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How Much Would You Pay for Fulfillment?

Fulfillment is up for sale! It is not, however, available for purchase as a one time, lump sum amount. Payment can only be arranged as a subscription with commitment to daily installments, and the only form of payment accepted is effort.

So I ask you again: how much would you be willing to pay for fulfillment? Would you be willing to put in the daily effort it takes to ensure that you live a fulfilled life?

Welcome to this week’s post in which we begin to look at what it takes to live a life of fulfillment. Obviously this topic is huge and should not be covered in one post. Today’s focus will be on you, your self-observations, and what to do with the information you gather.

Make self-observation a daily practice for life

“You two keep cutting in front of us,” I snapped at a couple. “That’s so inconsiderate of you!”

Craig and I were standing in line to get on a plane which was the last leg of our 28 hour trip back to the United States from Kenya. I had not slept or showered for over a day, must have smelled pretty ripe, could barely feel my legs while standing, and these two kept trying to cut in front of us in the line. The couple were surprised, both gestured to us to go ahead, and the man reminded me that the plane would not take off until we had all boarded. I claimed my position in front of them with all the self-righteousness of a Major coming home from battle in victory.

“What the hell was that all about?” My inner voice asked, and my anger with the couple instantly vanished. Self-observation had become automatic for me and was working before I even realized it.

In my prior posts I provided techniques for observing your thoughts and emotions as well as your behaviors in relationships. In each case I suggested specific questions to ask yourself in an effort to understand yourself better. Take some time to review those posts and practice the techniques. The investment you make in learning to observe yourself will pay off handsomely on your quest to find fulfillment.

Remember that self-observation is not a limited practice. If you exercise regularly, you know you must continue the practice to stay in shape. The same is true for understanding yourself. The human psyche is a fascinating, endless domain, and can never be fully understood. What you know about yourself is only the tip of the iceberg. To make matters even more complex, what you know about yourself today may not apply to you anymore in a year’s time.

The good news is that with practice the self-observer will become an automatic part of you, as it had for me. The more you understand yourself, the quicker you will take correct action. In my example, I automatically went through the following steps:

  1. I was immediately able to see that my anger at the couple had more to do with my state of exhaustion than it did with what they were doing. My anger dissolved and my raw fatigue underneath told me I needed rest.
  2. I realized that I was engaging in self-righteousness, a trait I try to disassociate myself from because it is hard to keep up and gets in the way of my fulfillment.
  3. I looked around for the couple to apologize to them because I have learned that humility works wonders to lighten my conscience.  But by this time I was on the plane and the couple were no longer in my sight. I still apologized to them in my head to practice my own humility.
  4. The last step I took was to let go of guilt. I could not find the couple and therefore could not make amends. I knew that holding on to guilt or shame serves no function when there’s nothing I can do about them, so I consciously let them go.

Categorize, re-evaluate, and prioritize what is important to you

With all the self-observation you engage in, and all of the questions you pose to yourself, you slowly begin to understand what you need, want, and desire. It is important to pay close attention to these and make sure they are true and accurate. 

There are two different ways to categorize what is important to you:

  1. Is this need emotional, spiritual, or material? There’s a lot of overlap between these three categories, so don’t spend too much time on this. The important thing is to make sure you are not off-balance in one of these areas. For example, if everything that is important to you falls under the spiritual category, then you may end up hungry and homeless because you meditated all day every day and you did not pay any attention to your job or family life.
  2. Is this something you need, want, or wish for? This is important for prioritizing. For example, we all need food, clothing, and shelter. We must all attend to our basic needs, but some of us might want or wish to live in a mansion, eat caviar, and wear the latest fashions, while others may be happy living in a hut with basic food and clothing. It is important to prioritize our needs and wants because then we know where to focus our efforts and energy.

Re-evaluation of what is important to you is essential because you may not get it correctly the first time, or your priorities may change over time. For example, I used to believe that being “right” was important to me. I also wanted to be respected, validated, heard, and understood. All of these values are still somewhat important to me, but none are as important as feeling at peace. Much higher on my priority list now are things such as having a clear conscience, staying close to my loved ones, physical health, and personal and spiritual growth. So if some stranger wants to cut in front of me in a line, or an aggressive driver cuts me off on the highway, or a person I barely know unfriends me on social media, I don’t sweat it one bit. Since human connections are more important to me than being “right,” even in today’s political climate, I continue to love my neighbors and friends even if the flags they fly on their porches are the opposite of the ones I would choose for mine.

Craig and I on an Island on Lake Naivasha, Kenya

Being conscious of what is truly important to you allows you to let go of the noise around other things. For instance if the most important thing to you in life is making honest money, and you acknowledge that to yourself, then you won’t mind missing that vacation, or going to your daughter’s soccer game, because you were working for overtime pay. But if you find that you do in fact wish you had gone to the family reunion, or regret missing your son’s birthday party, then you will stop and realize that maybe making money was not as important as you thought, and you will correct course.

Fulfillment is honestly not as elusive or out of reach as we think it is. We just need to get out of our own way and focus on what is truly important to us. Start investing in the fulfillment that is up for sale and reap the benefits for the rest of your fulfilled life. 

Next week, I’ll give you some tips on how to get out of your own way because us humans are notorious in sabotaging our own happiness. As always, I’m happy to hear from you. Let me know if you try any of these techniques.

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Sayeh Beheshti, M.D.