I was in an unhappy marriage. One day, I simply decided I wasn’t going to stay in a relationship with a person who was holding me back from my dreams. It was unhealthy for me and for our adopted son, Jeffrey. I’m a generally happy person. People know me as upbeat, positive and kind. I cheer on my friends and myself. I felt that side of me slipping.
Even when it’s the right decision, the choice to end a marriage (or any relationship) isn’t easy. The range of emotions that follow are overwhelming: fear, sadness, regret, hope, relief, anger… the list goes on. But I like to think that on the foundation of brokenness, people build the greatest structures. We are vulnerable and open to change and grow and make something better from painful pasts.
I went to therapy. I deepened my connection with myself and my son. I protected my happiness and peace by building a foundation that negative and toxic people couldn’t breach. It’s a constant work in progress, but I’ve come a long way. A big part of that growth was learning to understand that fulfillment isn’t something to be achieved or won, but rather a continuous process—one that lasts our entire lives. I think of it like a chain. Each link in that chain represents an act of self-care or empowerment. Every day, you build new chains with consistency and determination and self-love. With each link, the chain becomes stronger. With each link, your ability to withstand the inevitable struggles of life increases.
This is what I call the 7 for 7, the key elements of a fulfilling life.
Creating a spiritual growth plan
No, I’m not talking about going to church—unless that’s your thing. Creating a spiritual growth plan is about finding what feeds your soul and making time for it in your life. For some people that’s yoga, meditations, daily affirmations, even group support meetings for things they’re struggling with, like alcohol or the death of a loved one.
Experiment with different activities and keep a journal or log of how they make you feel. The important thing is not to force a yoga practice because it works for your friend or seems like the right thing to do. Your needs are unique, and when and how you need them is also unique. You might benefit from daily affirmations for a month and then find they no longer serve you as they did. Now is the time to try something new.
Developing your mental muscle
I love to learn new things. I love reading and listening to podcasts. But what I’ve learned is that becoming a lifelong learner isn’t really about devouring as many non-fiction books as you can. Checking off 60 books on Goodreads in a year just to brag about it in your social media feed doesn’t automatically make you smarter or better than anyone else. Learning comes from living as much as it comes from books.
Yes, read books. But don’t limit yourself. If you feel like getting lost in a summer romance novel one afternoon, do it. Listen to podcasts about topics that interest you. Talk to people who live outside your normal social circles. Take a dance class or cooking class. Don’t define the idea of learning.
Moving your body every day
I love fitness. I make time to move my body because it makes me feel good and gives me an energy that caffeine never could. But it’s not always easy and I don’t always wake up wanting to hit the gym. Listen to what your body is telling you. If you don’t feel like lifting weights one day, switch it up with a brisk walk around your favorite lake. Don’t make it complicated. Don’t punish yourself when you miss a day. Don’t make regular body movement another thing to feel guilty about or pressured into.
Your body does amazing things for you. Thank it by nourishing it with food and movement and rest.
Harnessing the power of your influence
No matter where you are in life or your career, there is someone who could learn and grow from you. Ditch the idea that you haven’t accomplished enough to give back to others and help amplify their voice. That negative voice in your head is detracting you from the real work. Continue to grow into your own space of empowerment while helping others create their own space. Here are some ways you can harness the power of your influence:
- Start or join a mentorship program.
- Volunteer your services for people in underserved and underrepresented communities.
- Make philanthropy a foundation of your business model.
- If you’re a business owner with employees, offer incentives for your team members to give back within their communities.
Rediscovering childhood wonder
One of my greatest joys is the wonder that travel brings. Experiencing new places and people and culture helps you see through childlike eyes. When you’re doing something for the first time, you have a reverence for the unfamiliar. You become hyper-aware of your surroundings—noticing things you would normally pass over, like the vibrant color of a new flower or the way the air smells in the morning.
Rediscovering your childhood wonder doesn’t require a transatlantic flight. Wonder can be found by changing your perspective and seeing your surroundings with fresh eyes. Do you always walk the same route to lunch or your office? Refresh that path. Put away your phone and make a conscious effort to truly see and experience your environment. You’ll be amazed what you’ve missed.
You don’t succeed in spite of your failures, but because of them. Once you stop fighting that negative voice that reminds you of all the “wrong” moves you made, you’ll learn that the rough edges are the best parts of you. I like to call this imperfectly empowered.
Embracing your perceived failures is no easy task. It starts with self-forgiveness and love. It continues with the sometimes daily reminder that all the things in your past come together to create the person you are today.
These seven things are the foundational pillars on which I’ve built my house of fulfillment. The stones in your house might look different than mine, but they both share the ability to carry us through anything life throws at us. That’s really what life is: growing into yourself enough to thrive when life deals hard times.
Photo by Natalia_Grabovskaya/Shutterstock