The most common thing I hear from people when they first come to me for coaching (along with “I want to figure out what’s next for me” or “I’m at a bit of a crossroads”) is that they’re looking for a greater sense of fulfilment in their work.
They’re usually busy, hard-working, driven people in their 40s or 50s who’ve accomplished a lot in their lives and are in high-level jobs. But they’ve either started finding their work less fulfilling, or they’ve reached a stage where they want their work to be more meaningful or significant.
A natural stage
And it’s a very natural and common stage to start wanting more fulfilment from your work. Sometimes it shows up as a nagging sense that something is missing, or wanting something more or different or knowing you’d like to feel happier.
Other times it’s because you’re starting to feel less challenged or stimulated by your work. You’ve been here before, you know what to expect and it’s no longer as interesting or rewarding. Or maybe you’re not learning or growing as much anymore.
Sometimes it’s the realisation, which often happens around this stage, that life is short and therefore you want what you’re doing to really matter.
And sometimes it’s because you may have reached where you wanted to be and there may not be an obvious next goal in your work or life – perhaps for the first time – and so you may start to ask yourself: what do I really want?
A time of ‘creating’
If any of this sounds familiar to you, it may help to shift your mindset to one of thinking about CREATING what you want in this next phase of your life. Prior to this, there have probably been many opportunities that have come your way and you didn’t necessarily actively create or seek them out. But for most people at this point, the key to a fulfilling life is to become clear about what you really want from your life at this stage, and then actively and consciously create a life, a world, that fulfills this. In other words, it’s an active, conscious process of getting clear about what you want and making it happen.
What do I really want?
But the question of what do I really want is often not an easy one to answer properly. Many of the people I work with know they want something different when they first come to see me, but often don’t really know what exactly that is or would look like. Many may not even really know what truly makes them happy anymore or what brings them real joy.
So, this first stage is usually an exploratory one. But the clues are normally there all around you if you start to look for them – if you start to tune in and become more aware of things like when do I feel most alive? What lights me up? What energises me? Who or what always lifts my mood? What really matters to me? What feeds my spirit?
One client knew that learning and growing completely energises her. It feeds her.
Another really loved mentoring others, bringing them along and developing them. He found this incredibly fulfilling.
Another needed to be around people – it was like being plugged into an electric socket for him when he was with like-minded, values-driven people.
For another it was about creativity – drawing, writing, photography and so on – something that wasn’t part of his work and which he rarely had the energy to do as work took so much of his time and energy.
Although different for each person, in each case it was clear it needed to be central to whatever path they chose and created going forwards.
And it’s worth saying that it’s rarely just one thing that fulfils people – it’s usually a range of things, types of people, places or activities that we find fulfilling or energising. Creating a fulfilling life is usually a combination of these core drivers and motivators.
Not being clear about what I want
And don’t worry if you’re not sure what these things are at this point – many high achievers have unconsciously learned to ignore or suppress how they feel in order to “Get on with things”, “Push through” or “Get things done”. They’ve often learned to ignore feelings of tiredness, lack of motivation or not wanting to do something.
So if you want to feel more fulfilled in your life or work, I’d suggest you start to tune into your body and how it feels. Listen and pay attention to what your heart wants. To what your gut is telling you about what you really want to do and how you want to spend your time. And what your soul longs for or craves. These are all important signs and pointers towards greater fulfilment in your life and work.
What I want to tell you, however, is that being busy masks a lot of what we truly feel and want. It’s usually only by slowing down a little, by finding some level of stillness in our busy days and our busy minds, that we can begin to notice what’s really going on and how we’re really feeling. It doesn’t have to be through meditation – although it can be. It could be going for a walk, being in nature, gardening, fishing or listening to music – whatever causes you to slow down a little and be able to hear that quieter voice inside saying “This isn’t the right path for me” or “I don’t really want to do this anymore” or “I long for more time for me” and so on.
Talking about this to others or writing about what fulfillment, meaning or joy means to you and what it looks like or feels like to you can be very helpful. To allow you to really ‘hear’ your voice within.
When I’m working with someone I often notice a shift in them when they start talking about something in particular. Recently a client was talking about possible future career options and mentioned working in the art world – but immediately dismissed it as “Too hard to get into”. Quickly ruling out the idea, she didn’t realise that her energy completely changed when she talked about it. She lit up. Her tone of voice changed.
Fortunately I was able to feed this back to her and when she spent some time feeling into and exploring how she really felt about it (underneath the ‘couldn’ts’ and ‘not possibles’) she realised how excited she was about the possibility. Beneath the rational, analytical thoughts about why it would be so difficult, was what her heart, her soul was really longing for.
What helps you get there
And that’s very typical of what can happen when we want to find more fulfilment.
At first we may not even recognise or ‘hear’ what we really want.
And then, secondly, we may dismiss it or find it hard to take any steps towards it because of the weight of all the ‘shoulds’, ‘have tos’ and ‘couldn’ts’.
The comfort and familiarity of what we know – what’s safe – can be powerful. And the fear and uncertainty around the unknown can make it challenging to even consider other options that might be a little more outside the box.
So that’s why I’d suggest you don’t go it alone. Find people who’ve done what you’d like to do – maybe not exactly the same thing – but people who’ve broken away from the familiar, from the obvious path – and ask them about it. Find out why they did it, what motivated them and what helped them along the way.
Or get a friend – one who truly wants the best for you – and ask them to support and challenge you as you explore and take steps towards greater fulfilment. It can sometimes be better to choose someone who isn’t a family member or someone too close in your life because they can unwittingly dampen your dreams and longings by trying to protect you from any perceived risk or potential hurt or disappointment. They might also be directly affected by your choices and so they may unconsciously (or consciously!) influence you too early in the process.
So it’s a good idea to choose the audience for your dreams, desires and longings carefully especially when they’re in the very early fledgling stage. Writing or journaling can be a very helpful companion as you often get more clarity when you move from having thoughts or ideas about greater fulfillment, meaning or purpose to actually getting those thoughts out of your head and onto paper. Time and time again I see how much clarity people get when they write rather than just think about these things.
And of course having a coach is another option. Many of my clients say that the coaching creates momentum, holds them accountable and keeps the pursuit of this on their agenda rather than letting it drift. When it comes to creating more fulfillment in your life, there is usually no ‘burning platform’ or immediate deadline. While on the one hand this takes the pressure off, there’s also a real danger with the busyness of everyday life and the pressures of work and life that you wake up in a few years’ time and find that nothing has really changed.
Finding and creating fulfilment
Really, there are two stages in this process. The first is finding, discovering or uncovering what a fulfilling life looks and feels like for you. This often involves work (paid or unpaid, full time, part time or portfolio, executive or non-executive and so on) but is always about work in the context of your wider life and how you want to live it.
And the second part is having the tenacity and courage to follow through and make the changes needed to live and work in this way.
For some people when they start exploring what fulfilment is for them, they find that they know exactly what they want and once they have that clarity it’s a case of working out the best possible way to make it happen. And then taking action – taking steps towards it. Small or big. Incremental or radical.
Others though may not be able to see the final destination at all. Instead, they may start by taking steps to create more joy, meaning or fulfillment in their daily life and work, and as they do so, they gradually move along a path of greater alignment with their values and drivers. This way is more like following a trail of breadcrumbs – each one leading to the next, rather than being able to see the destination from the outset.
So whichever path works for you – know that it DOES work. There IS a more fulfilling way of living and working available to you. It may just be a few breadcrumbs away.
If you’d like to find out more about how to create more meaning or fulfilment in your life or work or whether coaching might help you, email me at email@example.com and we can start a conversation to explore what you really want and need.
Or my eBook (downloadable PDF) ‘One Life: Your Personal Guide To Creating The Life You Really Want’ provides a step-by-step process to guide you from knowing you want more fulfillment, to getting clarity about what this actually looks like for you, and then taking steps to get there.
Wishing you clarity, courage and joy on your journey to greater fulfilment.