Life That Is Yours

15498149945_efb7e04cea_bWe all have a fantasy life in our heads that we like to hold ourselves hostage to. We feel recklessly and irrationally entitled to the idea we have of who we should be. We hold onto this image, convinced that if we let it go then we are admitting defeat. If we let it go, we’re saying to ourselves (and to the world) that we can’t have that life and giving up on it means giving up on ourselves. As long as we keep this fantasy alive in our mind, it’s still possible, it’s still there for us to think about and dream about and feel entitled to.

We suffer over this fantasy life. We hold the microscope up to our current lives and find all the ways it differs from the life we think we should have. We tell ourselves we are successful, but not nearly as successful as the fantasy. We tell ourselves we are loved, but not nearly as loved as the fantasy. We tell ourselves we are good, but not nearly as brilliant as the fantasy. We punish ourselves for not having this life and we convince ourselves that the tighter we hold onto this vision of who we should be, the closer we get to becoming it. We see this fantasy version of who we should be and assume they’re happier, better, more at peace, stronger, in abundance of everything we are chaotically trying to collect on our own.

The other day I was thinking about what would happen if I let go of this fantasy version of myself that I grip onto so tightly. The first word that came thundering down into my mind was: free. I’d be free. Free of the constant enduring pressure to live up to this idea I have in my head of the person I should be and to end the constant berating of not being her.

Free.

You see, we think we know what we want. We think we know what our beautiful, successful, incredible lives look like, but all we really know is the essence of what it feels like. This is why we fantasize. We want to feel. We don’t need all those things to feel that way. We don’t need to become our fantasy in order to feel the essence of it. All we want is the feeling. If you could get the essence of your fantasy life from another source, don’t you think you’d take it?

The problem is that we’re too singularly focused on how our lives should look. We project out into that fantasy and, when some opportunity or person or anything comes along that does not hold up to the fantasy, we push it away. We don’t recognize what’s right in front of us, because we’re focused on a projection we only have in our minds. A projection which is primarily focused on allowing us to feel what it would be like to be happy, fulfilled, content, joyful, light. Our fantasy life isn’t meant to be achieved, not really. It is meant to be a marker, a guidepost, a way to know what it feels like to step into the light.

You have to let go of the life you think you’re supposed to have in order to step into the life that is yours. This is essential. This is the only way. You have to allow the essence of your fantasy life wash over you, fill up all the cracks in you, and you have to let the image of it blur out into the background. No amount of present suffering over this dream vision is going to bring you the peace and light you desire. Acceptance of where you are now and an allowing of what is to come will give you that peace.

There is a life out there that is yours and it’s not necessarily the movie you have running about in your mind. Maybe it is. Most likely it’s not. The truth is that you cannot use your suffering over the life you don’t have as fuel to get you to the life you want. You have to see clearly and perfectly that you are in your life right now and you have to recognize that this is it, this is the grand moment, and to make that moment feel as beautiful as the essence of that fantasy.

It isn’t easy. Nobody says this is easy. It’s easy to write it and think on it, sure. But stepping into it is one tall order. However, it’s worth it, right? It’s gotta be.

Jamie Varon

Challenge

forest“When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back. A week is more than enough time for us to decide whether or not to accept our destiny.”

Paulo Coelho