I’m not sure who made us believe we deserve to be happy. Maybe it was the fairy godmothers and princesses of our youth. Maybe it was Thomas Jefferson and his “pursuit of happiness”. Maybe it was the American dream. Somewhere along the way a whole lot of us decided happiness was a birthright. Something that would come to us naturally.
I’m certainly not an innocent bystander. I spent most of my twenties believing happiness was just going to arrive someday. Believing it would arrive in a certain package: a girl, a job, a house, and kids.
Boy, was I way off.
My point today is two-fold. First, happiness is a mythical concept. Nobody is happy all the time. No matter how good their lives.
Second, happiness isn’t something that just shows up one day—it’s something we work toward. It’s something we go out into the world in pursuit of. It’s something we fight like hell to gain.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but my moments of happiness look a lot like peace of mind. They look like the cutest little puppy you’ve ever seen. They look like friends and family and deep conversations. They look like decision-making that is true to what is deepest in my soul.
It also looks a lot like hard work—5 years of therapy, 3 years of counseling school, hundreds of books read, and thousands of pages written.
And still happiness often eludes me.
I guess my point is, if you aren’t happy and you know it, quit waiting. Go find it. Find a mentor or a therapist to talk to. Read books. Ask hard questions of yourself. Quit ignoring the yearning in your gut.
Because happiness isn’t going to drop into your lap someday. It’s out there waiting on you to come find it.
Oh, and if you can, take the ones you love with you on the journey. It'll mean WAY more that way, I promise.
Sometimes I like to play around with words and phrases and vernacular and redefine them. It’s a habit that would drive my old English teachers crazy, and that alone makes it worth it.
I do this, I redefine words, because I believe definitions often place us into boxes. Certain words that are not inherently bad come to be culturally defined as bad.
Selfish is an example. Selfishness is not inherently bad. We should think about ourselves. Care for ourselves. Focus on our internal world and do things that make us feel good. What could be more human?
But the word has been stolen from us--taken and redefined so that it can only be bad. Selfishness is considered to be egotistical, as though you can ONLY think about yourself or ONLY think about others, with no middle ground.
In reality, there is good selfish and unhealthy selfish--it’s a spectrum with self care and self love on one end and ego-maniacal, “don’t give a shit about anyone else” on the other. But selfishness is not ALL bad.
Fearless is another of these words that has been stolen from us.
I say this because I don’t believe we do anything without fear. Our fear might be small most of the time, but there is not any state of existence in which humans have zero fear. Fear fluctuates. Certain situations create more or less fear, but never leave us with zero fear.
I hate that there is an expectation in our society that, when we attempt great feats (or just normal, everyday feats), they should be done with zero fear. This thing we refer to as “fearlessness”.
So I’m going to redefine fearless. My new definition is, "feeling a sense of fear at the potential for failure or even death and taking the risk anyway. i.e. Bravery in spite of fear.”
Fearless isn’t about a lack of fear. It’s about sensing fear and pushing forward into the brave thing before you.
This year I’m starting a business (some of you may be visiting my new website for the first time). One that could fail. I find myself with a fear of failure almost every day. Some days fear paralyzes me. But on most days I push through it--I risk even as I am afraid.
I guess my point is, we don’t have to wait for a lack of fear to do something brave. We don’t have to hide our fear from others because we’re expected to do great things without being afraid. We don’t have to be without fear.
We just have to keep being brave. So go do something big in 2019 and do it fearlessly--not without fear, but in spite of it.
At the age of 28 I (Charlie) was in the midst of a major life redirection. I’d been home from business school (which I’d bombed out of) for a few months, had been working with a therapist, and found myself in search of mentorship. I needed new voices in my life to talk with me about the paths I was considering.
One of the voices I’d chosen was a preacher. A guy I respected. A guy I hoped to learn from.
One afternoon he walked into a meeting with me incredibly agitated. Rather than deal with how his frustration was impacting him, he just dumped it all onto me. He exploded into asking me pressing questions about what I was going to do with my life and when I was going to get myself together and make a decision. He advised me to stop whatever growth process I was going through and just do something.
It was a painful, completely unhelpful conversation. Why? Because he’d confused guidance with advice.
Advice looks like telling others what they “should” do, "Go to grad school", "Break up with him", "Stick it out even though you hate your job". These things are advice and, honestly, are generally pretty unhelpful. Why? Because they are all about the advice-giver's beliefs or opinions, rather than the desires and hopes of the person who is asking for help.
Guidance, in contrast, is all about the other person. It’s about asking questions like, “what do you want?”, “what would make you happy?”, “what makes your heart come alive?”. A guide puts their opinions and desires on the backburner and lets the other person own their lives and their choices.
I honestly believe honest guidance and mentorship is one of the most valuable commodities in the world. Great stories aren’t lived by those who are being told what to do. Great stories are lived by those who have searched the depths of their soul for what makes them come alive and gone out in search of it.
Great mentors help you find you.
I never met with the preacher again. Instead, I eventually I found what I was looking for and ran off to Seattle to get a Masters degree.
In the years leading up to that choice the best advice I ever received was from an old family friend, who said, “you have greatness within you, what do you want to do with it?”
And so I say to all those reading, you have greatness within you, what do you want to do with it? Because that is a story worth telling.