The pink sun glasses of a meaningful life

What makes a life worth living? Ideas, drive, mindset, change, connections. In one word, meaning. Meaning brings happiness, it gives you a reason to wake up in the morning, put clothes on and get out of the door with a smile on your face. Not only it makes your days easier, but it gives you a sense of fulfillment that will instantly add a pink shade to everything you come across.

Ok it’s not as easy as it sounds, but let’s try to break it down to the essentials.

The first pillar of a meaningful life is belonging. Believing in something and working for it makes you feel part of a community. What you do reflects what you think and people that share the same values will give you value for what you really are. Be in a group and identify with it is what humans are made for.

Purpose. Having a goal to channel your skills gives you an incredible energy and keeps you motivated. If this goal includes helping others in something that you believe in, your strength gets even bigger.

Transcendence. When you are connected to a higher reality, being it a sport team, a fandom, a religion or any passion, time flies. Literally. Like a kid that plays even while he is cleaning his room, you don’t even realize that you are working. Proven.

Storytelling. As always, a special mention needs to be given to our brain. Which stories are we telling ourselves about what we are doing? It’s easy to forget, but we are the authors of our personal roman and we are the only ones that have the power to change it. If you describe it like a drama, it would fill like a drama. If you think of it like an adventure, it will be it. And so on.

Indeed, we just need to know our values, find a personal pattern to channel our strengths and write our own fairy tale. Let’s take some time today to be quiet with our own selves and meditate on these four essential pillars. We will be one step closer to a better way of living.

There’s an interesting podcast and Ted Talk on this topic by Emily Estefahani Smith, author of the book The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life that Matters.

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The magic outside the comfort zone

Let’s face it, nobody exits his comfort zone for fun. Every single person is somehow attached to things that are familiar, set, easy. We tend to be conservative, we love to know exactly what’s going on around us and how to handle situations. Our house, our friends, our work, our routine.

But what happens when you get bored? Sometimes you don’t even realize it until one day comes and you can’t stand it anymore.

Suddenly, your life feels too small, too limited, wrong. You wait, maybe it’s a temporary situation. You try to change things from the inside, hoping that soon it will get better. And it doesn’t, until you make a choice.

Changing is not easy, but for some people it’s the only way to shine. I call these people “nomads”. Not everybody is the same, of course. There are some humans that are perfectly fine in the comfort zone, or that choose to stay there because they need a cushion of certainty. I call them “settlers”.

The problem is when nomads and settlers want to live together. It took me a lot to understand that we can’t change our nature. If a nomad tries to live as a settler, he won’t be happy. Similarly, a settler would freak out when pushed to live in a completely new environment. No matter if the nomad puts all his enthusiasm and good will in describing all the beauties that are outside the comfort zone.

This is why it’s better to understand the inner you and make decisions for yourself. If you are a nomad, don’t try to fight against windmills. Go deep into yourself, follow your instinct and find your path. If you feel bored, unsatisfied, meaningless, then leave. It takes courage, self confidence, a bit of selfishness, but it’s what you need to live a life without regrets and create your own happiness. It’s the most precious thing that you can do.

This doesn’t mean that you will be alone. Someone told me “If you want to be something, surround yourself with people that have your same interests”. You can’t change the mind of whoever is around you, but you can build your life with people that share your same values.

Like trees, we have roots that make us stable and give us nutrients, strength and balance. We have branches that grow to reach the sun and the sky, branches that work constantly to produce shiny leaves, beautiful flowers and juicy fruits. But also, we can move. When the terrain is not fertile for us anymore, we can look for one that will suit us better. In that case, our body will work even better if we walk away from our physical roots. As long as we stay true to ourselves, we’ll be fine. We’ll create new roots and our flowers will be nicer than we’ve ever imagined.

Outside the comfort zone, you will see the magic happening. Instead of being more vulnerable, you become stronger and more able to run towards your goal. You will meet amazing people ready to share experiences, ideas, solutions, smiles. You will feel that the universe is helping you, all doors are open, your way is full of brightness, energy, possibilities, and it’s just awesome.

“It’s only after you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone that you begin to change, grow, and transform.” Roy T. Bennett

The mirror proof

One day I had a cold shower. I looked at myself in the mirror and I couldn’t recognize the person I saw. I was grey, empty, blocked. One year in a new city and I had created nothing meaningful. A work that wasn’t enough, relationships that didn’t go much further than the surface, habits that were already boring. Love was leaving space to routine and call of duty. Life was easy, too easy, and the plans that everybody expected from me felt wrong. That was not me, not the life I wanted.

Where was that happy extrovert that could speak to anyone in the street and was able to become friend with young, old, animals, walls? Where was that restless human always striving to be the best version of herself? Where were my joy, my drive, my dreams?

My personality was hidden somewhere, I knew it, but I couldn’t find it. I immediately started to plan a way out. I was itching, I wanted to be myself again, that was my challenge.

Days passed and my brain never stopped to scan my last years. Eventually, I understood. Expectations shaped my behavior and transformed me into that quiet and passive being. Or, better, my calm and compliant side let others to determine how I should be, and changed. But you can’t change your nature.

Day by day, I let go every weight that came from the outside, every thought, belief or habit that wasn’t mine. I started to attend yoga classes, work on my spirituality and body. I started to explore the city by myself as a tourist. I let my thoughts and creativity free to wonder. I stopped looking for the perfect job and apples for a low level part-time that would challenge me to go back to my origins. Speak with strangers, in the streets, with a purpose. And this is how I ended up fundraising. And it worked.

Alive again and excited by this journey towards the real me, I left for Australia and I haven’t stopped removing layers. My life changed completely and unexpectedly, and I’m still on the way.

Expectations can come under different forms. They can be evident like plans for the future, but also subtle like little shifts in behavior, that eventually lead to big changes. Getting rid of all this heavy stuff is a long process, full of discoveries and little moments of personal glory.

So, if you don’t want cold showers like mine, do a simple thing. Stand in front of a mirror, look closely and intensely at yourself and answer this question: would you like this person if you could meet him/her in the street or at a party?. I call it “The mirror proof”. It sounds stupid, but it can lead to epiphanies. Be true to yourself and give the world the chance to meet the best version of you, every single day.

“Live the Life of Your Dreams: Be brave enough to live the life of your dreams according to your vision and purpose instead of the expectations and opinions of others.” Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart

Postcards from Down Under

Australia-surfers

Finally I’m back writing and ready to share my thoughts from Down Under. A lot of things changed completely in these months in Australia, life seems to spin faster when you are far away. Surrounded by novelty and awesomeness, I’ve been watching carefully how is life on the opposite side of the world. It surprised me, inspired me, thrilled me, sometimes it even made me jealous or upset. And curious, as always. In this big and relatively empty land, people live more relaxed and with different values. Let’s be honest, nothing is perfect. But even if it’s not heaven, there are a few ideas that I will take home with me.

Stay easy. From physical appearance to everyday stress, the common attitude is very calm. You can feel it walking in the street and observing people passing by with multicolored hair, barefoot or with sandals in every season, diverse or eccentric styles and outfits that in old-fashioned Europe we would quickly classify as inappropriate. There’s much more important things to care of. You don’t feel judged, you are free to be as you are.

Self expression is much smoother if you don’t see eyes looking at you and imaginary fingers pointing at every imperfection you may show. All immersed in doing our own business, you can let your energies flow and spend your time more effectively. You can be creative. You can find your way without listening too much to outer expectations. You can try new paths.

Probably history played a big role in this easygoing and open Australian attitude. In a country mainly built by immigrants, everybody deserves a second chance. Everybody can try its best and dream to be successful. Also, it’s totally fine that life can have ups and downs. You can be a businessman and then work as a waiter for some weeks while you look for a new job in a higher position. You can live in a car or a camper van for a while. You can quit your career and go back to studying at any time. Whatever, it’s your life. Use it.

As long as you are happy, it’s always positive to be able to choose a path freely. What is the problem if you change your mind? There’s always time to make mistakes, learn and move forward. The world will keep going and the future will bring something new. A progress, ultimately. Experiences make you rich. Life goes beyond your working hours. Being temporary, the job you have is not the most important thing on earth. Free time is sacred. Sport is essential. Surfing. Staying in nature. Camping. Barbecues. Drinks with friends.

Conscious that even your brilliant career can have lower moments, you can better empathize with people that have less. Homeless people, for example. You can think about social issues and use some of your happy time to actively support the community. The value of help, physical or economical, is something that I see here much more than back home. And I hope it will spread without boundaries.

Dealing with perfectionism

Practice makes perfect. But what exactly is “perfect”? Talking about obscure things, like the foggy ideas that swim in our minds, this is the best example I found in my everyday life. Trying to do your best is what I’ve been taught to do and what I’ve always considered the strongest skill. Besides being an abstract and subjective concept, setting high standards can move mountains and people with the sole power of self control and determination.

Certainly, striving for excellence is a very powerful way to get things done and motivate yourself. You visualize the destination of your journey, you keep coaching yourself and your chances to give up are as low as you can imagine. See for examples athletes, that undergo very long trainings to meet their expectations, but also scientists and artists. Pictured like this, the ride towards “perfect” seems the ultimate trick to success, but being a perfectionist can be very hard. Nothing is never ok until you’ve checked it enough. And “enough” always means a lot. If you don’t put a limit to this attitude, you might end up paralyzed in a broken mechanism, repeating the same things millions of times and never going any further. And we don’t really want to stay still and waste our energies, right?

Michelangelo Buonarroti, one of the best artists of all times, used to destroy the artworks that he didn’t consider flawless. Imagine how much beauty the world would be filled of if people was less severe. Moreover, psychologists say that perfectionism is a self-defeating behavior and in its pathological form makes us vulnerable and can drive to unipolar depression, anorexia and suicide. As always in life, the key is balance. Yes, but how do you understand when is the moment to turn the page and switch to the next step? Here are a few hints on how to limit your perfectionism:

  • face it

Do you set yourself always higher and sometimes unachievable standards? Have you ever stopped before you even started? Do you feel anxious because you could possibly make mistakes? Are you so critical that you’d rather do things yourself, because you are the only person you can trust? Do you check and re-check what you are doing millions of times? Do you get nervous if nobody sees your commitment and achievements? Are your friends and colleagues under pressure when you are around?

If you answered YES to at least one of these questions, then read forward. Don’t pretend, face the problem, notice your attitude and try to make sure you don’t lie to yourself. Being conscious is your first step.

  • be realistic

Perfect doesn’t exist. You know it, just tell your hellish self that the world is beautiful because it’s not perfect. There’s no right way to be, there is your way, my way and so on. Everyone deserves the chance to express himself, and you need to give your creativity this opportunity. Don’t try to appear at your best and to please others. People won’t judge you by what you are doing: there is nobody outside looking at you with the same critical mind that you imagine. Really, they have other things to do.

  • stop talking, do it

Now that you understood that you can try, then stop procrastinating and do it. You have plans, dreams, ideas and so many wonderful interests that you don’t know where to start? Just pick one and go for it. What if you fail? Failure is a risk, but also an opportunity to learn. It’s not a tragedy. Remember, the best ideas come from failures.

  • meditate

Take some time for yourself to set your goals, talk to your inner self and make peace with it. Love yourself, love your body, love your mind, embrace your fears, recognize your achievements. See every step that you are taking, be in the present moment and be aware of what you feel every day. Only by listening to yourself you can grow, overcome fears and get better. Not perfect, just better.

“Perfect is enemy of good” Voltaire