Where do you see yourself in five years from now? Ten years from now? This is a favorite interview question that I will never ask and would feel anxious if I had to answer. I cannot even pretend to know what my life will be like a decade from now. I have experienced weeks that were life-altering, and years during which not much had changed. I am humble enough to know that life is going to unfold according to its own time frame, whim and whimsy. The only thing I can have any real control over is what perspective I’ll use as I follow its path. Even that statement feels like a gamble to me, as I start imagining different scenarios that would challenge any response I’ve chosen up to now.
That being said, it is extremely helpful and wise to deliberately figure out how you want your life to look and feel right now. What will be happening if the dreams you have right now come true? From my own experience, when I let life just happen to me, instead of consciously thinking about what type of life I truly want, I end up just dodging the rocks in the white-water river I’m rafting. When the river eventually dumps me into the calmer body of water at the end, it’s a relief. The journey is over, I stand up, I’m still in one piece, but I’m not actually in a place of fulfillment. How could I even know what that would look like, unless I gave it some thought ahead of time?
For years I decided that it was enough to be in a place where I could feel the ground under my feet, so that I could stand up to make it through the day. Never mind that it was a mediocre, limited way of living, that was about everyone else’s happiness but mine. I don’t choose to survive like that anymore. I give myself permission to thrive, to believe all I desire is attainable, and that has changed my entire experience of life.
The first thing I need to do is figure out what my life will feel like if I was thriving. I carve out time and give myself the space to think about something that would really make me happy. I then dare myself to take one easy step toward it. Only after I climb up that first step do I think about where the next step will be. Eventually I look behind me and realize that I am several steps up the ladder, along the way toward my goal. Those middle steps would have been way too daunting had I thought about them initially and I would have given up before starting, never having touched them. By creating and reaching one short-term goal at a time, I have enabled myself to overcome doubts and reach those new goals without feeling stressed. I successfully use this approach for each new change that I’ve wanted in my life.
I have noticed that as I climb higher up a ladder toward a goal, new ladders with connecting rungs are revealed to me, rungs that can lead my life in unplanned, exciting directions, with additional opportunities opening up to me, now within reach. This is why the ten-year projection wouldn’t work for me. I need to start up the ladder to know where else my life will lead.
To begin my ascent, I need to learn to ignore my inner voice that is sure I will never be able to make the room or time for anything new in my life. I realize the voice thinks it’s protecting me, but it is actually blocking me. I learn to dismiss the thoughts that I’ll never be successful at the new activity and will embarrass myself. I learn to shut out the loudest, self-doubting voice that warns me that if the white-water rafting experience of life returns, I won’t be able to make it through if my mind is distracted by anything else. It wants me to remain alert, at all times, for signs of distress. That’s just not a way to thrive. I am gaining the confidence to know that if and when the raft ride reappears, I can put some things on hold or use my positive mindsets from my new experiences to navigate that river better than before.
Ignoring those inner voices are the hardest things to do. It’s very difficult to challenge the validity of our own thoughts. It is very hard to believe more in your own capability to live a life that expands your heart, than to trust your doubting thoughts. Unfortunately, our negative self-talk weighs heavier than our positive thoughts. It has been a game-changer for me to realize that I’ll always figure out a way to make room and time for activities, people and dreams that allow me to live with joy. It’s not enough to have a day without crying. We all deserve days filled with laughter.
But how do we dare to dream about changing or adding to our experiences when we feel so overwhelmed already? One way is to think forward to a year from today. We can imagine that a year from today we are filled with gratitude from the past year that we just experienced. It was a year that led us to joy and purpose. We cannot believe our good fortune that our dreams are truly starting to come true.
And then, still imagining it is a year from today and all is glorious, we can literally list the things in our lives that are making us happy. We list changes that we’ve made. We list things we eliminated that were bringing us down. We list things we’re doing for fun. We list the things and people who fill our days with happiness now. We gain clarity around what we really long for, right now, in life. We do not worry about how we will achieve, reach or receive these things. That is really important. We just acknowledge what we want. That is where the power lies. Naming what it is we actually desire.
Once you see what would truly make you happy, don’t you want to start working towards having it? Now we can set our intention by choosing one specific goal to start working toward. And we take one step. That one step may be as simple as googling something, looking up a phone number, finding a piece of paper with information we need or locating a picture. It can be writing one email to get the ball rolling or walking into a store. And now we are on our way.
What is one change in your life that you would feel so grateful for having, a year from today? What is the first step you’re going to take?