What is Fulfillment?

Another day passed.

And another.

Go to some meetings, do some work. Another day.

It's not that I was trying to do nothing. I just couldn't think of anything that felt fulfilling. This was a couple months ago.

In fact, even today I listened to a song and for a gleaming 15 seconds or so, I felt completely lit up from the inside, in a this-is-why-life-is-worth-living kind of overwhelming inspiration feeling.

I almost stopped right there, in the middle of the street about to be hit by a car because I was overwhelmed. I searched back through my memory-- when was the last time I felt like this? THIS inspired? This year, last year... nothing came up. But I remembered significantly feeling this way as a teenager, all the time. I'd stay up till 2 AM drawing or writing, blood pumping full of inspiration and life-joy. I wasn't happy all the time-- far from it, I was often upset and moody-- but I was fulfilled and joyful at many points.

And I want to know where those moments went.

And I want to know where my priorities went wrong.

But I don't think it requires much searching, really.

When I was that inspired-all-the-time teenager. I was coming off of over a decade of treating my body really well and sleeping and such growing up. I had some friends, a family I went home to-- a support system. I had routine and structure in my days, school. I did a variety of activities I loved, explored them all: art, debate, philsophy, politics, activism, mathematics, science, dance, more. Life wasn't all roses, though. When bad stuff happened I'd throw myself into work and projects to try to escape. I started to get used to averaging 4 hours of sleep a night, a pattern I continued well into my twenties. I felt convinced that my purpose was to help others in a big, big way. I threw myself at that mission, crafted my life around it. I led several organizations and efforts at a young age, I was always juggling many things, I did well in school, I had lofty plans. I'd read about how successful people succeeded.

So I had this mission to do big things to help others.

As life progressed and I trudged through my twenties, I clung onto this mission like strings of the only safety blanket I had.

I made some grave mistakes. I went through poverty, violence, abuse. I escaped. I improved my situation and I wondered, what am I living for now?

I hadn't really thought much about it since my teenage years, honestly. That was a decade ago.

I threw myself at helping others and was absolutely shocked to find myself not really that fulfilled from this work. I couldn't figure it out, was something wrong with me?! I upped the amount of people I was helping, started doing even more work-- was it the wrong kind of work? I tried different kinds. Wasn't helping others my mission? I felt dismayed and empty.

In early January, after days of feeling meaningless and low and not doing much aside from mandatory work, I half-heartedly declared I was going to make a to-do list for every day. It started partially as a "helping others" initiative (I was sick of seeing stories about founders who do NOTHING but work and wanted to show it didn't have to be like that), but quickly grew to be extremely beneficial for myself. There was something about purposefully looking ahead at the day and deciding what to do that day that felt... fulfilling. My to-do lists became incredible sources of that fulfillment I was so desperately seeking for years.

What?! After so many efforts to drive toward my teenage mission, a simple thing like a daily to-do list was making me feel fulfilled. I could not understand.

I frantically thought back and remembered my New Years' resolutions. I wrote them down on my phone:

  • Nurture relationship with boyfriend
  • Nurture close friendships
  • Keep increasing profits for the business
  • Find more joy in simple, small, everyday
  • Do more out of pure joy-- not career, not necessity
  • Act in a way that feels free

And then I remembered that I had made some "10 year goals":

  • Keep being successful in business ($$ and freedom)
  • Travel occasionally to beautiful places
  • Cultivate fulfilling hobbies that are just for fun/joy/beauty
  • Try out a few places to live, find one to stay in
  • Be very involved in the community: get to know my neighbors, have good friends locally
  • Get married & start a family
  • Give back in a big way, do organizing work

I looked very closely at both sets of goals, and tried to tease out some values:

  • Feel close to and give back to friends, family, and my community
  • Treat my body and brain well, be healthy
  • Feel free
  • Experience and create beauty
  • Help people

Every day, I would think about those goals before planning my day, and I'd try to shape my day around it. I'd take time to knit-- that was just for joy. I'd visit a friend-- that was nurturing close friendships. Okay! Working and doing mentoring calls only took up a fraction of my list-- no wonder I felt unfulfilled.

I thought back to months ago, when I visited a painting in Seattle and was filled with such fulfillment that I just stared at it an hour, tears in my eyes, completely not comprehending why I was feeling this way or what was happening. I went on a hike in nature and felt the same feeling!

And slowly, those huge spikes of inspiration are resurfacing, appearing, coming back, like the beautiful song today.

I took so much for granted as a teenager, and developed a very simplistic view of what is needed to feel fulfilled. And for a decade, I just took that for granted.

And you know, in ten years I'll likely look back at these lists and shake my head-- I mean, I can already see potential issues and things I might want to change. But you know, no-- I won't wait ten years this time. I will edit continuously, slowly over time, and not lose sight of it.

I'm figuring this out now.

In-Depth Networking & Business Building Advice

Interview with Adabelle Leiram, Gameplay Programmer