Several years ago, I was incredibly dissatisfied with my life. I was in a great deal of debt. I lived in a tiny apartment with my wife and infant son. I had a job that was slowly changing from something I loved into something I didn’t like any more.
I was unhappy in many ways. I wanted something more from my life. I felt I deserved something more.
So, over the next several years, I worked incredibly hard to try to get something more out of life. I built a side business that eventually became my full-time employment. Sarah and I worked incredibly hard to get ourselves completely out of debt. We bought a house and paid the whole thing off in a little over four years. We have three kids now, live in a great area that we love, and both of us have jobs that we value.
I still want more out of life, in many areas. However, I’ve found contentment in a lot of areas as well. I’ve figured out what “enough” is in many respects.
So, yes, I vividly remember what it was like to have this burning desire to want something more from almost every dimension of my life. I know exactly what it is like to feel trapped and to feel deeply unhappy with large portions of my life.
But along the way, I figured out a few things that I wish I knew back then.
First of all, you can’t get more without giving up something else. You simply cannot “have it all.” It’s impossible. There are not enough hours in the day. There isn’t enough money. You can’t do it, no matter how hard you try.
The trick is finding the right balance for you, which won’t necessarily be the same as the balance for anyone else. For me, I figured out that I needed more time with my family and less time traveling and working weekends. I figured out that I needed less debt and I really didn’t need as much stuff as I had. It’s all a balancing act.
Learning when you truly have “enough” in areas of your life is incredibly valuable. You can always convince yourself that you want “more” in specific areas of life, and perhaps that’s a sign that your balance is out of whack. However, there’s a very deep contentment from knowing that you have “enough” in a particular area in your life. “Enough” doesn’t mean having everything. It means having enough so that you’re content with that area in your life.
Second of all, you already have more – and more to “give up” – than you think. People constantly overlook the abundance of resources that their life holds.
For example, think about the time you wasted today. What did you do today? Did you spend time watching a television show that you didn’t deeply care about? Did you spend your time browsing websites that didn’t bring any real value in your life? Did you spend any time on aimless tasks, or simply wandering aimlessly or doing nothing at all? Did you find yourself doing a task and then realizing that it was a really inefficient way of doing that thing?
What about the money you’ve wasted recently? Take a look at your bank or your credit card statements. How many of those purchases do you no longer even remember? Those were most likely wasteful. How many make you cringe? Now, take out some receipts from recent grocery store and department store visits. How many of those purchases really make sense in retrospect? All of that is wasted money.
Those are abundant resources. You have more of those resources than you’re using in any sort of worthwhile way. You let money and time slip through your fingers constantly.
Now, think about the other resources you have.
You have your health. Even if your health isn’t perfect, you’re living and breathing and thinking.
You have the relationships you’ve built in your life. You have family, friends, coworkers, mentors, teachers, advisors, and on and on and on. Those people can help you with almost anything you can imagine in your life.
You have knowledge and skills, even if you don’t recognize them. You know how to do a lot of things, and that set of skills adds up to something that probably makes you unique, especially if you figure out ways to put them together.
If you’re reading this, you likely have a lot of life basics taken care of: food, clothing, shelter, and so on. You probably have closets in your home with a lot of unused stuff sitting in there in boxes.
You have far, far more resources in your life than you think you do, and all of them can be used to build the kind of life you want.
So, what can you do? My best advice to you is to get rid of the things in your life that waste your time, your money, or your energy.
Delete pointless time-wasting apps on your phone and install something that’s actually productive or worthwhile instead.
Step back from life commitments that aren’t really providing any value for you.
Tighten your spending by cutting back on purchases that provide no lasting value for you.
These things aren’t one-time things. They’re processes without an end point. You’re going to sometimes step sideways and step backwards along these journeys. That’s okay, as long as you keep taking steps forward and getting better in terms of wasting the resources you have.
This also doesn’t mean eliminating fun from your life. It means eliminating time-wasters. Leisure time and socializing time that genuinely add value to your life are well worth it.
The next step, obviously, is to start using the resources you have on truly worthwhile and fulfilling things.
The question, of course, is what exactly are “truly worthwhile and fulfilling things.” That definition is going to change greatly from person to person.
For me, I consider saving money for the future to be worthwhile. I want to be able to step away from work at the earliest possible age. For me, that’s something that’s truly worthwhile.
I consider playing tabletop games with family and friends to be deeply fulfilling in both social and mental ways. That’s something that is incredibly valuable for me, but maybe not for you.
I consider reading a thoughtful book to be deeply fulfilling and worthwhile.
I consider quality time with my family to be incredibly, incredibly fulfilling and worthwhile. Quality time does not mean spending money on some activity; it means doing fun things around the house or going to nearby parks and so on.
Many of the other things that people do in life, things like watching television or going to nightclubs, provide very very little value to me personally, so I don’t do them. I don’t feel a need to spend time or money on things just because that’s what other people do.
So here’s the real mission for you: figure out what you want out of your life. At the same time, what are you spending time and money and energy on that isn’t providing any value to you?
If you want more out of life, the way to get there is to get rid of the things on the “not providing much value” list and use the time and money and energy you spent on them to amp up the things that you want out of life.
Instead of watching television in the evening (again, something I personally don’t consider valuable, but you may feel differently because this is about you), start taking night classes and work toward a degree.
Instead of going to nightclubs, find an interest group related to your hobby and go to those meetings instead.
Instead of wasting money on a bunch of little purchases that you quickly forget about, put money away for an early retirement so that you don’t have to work until you’re physically unable to do so.
Over time, you’ll find that you’re actually “getting more out of life,” more than ever before. You will never be able to “have it all,” but you will be able to have more. As long as your goal isn’t to “have it all” but to find contentment and a sense of “enough” in the various areas of your life, you’re going to end up with a lot of joy. Things will never be perfect – it’s always a journey towards “better” in specific areas of your life while you’re happy with other areas.
Good luck, and may you find a much better life.