5 essential questions to ask yourself for pursuing the life you truly want

There’s nothing worse than doing something wrong, not enjoying yourself while doing it, but hanging on because you think it’s “the right thing to do.” This one sentence, at times, came to define a lot of my professional life. Maybe you’re going through the same thing now, or perhaps you’ve survived the storm. Know this — suffering through this without mustering up the courage to change can cause damaging ripple effects throughout your life.

I start here too with some personal context that comes to define the lives of so many of us — for far too long. The truth is, all of us are going to struggle. All of us will suffer. It’s unavoidable. It’s not about preventing these things from happening, but rather having a game plan for how to manage, adjust and break through to creating a bolder, better picture for ourselves.

Never thought I’d share that one of the most powerful speeches I’ve seen on life, purpose and direction is actually from funny man, Jim Carrey. Do yourself a favor and watch his commencement speech at Maharishi University, shared here:

There’s a lot of great truths in there. I continue to come back to this one:

“You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”

Meditate and think deeply on those powerful words. Surely, you’re not someone who has found wild success at everything you’ve tried. But even before that thought, I doubt you’ve ever loved everything you’ve done. In fact, maybe there are things you’ve actively chosen to do that you knew you didn’t love, yet that mental alarm inside of saying, “Nooooo!” still didn’t prevent you from entering into a situation that didn’t turn out for the best.

Now, I’m a big believer that difficult and challenging times define us. Adversity sharpens and strengthens us. But there’s also unnecessary struggles and situations we can avoid if we simply begin with pursuing a path, job, venture or career that we actually love. It can start with a thought, the knowledge that we enjoy or love an activity, or simply observing that we see someone else doing something that we love and thinking — “I want to be a part of that!”

I go back to his powerful words above. You can FAIL at doing something you don’t like, just because you’re too afraid to set your sights and do something you truly love. The example Carrey gives in his speech comes from the real-life story of his father! His father was fired from a “safe” accounting job, which he actually hated, but thought was the sure thing. The safe path. Turns out, he was wrong.

And fortunately, his son decided to learn from this poignant life moment, and follow his true dream. It’s worked out to be a remarkable, successful career. No one ever could have predicted the acclaim and success that Carrey has enjoyed, but what’s easier to predict is the assumption that he would have found success doing something that he truly loves and is passionate about. Whether it had only been just a side-gig or hobby, or of course a true profession as an actor and comedian.

“I can tell you from experience, the effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is.”

1. What am I doing in my life right now that is allowing me to have a positive, transformative effect on others?

I bet there are more people than you think — who are in your life right now — whose lives you can influence and perhaps change forever. You may not think they’re open to it. But maybe the truth is, you’re not yet open to it. Walk through the door and begin by asking yourself what you can do to change your professional and personal environments for the better.

How can you be more positive and more adventurous in challenging yourself to do more for others, while simultaneously improving your own circumstances? The more you think about this and use it to guide you, the more likely you will feel compelled to take action and do things for the benefit of others. The results will add amazing richness and value to your life.

“You can spend your whole life imagining ghosts and worrying about the pathway to the future but all there will ever be is what’s happening here and the decisions we make in this moment.”

2. What are the top three things you are ignoring in your life right now, that you truly LOVE to do most?

I wonder if you find there’s something you’re ignoring, suppressing or resisting that is so powerful, so moving that you cannot afford to put off any longer? This one struck the greatest chord with me. Maybe you know the feeling. As Carrey found with his father, then learned from, he didn’t want his fate sealed by doing something that he truly didn’t love. The results can be equally as bad as attempting something big and bold, that we may perceive as more of a “long shot.”

Don’t get caught up in settling for second-best. Trying to go the risk-free route in the hope that this will yield a higher “life return” is a bad move. You immediately set the ceiling very low. You stop imagining and dreaming, and begin to settle. Settling for less is a huge mistake. Doing what you love and working your heart out for it is always a great move.

3. What short term “losses” are you willing to accept to reap amazing, future gains?

The best lesson you can learn from this speech — and one of life’s most powerful gifts of wisdom — is that following your heart, crushing fear and having an intelligent plan to lead you is the best path forward. This means that you take on greater risk. Increase your risk threshold. And don’t be afraid to do so.

This never, ever seems easy. And some people will outright ignore this path because of situations and circumstances for where they are in life. Trust me, I know. As the father to two young children, the idea of dropping everything and going to pursue some dreams simply isn’t practical. It would be foolish and shortsighted. The key word being, “some.”

But as I’ve learned, to get to where I’ve truly wanted to be, I absolutely had to take some chances that friends, colleagues and even some family scoffed at. I didn’t care. Because I trusted my intuition and the deep, intelligent thought I gave my situation.

The longer you “kick the can” down the road, the longer you ignore the wishes and dreams of your heart; the longer you live someone else’s life, which is NEVER a smart decision. Because once you begin to do this, the more warped your mental and emotional reality truly becomes. You experience greater frustration and anxiety, and frankly, the results aren’t pretty, either.

When you go for your biggest dream(s), you likely won’t experience immediate success. You will fail. Make mistakes. Get wounded. You’ll begin to question yourself. But when you have a firm purpose of amendment, when you’re operating off strong values and powerful faith in yourself, you are built to last. You can survive the short-term losses because you know in your heart that they always lead to long-term wins.

It gets so much harder to succeed when your mind and heart aren’t aligned with your purpose and mission. The wins will come. They may not always come when you think they should or could, but don’t let that frustrate you. Keep going.

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” — T.S. Eliot

4. What is your risk threshold and how can you avoid playing things conservatively?

Playing things conservatively isn’t always a bad idea. It’s not necessarily bad advice for a moment, a season or perhaps even with your finances, at times. But an overall risk-averse approach to all areas of your life leads to boredom, disappointment and an increase of fear. Simply put — it leads to eventual failure.

The reason that it’s hard to detect is because the conservative approach doesn’t reveal itself to be failure immediately. It’s a drawn out, elongated process that pulls you away from what you desire most. It disguises itself as the “right” approach, but in reality it’s ripping your inspiration right out of you.

Ironically enough, your attempt to mitigate fear through a conservative approach only ends up maintaining or building your fear to a greater level.

By not pursuing your dreams — by ignoring and denying yourself from becoming who you truly are, you suffocate and stifle the powerful voice inside of you that yearns to be heard both for yourself and the world.

You may think staying in that relationship that you know isn’t meant to be is the right thing. Because leaving will cause pain. The short-term blow will feel devastating. But what about the long-term? What about slowly hurting, rotting away inside and feeling a longing for something greater? What about the thought that staying still can truly eliminate your future happiness?

The same can be said for our jobs. In case you haven’t noticed — regardless of your current age — the world has changed dramatically in the past 20 years. We’re still within a 20-year window of the emergence of the Internet as a total gamechanger for both personal and professional business pursuits and happiness. You can instantly start your own business.

You can learn from others on how to do so successfully. You can find a life partner, friend, new hobby or observe precisely how to study a subject, play an instrument and even to learn how to speak another language.

Living with fear destroys the moment. And as Jim says above, it’s the moment that matters. The past is gone, and while memories remain, it’s what we do now that matters more than anything else. By living in the present moment, if you do it the right way with intelligent planning and a firm purpose, you continue to sow seeds for your future. Future moments. It’s always the moment that defines us.

5. What do I see as my “end game” for what I want most in my life?

You can have what you want (within reason). I can tell you from personal and professional experience — and observing the lives of wildly successful people — that your biggest dreams become real when you start to get specific about exactly what it is you want. Do you want to own your own art gallery? Draft the plan FIRST in your mind, then capture it digitally or on paper. Save it.

Keep coming back to it over and over again. Refine it. Improve upon it. Keep building and creating the mental architecture in your mind, that will surely need modifications and improvements over time. You absolutely need a clear end goal that you can think, speak, write and heck, even tweet over your life. Everything becomes more and more real with a plan and a purpose.

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This article first appeared on Medium.