Throughout modern history, most people have been forced to accept dissatisfaction as a “natural” part of life. They expected to work endlessly to survive until they could work no longer and die shortly thereafter. Contentment was the most that people could hope for, because wishing for true happiness would only lead to disappointment. Social mobility was limited by restrictive socio-economic structures and professional satisfaction wasn’t really a thing that people expected to have. Now, you might think that I am exaggerating or being unnecessarily negative, but I only highlight this reality to underline that fact that for many people across the globe, despite all of the advancements of the 21st century, these attitudes towards personal and professional happiness haven’t really changed. In many places, dissatisfaction is a synonym for duty and it is paramount to any individual need or desire.
While I am a strong advocate of community and family cohesion, I am often disappointed by how many “modern” educated families still use emotional blackmail to manipulate their members into a life of dissatisfaction. In the MENA region, where I grew up, quiet resentment is a natural state of being. A lot of people marry people they don’t want, work jobs they don’t like to buy things they don’t need. However, this isn’t only the case in the Orient. In the West, where I pursued my higher education, a life of dissatisfaction isn’t forced upon you by a collective culture, it is forced upon you by a powerful media establishment that sets the standards of what happiness “should” look like. Either way, for centuries, ideas of personal and professional fulfilment have often been ridiculed as being “fanciful” or “irresponsible,” because somehow being unhappy was a measuring stick for “success.” According to this “global logic,” the unhappier you were the more likely it was that you were following society’s pre-approved plan of how your life needed to unfold.
However, one only needs to look at the current state of geo-political affairs to see how this philosophy is endangering our economies and communities. In the age of the internet, millions of people have access to the world and are becoming more and more aware of the way that other people are living. They are starting to realize that happiness doesn’t have to be an unattainable dream. Our global youth are tired of living in “auto-pilot mode” and if we don’t establish “ecosystems of success” that allow them to be fulfilled on a personal, professional, social and spiritual level, then we risk the possibility of them looking for meaning and purpose in communities or organizations that don’t have their best or our best interest at heart. In his book, The New Leader¸ Daniel Goleman defines 3 steps that all of us can use to identify who we want to be, who we are currently and how we can synthesize the two entities into a single, stronger one.
1) Identify your Ideal Self
When you lay awake at night thinking about your day, what do you wish you were doing? When you sit down with a friend to complain about work and you tell them this isn’t what you thought your life would be like. What “naïve” vision do you share with them? Whatever that is, that is your ideal self. The person you wish you could be or the thing you wish you could do if there were no financial or social expectations. If you think that happiness has a cost, believe me unhappiness has costs too. Reduced motivation, creativity and productivity just to name a few. Unfortunately, many of us underestimate the financial gain that can come from doing something that you’re actually passionate about. When you love something, you will take more risks, work harder and longer to make it a reality, without losing motivation. So, take a moment to think about who you want to be 5 years from now. Once you have discovered who that is you’re ready for the next step.
2) Understand your Real Self
Who are you in your personal and professional life? Are you a people pleaser? Are you afraid of taking risks? Are you the office “downer?” As you think of your real self, or who you are now, you should avoid being overly generous or critical. You have to be as honest as possible with yourself for this to work. Having said that, it’s not always easy to dismiss years of “protective apathy” or self-deprecating thinking. But if you’re serious about changing your life, you have to be willing to be truthful with yourself. Self-awareness is the antithesis of living in auto-pilot mode. So, if you’re really tired of being unhappy, you will have to deal with the uncomfortable truths that have allowed you to live in auto-pilot mode for so long. Once you identify who you are now, you need to compare it to your ideal self. Are these people similar or are they polar opposites? What are the biggest gaps between these 2 people? What are the most surprising gaps? When you’re able to answer these questions you’re ready to create your “road map to success.”
3) Map your Path to Self-Fulfillment
Unfortunately, not everyone has the luxury of being their true self without dire consequences. If you’re one of these people, then you need to find ways to incorporate the synthesis of your ideal and real self into your daily life. If you can’t change your life completely, then you should start changing parts of it. Are you a corporate executive who is passionate about empowerment? Find ways that you can weave that passion into your work life. Spearhead a new HR initiative. Mentor a social enterprise that works in your passion. Fund community building projects and initiatives that are meaningful to you. Are you unhappy with your volatile personality? Identify your triggers. Work on being aware of why these triggers exist. Create “mental blueprints” to deal with your outbursts. Replacing “I should” with “I am “or “I am becoming” is the most empowering feeling in the world. At the end of the day, your ability to find personal and professional happiness ultimately comes down to your willingness to be honest with yourself and those around you. If you can find the courage to do the former, the latter will follow.
The Honest Truth
Throughout my life, I have been fortunate enough to be a part of a family and a community that allowed me to discover and be who I wanted to be. However, even for people like me, who possess this freedom, you have to be willing to fight for it. As a young, Arab Muslim woman, there will always be people who insist on “reminding me” of what is “proper” or who and what I can be. They see my strength as a weakness, because it makes me “less feminine” or “culturally awkward” and they wish that I was more “agreeable.” In other words, they wish, to some degree, that I would just tolerate certain patriarchal or self-deprecating norms, which I believe have no place in my Islamic faith or modern society. However, I must accept that if I wish to be my true self that I will always make those who want to maintain the status quo anxious or uncomfortable. But, if you want to be happy in your personal and professional life, then you have to find the courage to respectfully deflect criticism and hack your social structures to create a new status quo. No matter what, it should be all of our collective responsibilities to create new paths of fulfillment for ourselves and others, so we can create happier and more stable societies and economies.
Like what you see? Join the Soukie Speaks email list and follow my Twitter, Instagram, Facebook accounts, so we can enlighten, support and empower the Arab leaders and entrepreneurs of the future together.