What Fuels You? Do You Pursue It?

African Penguin by Bart Hiddink, zoutedrop on Flickr

African Penguin by Bart Hiddink, zoutedrop on Flickr

A big part of my satisfaction in life is, and has long been, feeding what makes me tick. I love a challenge, adventure, continuous learning, new experiences and self-sufficiency. What I don't like is having a lot of structure imposed on my day, spending time with people "because it's what I have to do", seeking status, and suffering repetition and predictability over the long term. 

So what? I think it matters because knowing these things about myself helps me understand what I am naturally good at and what I should avoid. And, if I seek out and work on what I am naturally good at, I will likely produce better results for myself and others. When I really tune into what drives me, I can produce a ton! I have a lot of energy, I can work tirelessly, and I am more valuable overall to both me and others. I don't seek escape or distractions. I want to do what I am doing, no matter how difficult the task or project might seem, and seek every opportunity to keep forging ahead. I am happy! 

This description of what works or doesn't work for me evolved over time as I experienced different types of work, relationships, obligations and leisure activities. What I found is that if I do not work on or do what fits me, I behave poorly. What do I mean? I procrastinate, actively seek distractions, become increasingly negative, have trouble getting excited about a project or endeavour, and I eventually let someone down in one way or another. Obviously, none of these behaviours, or their unfortunate results, ever leave me feeling good. 

Sound familiar? I hope you're not feeling that way in your current situation! I don't believe there are bad people in general, only bad situations and circumstances (ok, with the exception of the full-fledged psychopaths that walk among us). What works for one person won't necessarily work for another. So, why do we repeatedly force-fit ourselves, and invest considerable time and effort, into roles that we know from the outset are a bad fit? You know what I mean. If not, let me give you some examples:

  • Spending time with that "friend" that sucks the life out of you because you feel bad for him or her.
  • Staying at the job that makes you feel like "Mr. Anderson" in my favourite movie "The Matrix" and will ultimately turn you into a member of the walking dead.
  • Staying in a relationship because it's the "right thing to do" and his or her parents really like yours.
  • Keeping an art/craft/building project around that you know deep inside you will never want to finish because you don't think it fits with who you are anymore (or ever were).
  • Staying in college or university because it's what's expected, even if you don't see the point.
  • Staying in a profession or job because that's the field you got into and you've never done anything else. Notice that whether you like it or not does not seem to matter here?
  • Going on a vacation that you don't really want to go on because your friend really wants to go and you don't want to disappoint him or her.
  • Staying in a sports league or volunteer organization because you think your position or skills will be tough for them to replace, not because you want to be there.

How likely is it that any of the above examples, and the many more you have thought of yourself as you read through the list, will have a happy ending if left unaddressed? Yet, I would expect most of us have found ourselves facing at least one of the above, or some similar situation. Why is it so difficult to listen to ourselves and change course? Why is it the fear of change, of letting go of the "known", has such a strong hold on us?

I often struggle with pulling the plug on a job/activity/relationship/obligation, but I'm definitely getting better at it. A big reason for the improvement is that I find that everyone affected by my decision to move on is usually better off in the end. Everyone gets a chance to find a better fit. 

Now, I'm not going to say I haven't made some mistakes along the way, but the "could haves", "should haves", "would haves" that come with always staying the course are tougher to live with in the long run. 

I hope I will always pay attention to what makes me tick, which itself is ever-evolving, and stay true to who I am at every stage of life. Only time will tell how successful I will have been.

How about you? What makes you tick and do you listen and adjust along the way? If so, how do you do it? If not, why not? What makes you feel "stuck"?