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The Paradox of Finding Joy

The key to finding joy and excitement lies in what you can do to bring value and joy to others.

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Shane Jackson is president of Jackson Healthcare
Shane Jackson is president of Jackson Healthcare

Just before the New Year I posted on LinkedIn about how I use a Personal Mission Statement to bring focus and purpose to decisions I make in my life. I also posted some questions to consider as you create your Personal Mission Statement. If you missed it, you can read it here.

Shortly after the post, I received an email from a friend that I haven’t seen in a while. I was struck by his candor and by how much a particular question resonated with me. I am guessing that many of you will be able to identify with the struggle evident behind the question.  

Shane,

I just read your latest post on LinkedIn about a personal mission statement and wanted to reach out. What do you do when despite your best efforts, you struggle to identify the parts of life that get you excited? I’d like to blame the struggle on covid but I’ve been feeling this way for a while now. I don’t expect you to have all the answers but wondered if you’ve ever experienced something similar. 

Perhaps the most important part of this email was the question asking if I’ve experienced something similar. And the answer is yes, I have. And I’m guessing everyone reading this has too. In fact, even as we seem to be finally seeing signs of coming out of the pandemic, you may be feeling something similar right now  You feel down. Maybe you feel like you don’t have hope. Or maybe like me and my friend, you just can’t find anything that gives you joy. Things that used to excite you just don’t anymore. Moments where you should feel happy or excited just no longer arouse any passion. Maybe circumstances make you angry — or worse — you just don’t feel anything.  

I’m not a psychologist, and I’m not going to give you advice, but I can share my experience. Hopefully, if you have been through these kinds of times it will help you. And if you haven’t, perhaps it will help you prevent one.

I believe that there are three dimensions that encapsulate  who we are and how we spend our time:

  • Our relationships (family, friends and others)
  • Our work (how we contribute and create value), and 
  • Ourselves (activities that give us energy or feed our spirit) 

It is impossible to achieve perfect balance among these three dimensions, as different seasons of life demand a different focus on a given dimension. The problems come when we over-focus or totally ignore one of the dimensions.  

Usually when I am feeling despondent, unfocused, or just irritable, it is because I have neglected one of these areas. As an example, I can’t tell you how many times I have found myself feeling down only to realize that I haven’t exercised in a few days. I have learned that I need the endorphins created by physical movement or I am off mentally and emotionally.  

Most of the time, I can cure my mood by spending time with family, going for a run, or really cranking out something of value at work. Having that self-awareness has made a huge difference in being able to manage emotional highs and lows. But sometimes, in the worst times, those disciplines don’t work.

One of the things I have realized about the times when I am at my lowest is that I am spending a lot of time thinking about myself. This is understandable and makes sense. I’m doing self-analysis to try to determine what’s wrong with me and what I need to do to feel better. So, I start looking at the three dimensions of my life through the lens of, “How can I make changes in that area to make myself feel better? What can I do at work that will make me feel more valued? Which relationships cheer me up versus drain me? What activities can I do that give me energy?”  

When people are in this stage, you often hear them saying something like, “I just need to figure out what will make me happy.”

The problem is that when I am in this state, I am spending so much time thinking about myself that there is no room for anyone else. You may be asking, “Wait, if you are thinking about your relationships, isn’t that thinking about others?” The difference is that in that moment, I am thinking about relationships through the view of how they can feed me, and not about how I can help the other person or the relationship.

In my last post, I pointed out that the third consideration in creating a personal mission statement is recognizing that the impact of your life is ultimately measured by how your actions impact others. When I am solely focused on my life’s impact on me, I am ignoring completely the thing that will ultimately determine the value of my life – how I impact other people. Worse, by focusing only on how things impact me, I am exhibiting selfish behavior that is going to have a negative impact on others, which diminishes the value of my life. The more I focus on me, the less value my life has.

What I have learned is that, paradoxically, the key to finding joy and excitement in my life, isn’t to think just about what I can do to make me happy, but what I can do to bring value and joy to others.

And when I am able to do those things that I enjoy, that I am good at, and that benefit others, well, that is when I rediscover joy. When I am living my best life.  When I am living my mission.

#motivation #leadership #workplaceculture #mission #mentalhealth

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