What to do with your life?

What I'm learning to new levels of depth(*) is that the culture we're in and people we surround ourselves with (eg, where we work or live) shape us in powerful, possibly unavoidable, ways.  We are either molded by the underlying values and beliefs of the social/corporate culture, or we experience a painful dissonance between the push of that culture and the direction that our authentic, soul self needs to go.  Or both.

One of the things I learned early on in my coaching training is that one's genuine fulfillment in life (and in our careers/relationships), is directly tied to how closely our decisions and actions match our core values and beliefs.  Said another way, Fullfillment = Decisions/Actions in Alignment with one's Values/Beliefs.  And vice versa!  So, if you're not feeling fulfilled, it's probably time to reconnect yourself with your most cherished values and beliefs, and to re-align your life with those things about which you (in heart/body, not mind) are most passionate.  If you've never sat down with someone and identified/prioritized your values, maybe it's time to do that.(*)

(*) - When we do it alone, or via a mental exercise such as by interview or filling out a form, our minds/egos tend to "vote" on what we think we value, what we think we should value, what our families, peers, partners or societies have taught/conditioned us to value, what we think the person listening would approve of us valuing, etc.  Yet, our true values have little to do with our thinking or conditioning.  In fact, if it weren't for our thinking and conditioning getting in the way, we'd see far more people enjoying lives and relationships of infectious passion and exuberant fulfillment!  So, have someone who knows you well give you feedback...or, better yet, walk you through real life "peak experiences" of yours, and look for which values were being honored during those experiences.  (Or, the opposite: Tell the story of some of the worst experiences of your life and have the listener write down which values where not being honored in those situations.)  Those will be your true values, since experience doesn't lie.

Money and material possessions are not values, by the way; they don't fulfill us in the ways I'm describing here.  Although the distinction can be subtle, values typically represent states of BEing, rather than states of DOing or HAVING.  [E.g., freedom/independence/adventure, or connection/safety/acceptance/understanding.]  Values are not ideals to be worked on or acquired; they are expressed in the living of a person's life.

In a very real way, our values and what we believe in represent the core parts of ourselves that are most important to us--who we really are right now and who we're striving to become.  Not in our minds, but in our hearts and souls.  Not what we necessarily know consciously or might tell others about ourselves, but what is apparent to anyone who really pays attention to us.  (For example: "Beth is always striving to collaborate with others and create something with them; she seems most alive and 'lit up' when she's working in harmony with teammates toward a common goal.  She must have a high value for co-creation/collaboration/harmony/teamwork."  "David has a high value for freedom/individual expression/creativity:  He always wants to do his own thing, rarely follows the rules, and feels unhappy, resentful and confined when required to do something a certain way.")

Finally, values are not things we choose or feel we "should" be doing.  Rather, values are pointers to the authentic self that's revealed by the circumstances we find ourselves in.

When we are delighted by, in love with, proud of, excited about, and energized by the beliefs/values we are embodying, and "who we are becoming" as measured by those values, we are deeply fulfilled.  Life, although not necessarily easy, feels "right"...with important meaning and passion for "The Real You" you.  But, it gets better: Something about this state is extremely attractive...not just to other people, but to the universe.  Everything we need seems to just magically show up for us synchronistically when we're "on purpose" in this way, when we know who we are and live in harmony with our true nature.  It's like the river of life is carrying us effortlessly downstream toward the ocean of our highest becoming, toward who our soul knows we were put on this planet to be.

The micro-culture that shapes most of us most often in this society is our work/career.  We keep asking, "What work should I be doing?" and "What am I good at?" and "What will most reliably pay the bills?"  Somehow, we decide what we want or should be doing, and then we go get a job doing that.  Our culture is so about what we DO and what we WANT.  And, for most of us, choosing what we want to DO (or what we're good at DOing) feels good for awhile...and then goes stale.  So, we try again, asking the same questions over and over again ("What job should I be DOing?"  "What do I WANT?"  "What am I best at?")....  But, it doesn't seem to be working.  There are very few people I've met who are truly fulfilled in their work, even those who are extremely adept at what they're doing or those who are extremely wealthy in material/monetary terms.

Maybe we've just been asking the wrong questions, and asking from the wrong parts of ourselves.  Maybe genuine, lasting fulfillment doesn't come from what we do, how well we do it, or even (gasp!) from getting what we want.

I've also been thinking that maybe these are decisions to be made more by our hearts than by our minds....  And, maybe it's really more about the WHO we interact with than the WHAT we're doing...more about who we're BEING/BECOMING that brings sustained feelings of peace, satisfaction and well-being.

Being the social/relationship creatures that we are, "peer pressure" is a quite powerful force that works on even the strongest and most rebellious of us.  Constantly!  I've experienced peer pressure to be a wonderful ally when it's pushing me toward becoming someone I consider "beautiful"--championing and celebrating who I truly am, whilst shaping me into the person I aspire to become.  The opposite has also been true, when I found myself in corporate or other environments that were molding me into someone I didn't like, into someone out of alignment with my inner values/beliefs, into someone I actually found "ugly."  Do either of these have a ring of familiarity to you?

"If you fail in a task, it is obvious.
If you fail yourself, there is no concrete evidence.
You just slowly become someone you don't like."

-- Andrew Gentile

What's more, we get attached, psychologically and emotionally, to where we are, who we're with, what we're doing, and who we are amidst all of it.  We form bonds with the people, even if we don't particularly like or respect all of them, and even more so if we do.  The security of our routine, established identity and reputation, paycheck and benefits, lifestyle, competence and expertise, and the constant lure of greater income or status seduce us.  We become dedicated to our responsibilities, to our teams, to our creations, and to the pursuit of "more".  What's known and familiar is comfortable to us.  Even if we're hating where we are, we find the discomfort of change somehow more distasteful.  It's hard to leave, especially with neither map nor guide.  It's scary to face the unknown of "something else" or "someone else."  Above all the other unknowns, perhaps the most scary thought is, "Without this, I'm not sure who I am."

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.
-- Lao Tzu

That the unknown scares us may even be coded into our DNA.  If you don't know what a bear or a cliff is, it's a good survival tactic to be afraid, to cautiously hold back until you know what you're dealing with.  Trouble is, this same time-honored, hard-wired, fear-of-the-unknown survival response still runs humans today.  Even though the unknown usually presents little actual danger to modern humans, it sure doesn't feel that way!  Because of this, what was once a positive force for our evolution now inhibits it.  As such, it's actually natural for most of us to remain "smaller" than we know we're capable of being, to allow our lives, careers, and relationships to stagnate, and to settle for less than heartfelt fulfillment, because we're wired to fear the unknown that the leaving or change represents to us.

So, how do we use this hard-wiring to our advantage--or, at least take it into account?  Maybe the trick is to choose (with the utmost care, and with the awareness that it will probably be very difficult to leave) the relationships, work environments, culture/community, and lifestyle that will be working on us constantly, shaping us into the person we'd be most proud to be (in our hearts).  To consciously select the situations that will turn us into "someone who really matters and is making an important difference" (as viewed through the lens of our own core beliefs and values).  Maybe we'd be best served by searching for the sculptors who will mold us into the unique beauty that is our highest self.  Or, those who will help us chip away at the external layers of ego/personality, fear, and wounding built up over the years to reveal the precious jewel within.   Which is it for you?

Maybe the person you've been searching for your entire life...is you.  The real you.  Your authentic self.  The uniquely precious and infinitely beautiful essence that each of us carries within.  The divinely-created spirit jewel that it seems we keep getting pushed away and disconnected from, that our society, work environment, relationships, and lifestyle too often kick year after year of dirt upon until our soul can barely breathe.

How might we wipe off a layer or two of cultural dirt and reconnect with the jewel within?  I'd love to here your ideas on this.  (Really--please send them to me!  :-)  Here are a few of mine: We might go out and try some really new and different things with our lives and see who we become and how "alive," "joyful," "excited," "at home," "at peace," or "myself" we feel.  We might spend some time, sitting in contemplative meditation, being out in nature alone, journaling, imagining, doing art, or otherwise exploring some possibly new questions...and then look for support (community, allies, coaches/mentors, etc.) in integrating what we discover into the next phase of our lives (via concrete actions).  Here are some (possibly new) questions:

FIRST: "Who do I aspire to become?"  "If I could wave a magic wand and change the world in the most important ways, what changes would I make?  What would it look like for me to be the change I most want to see in the world?"  "If I were lying on my death bed tomorrow, what would I be most proud to say my life had either been about or had added to this world?"  "What is the signature I want to write on this planet, this society, this time...with the pen that is my life?"  "What's my grandest vision of my highest self?"


"The greatest danger is not that our hopes will be too high and not attained,
but that they'll be too low and will."

-- Michaelangelo


SECOND: "What type of people would shape me and my life into these things?"  "What value systems and beliefs do these people need to hold and operate from?"  "Around whom do I most like myself?"  "What relationship(s) and community is 'Who I Aspire to Become' looking for in my work?  In the rest of my life?"  "What's most important to those folks--in deed not word--that would become important to me, were I to spend a significant portion of the next phase of my life with them, in their company?"  "What values/beliefs do I want to be most important in who I am as a person and how I live my life?"  "How will I cultivate these beliefs if I don't already hold them, or replace my old beliefs with those I now prefer?" (One cool way you can do this last one on your own is with ZenFrames.)


"Relationships are a key factor in your success,
  not because of what other people can do for you,
  but rather because of who you can become
  by being in their presence."

- Laura Berman Fortgang, in Take Yourself to the Top


THIRD: "Which ventures, work environments, jobs, industries, relationships or other micro- or macro- cultures are most likely to shape me into 'Who My Highest Self Aspires to Become'?"  "What lifestyle will best support this path?"  "What will it take for me to pick something and (really, no kidding) commit to it fully, living as if I were 100% convinced that this is the purpose of my existence?"  "How will I recognize the environment that most uplifts and liberates me?"  "Under what circumstances do I experience the deepest, most heartfelt joy/excitement?"


"Environment is stronger than will power."
- Unknown


"Whatever you give yourself fully to will take you where you need to go.."
- Unknown


[If you get some clarity (or at least a direction) on the any of these questions, you're already ahead of the game.  Reach back and give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back!  If you're absolutely clueless, however, that's perfectly ok (and quite normal, actually).  Either way, you're just where you're meant to be.  Don't judge yourself or give any energy to comparison-type thoughts.  There's no rush, and no "wrong."  Just keep looking, returning to these questions, and looking some more.  EnJoy the process.  Let your motivation come from sheer curiosity: Focus yourself on "the adventure" of it all, and step, step, step...forward into the exciting mystery of "Who am I?"  What could be more fascinating?  The parts of yourself that you discover along the way, while you're living these questions are, in my opinion, more important than the actual answers anyway....

BEWARE: The common trap is to stop and wait until you have all the answers, or "the right" direction.  Don't!!  It's more important to take an action, any action, than it is to find "the right" or "the perfect action."  Opportunity happens when you're in action...motivation follows action...and momentum and inertia are extremely strong allies to have working for you.  Your body will figure some of these things out before your mind does, anyway.  Let your heartfelt excitement/joy be your guide:  Passion and fulfillment are mostly body experiences; they're how you feel about what you're doing.  Then, after you body has figured it out, your mind wakes up and says, "Hey, I like this!"  "This energizes/pulls/calls me!"  Your answer's probably not in a workbook, a psychologist's office, a self assessment class or a personality quiz (unless it is ;).  It's out there, in life!  Get your body into some new experiences and see how it responds!!]


"Follow your bliss and don't be afraid...and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be."
- Joseph Campbell


I hope you don't feel daunted by the magnitude of the questions above.  You don't have to be alone on this quest.  Should you desire an experienced guide to accompany you, I'd be delighted to be along on your journey.  One of the first things I do with nearly every new client are several exercises to produce a prioritized list of core values.  The values list creates a powerful foundation for getting to know oneself more deeply, and for identifying just what will bring  long-term satisfaction (and what won't) in all areas of one's life.  (As mentioned above, "Fulfillment = Actions/Decisions aligned with Values.")  Please call me at the number below if you'd like professional support in exploring and crafting your highest vision for your self and your life.


"Sometimes the very thing you're searching for is the one thing you can't see."
-- Vanessa Williams

Helping you see what you're searching for is one of the joys of what I do:

Rich Raffals ~ Awaken The Magic Coaching
Committed to Your Success
415-295-7267 /


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