Are there real tricks to becoming fulfilled in life? You bet. My research and that of others suggests that there are key street-smart actions that those who are most fulfilled use every day in their professional and personal lives. I interviewed over 100 successful people—some who were fulfilled and others who were not—to understand why success does not always bring about fulfillment.
There was amazing convergence around several things that fulfilled people do at work and home. Here are the top five:
1. Have strong values—and stick with them. Does your work environment, family and friends allow you to behave consistent with your values? Having to behave contrary with your values can be debilitating.
2. Practice resilience. The ability to face adversity and bounce back. One part of resilience is having grit, a firmness of character, or as psychologist Angela Duckworth describes it based on her studies, the “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” It was a rare person who could pursue their long-term goals without setbacks in their lives—divorces, failed promotions, cancer, family members coming off the rails. Many people who I knew to be successful in their professional lives had many hidden stories of failures and bounce backs. They used a variety of approaches to get around those adversities that you can borrow in your own life, such as building a great support network of friends, or family that can support you as you plough through challenges. Those who had developed mentors found them particularly helpful. Some dug deep into their long-term vision or spirituality to help them overcome setbacks. We all have setbacks, it’s how you get up that makes the difference.
3. Take risks. A really interesting finding in my research is the quantity of people who either took risks and vouched that those risks stretched them and enabled them to reach new heights, or those who regretted not taking more risks. It appears that wisdom brings with it perspective. What appeared to be huge risks to many when they were young, now seems insignificant in hindsight. Although hindsight is often 20-20, it would be too easy to dismiss this advice simply as sages looking through the rear view mirror. Instead, many felt so strongly about this that they have gone overboard in encouraging their children to take more risks. This is one of the most difficult lessons in the art of fulfillment, but you can help yourself by have a longer term vision, with many intermediate lighthouse goals along the way—stepping stones—that allow you to see the big picture. Imminent risks are often much less threatening when viewing the big picture. Another key is talking to those who have faced those risks before, often providing sage advice that allows one to reduce the fear and anxiety that comes with perceived risk.
4. Find a good network. One of the most frequent pieces of advice among our sages was taking time to build networks. One out-of-work pharmaceutical executive told me that the only time he networks is when he is out of work, lamenting that he has not learned from past mistakes. It takes so much longer to reconnect with people and build trust, he shared. This is an increasing challenge to those who are overloaded at work today. Many interviewees commented that time pressures reduced their attendance at meetings outside work, limited hobby and family time, and reduced the time to simply keep up with friends and professional colleagues on Facebook or Linked-In. Most realized that having a good network is a key skill, particularly in the world we live in where networks and connections are increasing key to scoring the next great job, or finding a life partner or getting into the right school. If you are not building your network continuously, you are falling behind.
5. Give back. An often forgotten element that brought fulfillment to many was giving back. Sharing your skills and experiences with others can bring an incredible sense of fulfillment when you see what it can do for others. I began volunteering for not-for-profits later in life and I can attest that it has been one of the most rewarding experiences. One group I encountered during my investigations was Rosie’s kids—a program to help inner city kids go ahead in life by teaching them stage skills—dancing and singings their hearts away. I first heard the backstory of so many of the disadvantaged kids—crack houses, abusive parent, abandoned, homeless—and then I saw these kids performing with huge smiles on their faces—and one child summed it up for me when I spoke with him at the end. He said that he was excited about his future—his chances. And with a tear in my eye, I realized that one of our greatest sources of fulfillment is enabled others to become fulfilled.
Take a moment to think about your own fulfillment. Do you have a vision, are you taking enough risks, have you built the networks to help you during difficult setbacks, and are you giving back to others more in need? Try it. I think you will find yourself more fulfilled.
Follow Dr. Schiemann on Twitter, @wschiemann and connect with him on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/wmschiemann.