“You’ll never know everything about anything, especially something you love.” —Julia Child
The oft mentioned quote regarding knowledge which has been attributed to both Aristotle and Albert Einstein goes something like this: “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know”. Why I share this quote is because it contains an underlying understanding or aha moment that rings true for accepting that all aspects of our lives are not under our control, and never will be.
Listening to NPR’s Sunday Weekend Edition this past weekend, guest Neal Gabler, who’s recent article is the cover of The Atlantic’s May issue, shared an intriguing finding that Americans, above all other countries, including France, and Germany and other leading industrialized nations, are the only ones who believe they, individually, are solely responsible for their financial success.
And while it makes sense on a founding principles level, if we look at it from another angle, there is a flaw in the recipe. We forget that not all of the factors that align for financial success are under our control: economic downturns and upswings, banking regulations, tax law, financial need amongst loved ones, just to name a few.
I use the example of financial success and the recognition that while, yes, many factors are under our control, to bring to the forefront the truth. And when we see the truth, just as Einstein or Aristotle mentions about learning more, we begin to see how much we can never control. That realization may be initially frightening and then frustrating, but today I am going to reveal to you why it will ultimately be liberating and lead to a life of true contentment.
If you are living a life of true contentment, you embody certain qualities, a particular mindset and an approach to living each day that is distinctly different from someone who is trying to control everything and everyone. Let’s look at the 10 distinctions below.
1. Live each day in the present
A sense of liberation will wash over you when you begin to live in the present. When you choose to be aware of the moment, the details, the people, the environment, the beauty of the world, you will have less time to worry about the past or stress about the future. Your anxiety will diminish and your joy will soar. When you are able to live in the present you are at peace with where you’ve come from and confident that you know how to forge forward successfully into your future.
2. Are focused on what they can do
The truth is not everything is under your control, no matter how much you may want it to be. After all, the only person you can control is yourself, and to try to control others is called manipulation. Even if you read your horoscope in five different newspapers (don’t do that) searching for how your future will unfold or read about others who have pursued the path you are on, you will never know how your unique life will unfold. But, you can put the odds in your favor with the thoughts you allow to dance in your mind on a daily basis, how you spend your money, the words you choose to utter, the behavior you exhibit, the courage you muster and the curiosity you allow to drive you forward into new ventures and discoveries.
So no, not everything is under your control, but so much is. Master you and the future that will unfold will exceed what you thought could be possible.
3. Understand the fictitious nature of limits
The only limits that hold us back are the ones we either set for ourselves, “There’s no way I can run a marathon,” and the ones we allow society to impose upon us, “The women’s brain is inferior to the male mind.” The best way I have found to break these limits even when we don’t know what is beyond them is to allow our dreams to run wild. Be infinitely curious. Ask Why not? And refuse to accept no when it comes to an idea that has been seen in your mind’s eye. Because as E.A. Bucchianeri reminds us, “If it can be thought, it can be done.”
4. Realize growth can only occur when you let go
In order to reach the other end of the swimming pool, you must let go of the edge and swim. You may not reach the other side when you had hoped, you may need a floating apparatus to help you as we learn how to swim, but the only way you can make it is if you let go. Growth can happen for each of us, but you have to let go of old habits, past events, old selves and limiting beliefs. It’s the only way. Simple, but initially difficult; however, when you’ve made it halfway, the desire to return to old ways will be far less desirable because you will begin to see the reality you are swimming towards. That alone will be the motivating force to keep on moving forward even if you are exhausted from the strain and stress.
5. Have learned from experience that the Universe wants to know how seriously you desire what you say you want
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” —Martin Luther King Jr.
Recently, I was speaking with a new acquaintance, and she shared with me a story about a situation in which her action came before she knew for certain what she desired would occur. And it was in an unexpected hour that the necessary details fell into place. I too have experienced this seeming serendipity. It is absolutely unexplainable, but the one thing my situation had in common with all of the people who have experienced similar events is we desired deeply what we sought. We choose to face the unknown with action and let the cards fall into place when they were going to fall into place.
Now don’t get me wrong, each person who has experienced a positive outcome stacked the cards in their favor as much as they possibly could, but it is the Universe (or God or whomever you believe in as a higher power) that asks you to show your intent. And then . . . and then, the Universe will decide if it wants to invest in your dreams.
6. Recognize that knowledge is power
When you know what you don’t know, you’ve done your homework. When you are clear on the facts, figures and loose ends that need to be tended to, you can then find people with more expertise than you to tidy those loose ends up. But until you do your homework, you are walking into a potential, and absolutely unnecessary mess. Choose to build your foundation of dreams on cement rather than sand and you will find your contentment.
7. Choose to strengthen emotional intelligence
Your IQ is just as telling about your potential in life as your EQ (emotional intelligence quotient). Even with a high IQ, if your EQ is low, life can be quite difficult to successfully navigate as well as less likely to be enjoyable to experience. What is EQ? Put simply, it is a “person’s ability to perceive, control, evaluate, and express emotions.” In other words, learn how to master your mind (episode #20).
One of the significant emotions that squashes any ability to be present is fear. Once you realize what it looks like when you feel it, once you realize you will never eradicate it entirely and rather realize it is how you handle it that will make the difference, your EQ is becoming far stronger. As I state in an archived post about fear, often fear is telling us precisely what we want, we just need to muster up the courage to pursue it.
The seeker of perfection is someone lacking the self-belief that they are enough, what they do is enough and someone who needs to stop seeking external approval and instead seek approval from within. This process takes time. First, it takes awareness to recognize “perfectionitis” in ourselves and to understand why we seek this impossible outcome, and then the exercise of liking who you are, what you have to offer and growing a thicker skin if necessary to help shield you from those who harp on what they see as not enough.
Once you are at peace with the effort you have given, once you are at peace with how you live and the life you’ve chosen, dismissing the remarks from others becomes significantly easier. Give yourself approval and simply strive to do your best rather than to be perfect. (See this post for further inspiration: The Courage to be Your Authentic Self)
The choice to get to know ourselves is indeed a choice. It is a process, and it will take time. Initially, spending time with ourselves is awkward if we’ve never done it before. And the feeling of being uncomfortable, as we are doing something we may not have ever done, can deter many people right out of the gates. Just as pushing off from the edge of the swimming pool is initially scary, if we never leave our comfort zone, we will never reap the benefits of knowing who we truly are.
An important part of knowing yourself comes from understanding your emotions, why you feel the way you do in certain situations and determining which emotions you should respect and which you need to let go as they are fleeting and need to be ignored. When you know yourself, you know how to make the best decisions for yourself. And when you know you will make the best decisions for yourself today and down the road, you can be at peace about your future even if you don’t know precisely how it will unfold.
10. Trust their instincts
Once you’ve taken the time to get to know yourself, you’ve probably simultaneously been listening to your gut. If you are a novice to listening to your gut, what it is telling you can feel like a foreign language. Therefore, how you respond to what it is saying may lead you into odd or unwanted situations. However, even in the instances that do not pan out as you had opened, you are gaining valuable information. If you keep on listening and responding, eventually, your gut will become a finely tuned instrument that you can rely on in situations that you’ve never been in before with people you’ve only met for the first time.
Your instincts, your gut, are a part of you, but only if you choose to learn the language and continue to practice your new second tongue.
As you can see contentment doesn’t await us when we feel in control of everything. Such a state never exists, but that doesn’t mean that contentment isn’t possible. Contentment is possible when we accept that we cannot control everything, and as Herman Hesse reminds,“Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go.” Strength, peace of mind, and contentment come from acceptance that even if we don’t know how it will all work out, we know how we will respond to it, we know we’ve chosen to be prepared as much as possible and the rest is a wondrous journey that continues to reveal itself anew each and everyday so long as we are open to the possibilities.
Most importantly, to return to Julia Child’s quote at the top of the post, the gift of being passionate about living well is that there will always be something new around the corner that you never expected, that you never could have anticipated with great excitement, and what an amazing gift that is. More specifically, when you are truly dialed in to living your authentic life, you won’t have all the answers, you won’t know what will unfold moving forward, but you will be loving your life, making it all but impossible to live in the present and revel in it. Here’s to reveling!
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~The Simple Sophisticate, episode #100