"What do you want?"
My boss asked pleadingly trying to understand the source of my month's-long poor attitude. This seemingly simple question took nearly two years to answer and ultimately led to the birth of Illumed Mind.
It was late 2017, and I had achieved or exceeded nearly every life goal I'd set. I had all of the bases covered, from education, career and finances to adventure, fitness and family. Yet, I felt overwhelmed, exhausted and was experiencing an ever-expanding void of dissatisfaction that I wasn't equipped to recognize, let alone understand.
I've always had tremendous pride in my self-awareness and have been able to field questions like these with ease. But, this time was different, I didn't have any real answers to one of life's basic questions. Clearly I had some work to do...
In truth, the personal and professional demands of 2017 were well beyond my capabilities. On the personal front, my wife and I became parents while both continuing to work full-time. While on the professional front, satisfactory execution of my job was exceedingly challenging requiring frequent travel, long and unusual hours, impossible expectations and navigating constant conflict amongst the various stakeholders.
Throughout my career, my job had always been an easy scapegoat for any personal or professional issue that arose. I regularly explained to myself, or anyone who asked, that everything would be better as soon as I got that long-overdue recognition (promotion, raise, appraisal) or that lingering problem of the day was finally resolved.
I've come to understand that two key factors prevented a truthful and authentic answer this time:
Identity (ego): We use our identities to tell the story of who we are and as the foundation for many aspects of our lives. Throughout my 13+ year career, I believed without question that my job defined the life I lived. It clearly belonged at the top of the priority list, and as a result, I was willing to do whatever was necessary to excel and progress as highly and quickly as possible. However, new and seemingly contradictory priorities had also firmly rooted themselves in my life, namely family and health. With a ton of understanding and compromise between my boss, wife and me, I was able to play the balancing act, but all the balls came tumbling when I became a father as sadly newborns aren't able to compromise. I could no longer pretend that job, family and health were all at the top all of the time. Something had to give.
Mindset (attitude): There is tremendous power in flipping a question from explaining a negative state to outlining the requirements for a positive one. When the question is "What's wrong?" or "How do we fix the problem?", we're only required to explain the aspects of our lives that are preventing our happiness today. However, when the question is flipped to "What do you want?", blaming factors A or B is no longer an option as the question requires laying out the conditions for the default attitude to be happy. I've tended to ask myself the easier negative state questions, which allowed me to live with an incredibly future-oriented and emotionally numb attitude without much of a problem. I could easily explain that once I had achieved x, y or z, I would be happy, only to learn that the satisfaction would be fleeting. Rather than take an honest look at my attitude, I simply moved on to resting the illusion of my happiness on the next goal.
Over time, I had to accept that I was experiencing an identity crisis as the identity that I had built for myself no longer served me. In fact, the harder I worked to protect it, the more dissatisfied I became. This led to a mental breakdown where my mind and body were no longer going to allow me to live the facade. I had been forced into an incredibly vulnerable state that required the complete dismantling of my identity so that it could be reevaluated and rebuilt from the ground up.
In this process, I've come to understand we must develop our mastery of mind skills to achieve a foundation of happiness and satisfaction, in the same way that we develop our muscles to achieve the foundation for physical health. Fortunately, there is a wealth of resources for developing these skills that include practical applications from commonly known areas such as medicine, psychology, yoga and meditation to areas that are less widely known (or accepted) in the West such as Eastern medicine, metaphysics, philosophy and spirituality.
Unfortunately, development of these skills requires the courage to loosen our grip on our identities and the stories we tell ourselves of how things "are" or "should be". In many cases, those are someone else's (or society's) stories that we've blindly accepted as our own rather than boldly seeking our own truths. After all, we cannot possibly change if we're unwilling to let go of any part of who we currently are. I like to think of this awakening process as Illumination.
The 2016 version of myself would have been terrified to learn of the impending period of transformation. However, having now come out on the other side, I have never felt freer, happier or more alive. Along the path, I've discovered that understanding, testing and demystifying these mastery of mind skills is my life's passion. I'm eager to share my journey with all who are committed to losing their grip on their identities and working towards achieving an Illumed Mind to reach their full potential.
Do you have what it takes to be Illumed?