“Above all, be true to yourself, and if you cannot put your heart in it, take yourself out of it.” ~Unknown
When my last relationship ended, I found myself suddenly questioning what my goals honestly meant to me. I had focused my past five years steadily chasing a very specific dream with this woman (creating joy, art, and a community in NYC, adopting some dogs, and eventually moving back to California to start a family together).
At least that's what we thought we were chasing.
When we realized that our lives together had become static, that we lacked engaging dynamics, and that we only rarely brought out true joy in each other, our roads abruptly veered and I found myself sans lover, best friend, and collaborator. I also was given a huge opportunity to view my life with fresh eyes.
I saw that by limiting our vision and chasing only our one shared dream, we were effectively shutting ourselves off from exactly those varied personal experiences that it would take to build our joy, inspire our art, and create that dynamic life we both desired.
We allowed ourselves to be held back from a meaningful life by chasing the goals we thought it would take to get there. We had gotten stuck in chasing the wrong things for a right reason.
I began examining what I had been busy chasing in all the aspects of my life. Chasing in my career, chasing in my suddenly newly blossomed singles life, and in the personal identity of who I was now that I wasn't defined by this external relationship.
I realized that it was time to shake things up and experience the unexpected.
Here are some steps to discover what you are truly chasing in life. Try to answer in less than twenty seconds, with the first thing that comes to mind. You might be surprised.
1. What makes you lose track of time?
I've always liked fixing things and working with my hands. Broken pieces fascinate me as my mind wraps around how they tick. I know there's a reason if I could only find it. It's a great puzzle, but sometimes the minuets crawl by. By chasing the outcome (to make it work), I stopped being in the present.
I discovered that I never feel rushed drawing or painting. No matter how long it takes me to choose a color, from the instant I pick up the brush to the second I put, it down feels like one fluid moment.
2. What makes you happy?
It might be sunshine, dogs, laughter, passion, collaboration, or music. I chased my career goals in the music industry by working in a studio without windows or sunlight for ten hours a day, and while it was rewarding to help people realize their dreams and create their art, I realized I was chasing the wrong thing.
What made me happy wasn't just making music sound better or tweaking knobs; it was helping people discover and release their albums. When I realized that I was made happy by sharing, by making art, then my goals shifted to be more people and connection focused and left me feeling more fulfilled.
3. If you didn't have any bills to pay, what would you do?
You might sit on a private island by the beach, or maybe start a free service for the less fortunate. I personally realized that I have to create.
The idea of “free-time” scared me silly, and everything I focused on in life stems back to this deep-seated need to be creating something. Even sitting quietly was creating peace. Once I realized what my driving force was, it became much easier to make choices based on what I knew my true desire to be.
4. When you are old, what will matter the most?
You might be chasing things, people, rewards, or achievements that seem huge and important now. You've given your all to reach this point, so why give up now? Ask yourself how deeply will it touch people in twenty years, thirty years, fifty years. If I get a gold record, it's a huge achievement, but I don't want to be remembered for a plaque on a wall.
I'd like to be remembered as a warm, living, loving, heartfelt person full of optimism and enthusiasm. A gold sales award doesn't commemorate that.
5. What are you really after?
Honestly ask yourself, what are you getting when you reach the end of this chase? I was chasing goals that I thought would help build the future for my love life, or would help advance my career—there was my “reason”—but having a more advanced career didn't help me to connect deeply with artists. It wasn't in tune with my true desires.
Our relationship appeared to be chasing similar goals, but in the end our chase was actually blocking us from reaching our true selves. Ask yourself if you are chasing out of habit or just for the sake of the chase; be sure you are genuinely working towards your true goals.
I've realized that a lot of what we focus on in life isn't what's in line with our true desire. Since then, I've cut my time commitment to work in half, and I now use that time to create art and build connections with people who also value the creative life I want to live. It has breathed new life into my actions and helped me understand the deeper reasons for my choices.
Without walking the long and often painful road, we rarely discover the true reasons why we're chasing our dreams, even if we have those dreams well defined.
The only constant is that it never goes according to plan. Let your heart be open to the unexpected and stay flexible and free. Like a dog running after a ball when a squirrel suddenly appears, gleefully embrace the opportunity for a fresh chase and leap onto your new road with joy.
Photo by Hartwig HKD