Updated: Apr 26, 2019
Personal fulfillment comes from inside of you but must also reach outside of you.
That sounds so simple that you probably read right past it without thinking about it, amirght? Really think about it though: where does personal fulfillment come from in life? Picture when you feel most fulfilled, times when you truly feel your best, when you don't need a thing in the world, and everything is going just right for you...if you're into it, close your eyes and do this for a moment before continuing to read.
If you're like most people, you may have pictured yourself with those you love, laughing, maybe sharing a special moment. Let me ask you: what would happen if that person or the people you pictured were gone? If you pictured your spouse, what if they left? What if you did? If you pictured your child, what happens when they grow up? A parent or a pet? What happens when they pass away?
I am encouraging you to think about these losses because I want you to get truly real with yourself. If you think this is terrifying, you're right. And that's fair, losing someone you love is terrifying, but imagining that loss helps clarify how much we rely externally, on things, people and relationships, to fulfill us. Love and relationships are good and yet, they cannot be the only thing that fulfills us in life. Relying solely on transient things and other people for fulfillment leaves you vulnerable, needy, and ultimately, unfulfilled. This is scary and urgent because being unfulfilled is the cause of divorce, suicide, illegal drug use, depression, alcohol abuse, over and under eating, cheating, overspending, lying, and drowning in a dead end job.
Unfortunately, fulfillment doesn't just happen on its own, does it? We have to put time and energy into making it a part of our lives. We have to invest in creating our own path to fulfillment, one step at a time, every day.
I believe there are four pillars of fulfillment: learn, lead, grow, and give. Investing in each of these key areas naturally develops your gifts, enhances your leadership skills, grows your sense of self-care and passions, and challenges you to help others. Dedicating time to develop yourself this way positively impacts your state of mind, and since your state of mind shapes the quality of your life, you must feed your mind the good stuff it needs to thrive.
While these paths to fulfillment don’t have intrinsic monetary or material value, they do possess an inner value—they feed your mind and soul—though additional outcomes may well be improved relationships and financial well-being—because when you are fulfilled personally, the rest of your life tends to reflect that truth.
You need each of the four pillars to prosper because your brain is hard wired to seek these things out. Without them, you likely rely on others to provide a sense fulfillment and your mind may very well be ill at ease when those people can't invest time in you. Ever been the one in a relationship who is needy or seen someone who is? It's not attractive, is it?
Unfortunately, most people only engage in one or a couple areas of the four pillars here and there, sporadically throughout life, often with large gaps between efforts. That’s where boredom, unease, and loneliness step in. The key to avoiding that is to incorporate the four pillars as a continuous part of your life plan. If you don’t, you’ll notice the sense of feeling unfulfilled or that something’s missing will creep back into your mind.
Focusing on the four pillars of fulfillment as an approach to living your best life is contrary to what you see in the media, at retail stores or in beauty magazines, but it is a truth with a long history traced back to many ancient philosophers. Aristotle believed in the idea that happiness is a lifelong pursuit.
“...for as it is not one swallow or one fine day that makes a spring, so it is not one day or a short time that makes a man blessed and happy.”
One day or moment, a week or even a few years does not define you or your ability to find fulfillment, it is a much larger and longer pursuit...but it does start with making the choice, one day at a time, to learn, lead, grow, and give.
Remember, every day is a new opportunity to find joy and fulfillment.
* Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle