“Don’t seek for everything to happen as you wish it would, but rather wish that everything happens as it actually will – then your life will flow well.” – Epictetus, Enchiridion, 8
I have always been a very analytical person and thinker. In the past, I would get into conversations with people that would get heated quickly. Honestly sometimes that still happens, but I recognize those times more easily now and can quickly correct them. But going back about 10 years, when I worked for Starbucks Coffee & Tea, I had a boss who had the managerial courage to tell me that he saw something in me that I could work on.
I remember that day pretty well, it was towards the end of the summer and it was our annual review time. “Joe” set up a meeting with me in his office and we talked for about an hour. We discussed some of the projects I had led and the initiatives that I was leading. There were opportunities to adjust on all of those items even though the outcomes were favorable.
The one opportunity that really sticks with me even to this day is when we got to the topic of interpersonal communication and relationships. I had a huge blindspot that no one had ever talked to me about. Joe leaned into the conversation and said “I’ve noticed that at times you can get frustrated with others and you show that emotion quickly.” He went on to say “Learning how to control that emotion and turn it into a good outcome rather than a negative one will serve you well in your career.”
What I had failed to see in myself was that I was getting frustrated with progress or the lack thereof on different projects. I would make it easily known I was frustrated and as a result it would bring down the morale of those around me (teammates, project team members, & leadership.) I was only thinking about how the situation was affecting me personally and wasn’t doing a very good job of just accepting situations for what they were.
Since that conversation, I have been working on acceptance. Acceptance of my life situation, current events, and other people’s reactions around me. I wouldn’t say that I have mastered my frustration and my outward expression of frustration, but I am much more able to notice when those times are happening or about to happen and can quickly course correct.
Being able to build this competency of acceptance has allowed me to feel much more confident in my ability to lead a happy life and one that leaves me feeling fulfilled.
All of us desire to have a fulfilled life. None of us on the planet are secretly wishing for a life unfulfilled. At least not anyone reading this book. We all have ingrained in us a desire to be happy. But let’s be careful not to confuse happiness and fulfillment as universal goals we all are striving for.
Those two things can be different for everyone. What I determine to be fulfilling or what I find happiness in is going to be different from you. That’s ok, it’s what makes the world a beautiful place. We shouldn’t strive to be carbon copies of each other. We are all unique and all have our own individual purpose that we are able to work toward.
Not so fast though. Just because we are all unique and no two people are the same (except maybe twins) doesn’t automatically mean that we will see that purpose come true. Consider that when we go against who we truly are at our core, we ignore our human nature and then deviate from our authentic selves. This in turn will prevent us from seeing that purpose come to life.
One of the best ways to stay connected to your authentic self is through acceptance. Acceptance of yourself, your surroundings, and your current situation in life. Without acceptance we risk trying to go against the nature of things.
Miyamoto Musashi wrote a text titled “The Dokkōdō” (The Art of Walking Alone) over 400 years ago. He outlined 21 precepts that he wanted to pass on to his students. This one stood out to me.
Dokkōdō Principle #1: yo yo no michi o somuku koto nashi (世世の道お背くことなし)
English translation: Do not go against the way of the human world that is perpetuated from generation to generation (aka: Accept everything just the way it is)
Musashi is trying to get the point across that we shouldn’t be trying to deny what is happening around us and deny being who we were meant to be. Basically learn the principle of acceptance.
If I wasn’t able to work through my struggle of showing frustration outwardly, I would have missed the opportunity to become the leader that I am today.
No one else on the planet is going to be able to be you, just like no one else is going to be able to be me. I have discovered since learning more deeply about what ikigai means to me, I am finding more and more who I really am at my core. The more I explore my ikigai, the more deeply connected I become to my core values, and vice versa.
For sometime in my life, let’s call it the middle part, I was striving to be something and someone that I wasn’t. That left me feeling hollow and not at all my true self. When I made the decision to change, embraced who I was and who I was meant to be, everything changed. The hollow feeling went away and I was able to feel deeply for the first time in a long time.
The message here is: Rather than trying to go against your human nature, recognize that it is likely much easier to embrace it. Looking inside oneself to understand your true authentic self is a way for you to be able to truly embrace your nature. This is likely not going to be an easy journey for you though. This takes discipline, work, and dedication.
You might be thinking to yourself ‘So how do you do that then?’ Well, I can tell you what I do, I have learned to practice self-reflection. To look inside myself to see if I am embracing my surroundings and my true authentic self or if I am turning away.
This practice is known as hansei. The Japanese concept of hansei: a self-reflective practice, encourages you to make changes in your life. But it isn’t just a set of questions that you ask, although that is a big part of it. Hansei only works if you think about the questions from the perspective of opportunities for change. Admitting that you have a gap in your life is the first step. Then you view it with a sense of emotional connection. If you aren’t connected to the fact that there is a gap, and you are not invested in closing it, you won’t ever do it. When you are emotionally connected then you will look for opportunities to improve. Here is a list of questions which can help you practice hansei:
- What did I say I was going to do today that I didn’t?
- What did I actually do instead?
- What am I proud of that I did today?
- What am I not proud of?
- How did I lead people?
- How did I follow others?
- If I could do today over again, what would I do differently?
- Looking to tomorrow, based on what I learned today, what will I do differently?
Beyond my hansei practice, I have learned to keep the idea of work:life harmony at the forefront of my mind. It is about fitting my work into my life rather than trying to fit my life into my work. Some people’s lives are constructed so that they live to work. I’ve constructed my life to work so that I am able to truly live. To do this, my work absolutely needs to be an extension and expression of who I am, otherwise there is no path to experience inner harmony. The kanji character for harmony is wa (和) which can be interpreted as seeking harmony and peace in the world around us. I have been writing this kanji at the end of my journal entries for the last year or so. This is to remind me to strive to find harmony in whatever situation I find myself in.
This is how I am choosing to live. This is how I am reminding myself of who my true authentic self really is. It is through this practice that I am able to process through my frustration so much more easily than before. Sure I still get it wrong, I am not perfect. But that doesn’t mean I don’t try to strive to become better each and every day. What are you going to do to build more work:life harmony for yourself?
In short, the one simple thing that isn’t necessarily easy, is acceptance. Learn to practice acceptance and you will have a much happier life.
I will leave you with a quote: “Accepting oneself as one often involves releasing yourself, especially when there is an illusory self, which you hold desirable. You need to let go of the illusory self, in order to accept yourself to be happy.” – Ken Mogi