By Dr. William Shiermann
Are there real actions to becoming fulfilled in life? You bet. My research and that of others suggest that there are critical street-smart actions that those who are most fulfilled use every day in their professional and personal lives. I interviewed over 100 successful people—some who were fulfilled and others who were not—to understand why success does not always bring about fulfillment. There was an unusual convergence around several things that fulfilled people do at work and home. Here are the top seven:PRACTICE RESILIENCE
The ability to face adversity and bounce back is number one. Part of resilience is having grit, a firmness of character, or as psychologist Angela Duckworth describes it based on her studies, the “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” It was a rare person who could pursue their long-term goals without setbacks in their lives—divorces, failed promotions, cancer, family members coming off the rails. Many people who I knew to be successful in their professional lives had many hidden stories of failures and bounce backs. They used a variety of approaches to get around those adversities that you can borrow in your life, such as building a great support network of friends, or family that can help you as you plow through challenges. Those who had developed mentors found them especially useful. Some dug deep into their long-term vision or spirituality to help them overcome setbacks. We all have setbacks; it’s how you get up that makes the difference.TAKES RISKS
A fascinating finding in my research is the number of people who either took risks and vouched that those risks stretched them and enabled them to reach new heights or those who regretted not taking more risks. It appears that wisdom brings with it perspective. What seemed to be huge risks to many when they were young, now seem insignificant in hindsight. Although hindsight is often 20/20, it would be too easy to dismiss this advice simply as sages looking through the rear view mirror. Instead, many felt so strongly about this that they have gone overboard in encouraging their children to take more risks. This is one of the most painful lessons in the art of fulfillment, but you can help yourself by having a longer-term vision, with many common lighthouse goals along the way—stepping stones—that allow you to see the big picture. Imminent risks are often much less threatening when viewing the big picture. Another key is talking to those who have faced those risks before, often providing sage advice that allows one to reduce the fear and anxiety that comes with perceived risk.FIND A GOOD NETWORK
One of the most frequent pieces of advice among our sages was taking the time to build networks. One out-of-work pharmaceutical executive told me that the only time he networks is when he is out of work, lamenting that he has not learned from past mistakes. It takes so much longer to reconnect with people and build trust, he shared. This is an increasing challenge to those who are overloaded at work today. Many interviewees commented that time pressures reduced their attendance at meetings outside of work, limited hobby and family time, and reduced the time to keep up with friends and professional colleagues on Facebook or LinkedIn. Most realized that having a good network is an essential skill, particularly in the world we live in where networks and connections are increasingly key to scoring the next great job or finding a life partner or getting into the right school. If you are not building your network continuously, you are falling behind.GIVE BACK
An often forgotten element that brought fulfillment to many was giving back. Sharing your skills and experiences with others can bring an incredible sense of satisfaction when you see what it can do for others. I began volunteering for not-for-profits later in life, and I can attest that it has been one of the most rewarding experiences. One group, I encountered during my investigations was Rosie’s Kids—a program to help inner city kids go ahead in life by teaching them stage skills like dancing and singing their hearts away. I first heard the backstory of so many of the disadvantaged children---crack houses, abusive parent, abandoned, homeless—and then I saw these kids performing with huge smiles on their faces. One child summed it up for me when I spoke with him at the end. He said that he was excited about his future—his chances. And with a tear in my eye, I realized that one of our greatest sources of fulfillment is to enable others to become fulfilled.HARD WORK
While most people dream of achieving things without having to work like crazy, the reality is that so many accomplishments are achieved through hard work. Don Thomas, who has been on four NASA space missions, dreamed of becoming an astronaut but had to work incredibly hard to reach his goals of space flight. He worked hard to get an engineering degree from a good school and got a top-notch job with AT&T in an engineering research center, but even that was not enough. He had to move to Houston to take jobs that were closer to NASA operations. After being rejected three times, he finally made it into the program, but that was no guarantee of getting into space. He still had to work incredibly hard to get the nod for his first mission. Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers generalizes research of Anders Ericsson showing most successful musicians put in 10,000 hours of practice to become accomplished. While that number has been challenged as being too high or too low, the reality is that many hours of hard work are required to both achieve goals and to feel fulfilled. We hardly had anyone in our sample of satisfied or fulfilled people who had not worked hard.HAVE STRONG VALUES
And stick with them! Does your work environment, family and friends allow you to behave consistently with your values? Having to behave contrary to your values can be debilitating.
NURTURE YOUR BODY
While I have listed this last, it is a prerequisite to staying in the game. It will be impossible to put in hard work, take risks, fight through setbacks, and even build secure networks without health. Most of the fulfilled people we interviewed talked about staying fit mentally and physically: taking yoga classes, exercising to reduce stress, eating healthy food, and practicing wellness in one form or another.
Take a moment to think about your fulfillment. Do you have a vision, taking enough risks, and built the networks to help you during tough setbacks? Are you giving back to others more in need? Try it. I think you will find yourself more fulfilled.
Dr. William A. Schiemann is CEO of Metrus Group. He is a thought leader in human resources, employee engagement, and fulfillment and author of Fulfilled! Critical Choices—Work, Home, Life. Follow Dr. Schiemann on Twitter @wschiemann and connect with him on LinkedIn at: linkedin.com/in/wmschiemann