If you are not feeling totally fulfilled, you are not alone. Nearly 80% of people interviewed for our long-term study of fulfillment did not feel totally fulfilled, despite many being successful in their careers or private lives. Many of those who were fulfilled did not necessarily start that way. Fulfillment requires actions on your part that are not always obvious or baked into our habits. Many require training ourselves to learn new skills and develop fulfilling habits. Here are some tips that will help you become more fulfilled:
1. Life and Lighthouse Goals. While many of us have a general notion or vision of what would fulfill us, we found that the most fulfilled people have translated that vision into clear life goals—things that they would want to have accomplished in their lives by the time they die. Having a large loving family, becoming a successful business leader or becoming a bridge champion. And, most have what we call lighthouse goals—those intermediate goals that are essential on the path to life goals. These might include getting a law degree and working in a successful law practice on the way to becoming a judge, or getting certified as an HR practitioner on the way to becoming the Chief People Officer.
2. Drivers of Fulfillment. While some people had a good vision and goals, they had not clearly identified the drivers or success factors that enabled them to reach the lighthouse or life goals. In the judge example, for example, drivers might include studying and doing well on LSATs or getting into a good law school. For the aspiring professional to the CHRO role, drivers might include getting an HR degree or staying current in the field by attending professional conferences.
3. Life Maps. While most of our interviewees did not call them that, in essence, they had a clear map in their heads of how to get from the here and now to their life goals, a map connecting today’s activities with the Drivers and goals. This helped them prioritize today’s time and activities. Astronaut Don Thomas knew at age 6 that he wanted to go into space. He just had to figure out how to get there. His plan included good grades in school, attending an engineering college and getting a job at an engineering firm. But when that was not enough to get accepted on his first attempts, he adjusted the life map to move to Houston to work more closely with NASA-connected businesses and developed a stronger network in the space community.
4. Balance. Very few of our interviewees reached fulfillment by being one-dimensional. Balance across different sectors of our lives is important to fulfillment—work, family, relationships, education, hobbies, religion, and health. Many who were successful in work or family were not necessarily fulfilled because they did not have balance in other sectors of their lives. One engineering executive for a large health care company told us that he had neglected family and friends for years in his pursuit of the corner office. And when he got the corner office, he felt deflated. His marriage had disintegrated and most of his friends had moved on. Once he realized that this was not leading to fulfillment, he began anew with a more balance, which included yoga, new relationships, speaking, as well as keeping his performance at work strong. He was an invigorated man when I interviewed him.
5. Measure and review. Fulfilled people measure themselves frequently. They measure progress toward their life goals, how they spend their time, and reassess periodically where they are in their pursuit of fulfillment.
6. Adapt. The most fulfilled group often talked about adapting their original vision, goals or plans. They realized along life’s path that they or the world was changing. One woman we spoke with at first thought her life goal was to be the matron of a large, cohesive family, but over time realized that she wanted to pursue a financial advisory career, which ultimately moved her direction and actions to support it.
7. Grit. Almost without exception, our interviewees told us that they had setbacks in their lives—failed marriages, derailed careers, health issues—but the most fulfilled had discovered ways to work around those setbacks. Having a good mentor was one of the most successful strategies—someone who could help them out of the rut. Also, having a broader network of relationships was another good strategy for overcoming the funk and readjusting. Lastly, having an overarching vision and life goal often helped those derailed in their careers switch paths or develop new competencies that helped them start anew.
If you are not totally fulfilled today, there is plenty of hope. Many people have achieved fulfillment and their lessons are applicable to all of us. Try out these tips and jump-start your path to fulfillment!
William A. Schiemann, Ph.D. is CEO of Metrus Group. He is a thought leader in human resources, employee engagement, and fulfillment and author of Fulfilled! Critical Choices – Work, Home, Life. For more information visit, www.wschiemann.com, follow Dr. Schiemann on Twitter, @wschiemann and connect with him on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/wmschiemann.