I was at the airport earlier this morning after a quick trip to Austin for instructor training for a new leadership and leverage course. Airports, the happiest places on Earth, right? Right… But, they are an interesting case study for the human race. Airports are a snapshot, a microcosm, of the country. And you can easily see who is engaged, who enjoys their work, who has completely checked out, who is impatient, who is calm, who is entitled, who is gracious, who is happy, etc.
Here’s what I think is happening here. Those people who are stressed, unhappy, and disengaged have certain expectations for how their life should be (maybe even what is owed to them) and their current life conditions aren’t matching up. Sounds pretty simple, right? But it’s actually a major problem that is keeping all those people at the airport, and all the people in the world, from truly being happy. People who are “suffering” suffer because they don’t feel like they can change their situation. Wake up. Get out of victim mentality. Everyone has the ability to change, you just have to want to.
Let me give you an example. Nick just graduated magna cum laude with a degree in Business and a minor in Finance. He played right wing on the hockey team for four-years, started a non-profit on campus, and had an internship on Wall Street. He started interviewing for jobs 4 months before graduation and believed he should land a job at a top investment banking firm in NYC. Graduation day arrives and still no offers. Fast forward 6 months and Nick has taken a job at a local credit union and has moved in with his sister to save money. Nick is unhappy. Why? Because his current life conditions do not align with what he thinks he should have.
Here’s another example for you. You’ve booked first class and are ready to sit back and relax and enjoy your flight. Expectations – early boarding, extra leg room, and sparkling water over ice. Then, your first flight gets canceled, you’re rebooked on another flight and aren’t sure if you’ll make your connection. Your current life conditions have just changed and are no longer in alignment with your expectations. Do you get mad or do you accept it and move on? Well, when you’re trying to get home to get to your daughter’s dance recital… you adjust your expectations quickly. You take whatever seat they’ll give you – even the middle seat in the back row next to the bathroom (and just hope you don’t get your ass kicked in the process!).
Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have big goals and big visions and be constantly working towards them. Nick should keep sending resumes, building his network and skill set and keep pushing to land that job in NYC – if that is really what he wants. And by all means, keep booking first class! But I would challenge him (and you) to look at your expectations for yourself and question whether or not that is really what YOU want, or if that’s what you think you SHOULD have based on what your parents want, what society says you should have accomplished by the time you’re 30, or what the media is saying millennials want. Stop and really consider what you want. Dig deep. And then go deeper.
Okay, so you’ve done some extensive self-examination. Now what? What do you do when your current life conditions don’t match your expectations? How can you bring your expectations and vision for your life into alignment?
You have two choices. One, you can adjust your expectations. When you really took a look at what you thought you wanted, did you still want it? Maybe not. Perhaps that dream of owning your own business was really your grandfather’s dream and you would prefer to take a salaried position at a start-up. Perhaps your belief that all of your free time should be spent volunteering was really developed from your community’s belief that you should give back, and you would rather just write a big check and call it a day! You don’t have to be anyone that you don’t want to be. You are in control of who you become. How you spend your time is your choice. If you’re not happy, you may be striving to live up to expectations that aren’t even your own. Recalibrate. Choose the path that is right for you and boom – your current life conditions will come into alignment with your expectations.
If you took a look at your expectations and decided that yes, those are exactly the things that you want, then it’s time to change your current life conditions. This is not going to be easy. It’s going to require time, discipline, and consistent effort. Your life isn’t going to change overnight. But the journey will be a hell of a lot easier if what you are moving towards is actually what you want, and not what someone else told you you should have. When your daily actions and daily disciplines (no matter how hard) are moving you towards your goals, you will be happy. It’s when these aren’t in sync where the stress, tension, and unhappiness come in.
People are not happy when their expectations (whether their own or ones imposed by others) are not matching up to their life now. But the beauty of the situation is that you can do something about it! The happiest people have the lowest expectations. They don’t have expectations of what they want or who they must be, but rather their expectations revolve around just experiencing life. The happiest people are the ones who are grateful for just waking up and having another day to live. When you have that mindset, then anything else that happens that day isn’t stressful, because you’ve already had a victory for the day – waking up! This doesn’t mean that you don’t strive for growth, it just means that when you are building a massive business or working out five hours a day, you’re enjoying the challenges along the way and letting go of your pre-conceived expectations.
Want to be happy? Change your expectations, or adjust your daily activities to get to you goal. Your choice. Your happiness is entirely up to you.