Perhaps you feel completely stuck in an unfulfilling cycle. Work feels uninspiring, your surroundings are beginning to bore you, and you’re debating whether or not to spend a grand on a trip overseas in hopes to find yourself. Maybe you recently switched careers after an unfulfilling job, and six months in, you’re finding the same unfulfillment that made you leave your previous job in the first place. If you’re feeling unfulfilled, you’re not alone. But maybe the issue isn’t actually your job, your surroundings, or relationships, maybe the problem is this: fulfillment doesn’t actually exist.
We’re sold this idea constantly that we just need to find our place in society, or make more money to do more things, or find the right relationship. Then we’ll feel this sense of fulfillment. While it’s true that those things can make us happier, the problem is that nothing will make us feel fulfilled forever. This doesn’t make we can’t be immensely satisfied with our life, rather, I mean that fulfillment isn’t a trophy you just find and keep on display for the rest of your life. This is the myth of fulfillment: that there is one end goal or prize in life. If you were to reach this prize or goal, then what? You might celebrate with a fancy dinner, bask in the glory of it for a couple months, but eventually you would move on, feel unfulfilled again, and just make a new goal. Or even worse, reaching the end goal won’t produce any feelings at all, and your efforts will feel completely meaningless.
Another issue with seeking fulfillment is that our goals, values, and interests may change over time. If there was just one thing you were meant to be doing with your life, wouldn’t you feel good doing it, all the time? If that was the case, then why do high-performers burn out? Or why do people feel the need for a change after a long, successful career? Or why do we feel dissatisfied after landing our dream job?
Think of it this way: you aren’t climbing a mountain with the shiny goal of fulfillment at the top. Living your best life actually means constantly expanding, and climbing a never-ending, upward spiral. There is no end. It’s more like climbing a mountain that has no peak, instead, the view just keeps getting better and better the higher you climb. This is the state you want to be aiming for: one where you are constantly growing and getting better, but has no end.
How to overcome feeling unfulfilled
If fulfillment doesn’t exist, then what? Why do you feel unfulfilled? Why would you feel a sense of lack over just an imaginary ideal? Maybe fulfillment is just making the best use of our gifts on a daily basis. When you’re feeling unfulfilled, it is a symptom that you are out of alignment somehow. That you are not authentically sharing and creating your truest self. What is the remedy for this then? Here is my five-step process to dissolving feelings of being unfulfilled:
- Let go of the need for “fulfillment”. This is where I define fulfillment as a specific outcome or success that you believe will deliver a sense of long-term satisfaction. Demanding yourself to feel fulfilled is kind of like demanding yourself to always feel happy: it just isn’t possible. You can’t always be happy, it comes in waves. Fulfillment is very much the same. Life isn’t about achieving one thing, it is about the journey, the process, and little moments that bring you joy. You want to maximize your joy of course, but the goal isn’t to constantly be in a state of it. Expecting or desiring constant fulfillment or joy only ensures constant misery.
- Identify the things that spark joy in your life. Write a list of everything that sparks joy, from things as small as eating peanut butter out of the jar with a spoon, to romantic vacations in the Caribbean.
- Identify the things that suck joy out of your life. Once again, try to just brain dump everything you can think of. You want to especially watch out for things you do every day. Don’t censor yourself while writing this list, but try thinking of things you do, or are in control of, rather than things you aren’t. For example, mowing the lawn is an excellent example of a potential joy-sucker that you do, and are in control of, rather than getting cut off in traffic.
- Make a commitment to add one joyful thing into your life as a daily practice, and to remove a joy-sucker. Maybe talking to your friends adds joy into your life. A daily practice could be that every day after work, you choose a friend to call and talk to for 20 minutes. Or it could be as simple as sending a text to someone every day. You want to create a daily practice that is easy and can be implemented as a routine. This is why “after you wake up” or “on your lunch break” or “after work” are great times to slot in these new routines, as they are set times you do things anyways. A potential joy-sucker you may choose to remove could be cleaning your house. Perhaps it would be better for you to hire a cleaner once a week. While these sort of services do obviously cost money, consider how much your time and happiness is worth, and you’ll see that it’s easy to justify an extra $80 a week to eliminate a joy-sucker. You can also get creative with ways to eliminate joy-suckers (maybe you can bribe your kids to clean the house?). Implementing these small changes will make a huge difference on your sense of fulfillment in the long-run, as you’ll do more of the things you enjoy, and less of the things you don’t.
- Focus on the positives of the moment, rather than waiting for fulfillment. Accomplishments don’t always lead to fulfillment. Waiting for the magical feelings of fulfillment will not serve you. Instead, really just feel grateful for whatever blessings are in your life right now. You can write a list, say a prayer, or do a meditation focused around gratitude. Gratitude increases positive feelings.
Life is simply to enjoy. There is no holy prize, just precious little gifts of joy along the way. If you are interested in learning more about allowing more joy into your life, and how you may be sabotaging feelings of fulfillment, then I highly recommend reading The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks. However, I think one of the main reasons people feel unfulfilled is they expect to feel fulfilled from things that in the long run just don’t have much meaning. If we let go of the need to feel fulfilled, then we can instead just focus on enjoying the present.