In the past year, I’ve made a habit of asking folks who seem to be contemplating their future:
What were you doing when time flew? What were you doing last when you completely lost track of time, and when you finally did check the time, wish you had more to keeping doing what you were doing?
I first encountered this set of questions in Professor Randy Haykin‘s class, Innovation, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship. He was introducing us to the concept of flow, that sweet spot when we have the highest potential for creativity.
I like asking this set of questions because it feels easier to answer than the “What do I do with my life” question. That’s because when time is flying, when you are in the flow, you are so fully immersed in what you are doing that you are unfettered by the usual thoughts and constructs that keep you unhappy. (This is the exact same feeling described in my previous post here, except that it’s being prompted by something you’re doing instead of something external to you.) And somehow by simply recalling that moment, you experience freedom from the pressing thoughts of shoulds, coulds, and imaginary boundaries that prevent you from answering the “life” question.
Ok, a couple of the instances when time flew were when I was making my Up Halloween costume and when I was creating clues for The Game. But I didn’t go to business school to become a costume designer or clue writer. How does this have anything to do with what I want to do as a career?
It might. It might not. But if you were so fully enjoying what you were doing that you lost track of time, it does point to a part of what to do with your life.
These things that I love doing don’t necessarily need to be how I make my living (although I am toying with the idea of being a full-service themed children’s birthday party planner, complete with invitations, decor, costume design, and cake decorating options). I just need to make sure that I make time for them in my life.
Often our dilemma is that we think that by dedicating time to these pursuits that we love, we will have less time for the “more important” things in life, like work, our partner, our family, etc. How could I possibly find the energy to do that on top of everything else I need to take care of? That’s the magic of it. It isn’t a zero-sum game. In fact, dedicating time to these activities give us more energy at the end of the day, and re-energizes us for the other parts of our lives.
Think about it. What do you LOVE doing? What were you doing the last time you were really excited about what you were doing? When were you last in your element or in the flow? How did it feel?
Have you felt that way in the past week? In the past month? In the past year?
If not, I think you owe it to yourself to think about why not?
“There is nothing you have to do, get, or be in order to be happy. Happiness is hard-wired into you. You cannot *not* be happy, because it is your innate nature.”
These are the words of Srikumar Rao, who I went to see speak at an alumni event last week. Six months after I concluded a year of inspiration and deep introspection, I was in need of a psychological tune-up. I went to see Dr. Srikumar Rao, because I had heard great things about his previous talks and his course, Creativity and Personal Mastery. Bald, smiling, Indian, and a Ph.D. in marketing, he is a guru for type-A personalities.
But if happiness is my innate nature, why am I not feeling it right now?
“You do not feel happy, because you have spent your entire life learning to be unhappy.”
Type-As are a skeptical set. But how do you *know* that happiness is my innate state?
“How do I know? Have you ever seen something so spectacular that it took you outside yourself to a place of great calm?”
In that moment I was back on the deck of the house I lived in during grad school, where I would lose myself in the beautiful view of the area I called home.
Grad school was the most hectic two years of my life. It was the first time I found myself needing to manage my time all the way down to 15-minute increments. Yet no matter how worried, stressed, or completely overwhelmed I felt, that view from our deck could always give me refuge.
“Why were you transported? Because, somehow, you were able to accept the universe exactly as it was. Your habitual wanting self dropped away, so you didn’t have to do anything to experience the happiness innate in you, it just rose up and enveloped you. I know it exists, because you remember it.
“When you are unhappy, it is because you are rejecting the universe as it is. And the universe is not playing ball. It is beating you.”
It sure is.
I reflected on the moments when I’ve been less than happy. Sometimes it’s because I am engulfed by not-so-pleasant mental chatter that is preventing me from connecting with the situation or people right in front of me. Maybe I am replaying everything that went wrong. Or I am obssessed with trying to shape the future into exactly the way I want it to be.
Thanks to some time off between graduation and re-entering the workforce, I had made strides in learning to quiet my mental chatter, and I’m going through exercises to tame my inner critic. But it’s been an awful lot of work, and there are moments where I wonder whether I’m really capable of just being happy.
It dawned on me that I had this “pursuit of happiness” stuff all wrong. When people coined this phrase, they didn’t mean “pursuit” in terms of chasing something beyond me, but “pursuit” in terms of an activity which is always accessible and I’m regularly engaged in. I just need to choose not to forget that it’s always with me. And reminding myself of that is as easy as remembering a sunset.