“Love the life you live. Live the life you love.”
Living a life you love. What does that phrase mean to you?
For everyone it’s different, deep down inside. We all like different work, different homes, different family dynamics and social lives.
Some of us enjoy working in-person with a team every day, others find working independently from wherever there’s a wifi connection to be their cup of tea.
How we’d ideally spend our free time, our evenings, our weekends…for that matter, even when we want our free time to be is also different. Are you a night owl or morning person, or some other variation? Do you prefer to take the weekend off, or would you rather take days during the week?
And these are just a few of our many choices and considerations. Truth is, there are as many ways to look at this as there are people.
We each have our own “Best Life DNA.”
We bring it into this world with us, which is why we can so often look back at our childhood passions for clues to our ideal life now.
But the pull of society’s definition of “the good life” is a strong one, and it’s easy to get caught up in it till we lose track of what’s authentic for us.
If we’re not careful, we can inadvertently trade what for us is authentic and joyful for a stereotypical success story that has nothing to do with who we are.
Steven Pressfield, in The War of Art, says:
“Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.”
In my post Put on Your Explorer’s Hat to Find Work You’ll Love, I share several questions to ask about both your childhood and present-day passions. Reconnecting with what you love and actively exploring it gets you two steps closer to creating and living a life you love.
But what if we took this thought process a step further, looking at past generations for clues?
We all had influences when we were younger, encouraging us onto one path or another. Where did those influences originate?
What got me thinking about this was a recent episode of the PBS program Finding Your Roots. During the program, host Henry Louis Gates, Jr. delighted Sir Richard Branson with several family history revelations.
Perhaps the most fascinating discovery was that back in 1793, Branson’s 3rd great-grandfather, John Edward Branson, made a six-month long, arduous journey from Great Britain to Madras, in India. He was joined later by his father, and why were they there?
They became merchants; one a shopkeeper, the other, an auctioneer, and their businesses took off. How fitting that this creator of groundbreaking businesses from a young age would be a part of that entrepreneurial lineage!
Another Finding Your Roots guest was Maya Lin, the bold architect and sculptor who was just 21 when she won the anonymous national design competition for the iconic Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.
Lin’s parents were both professors at Ohio University, and they encouraged her to think deeply, and for herself. Her father also had an artistic bent, with a passion for ceramics, and she absorbed this “through osmosis,” she said, as her “father’s daughter.”
The stage was set, and the rest is history.
Interestingly, though, her way of thinking differently and her desire to build things started flowing to her earlier in her family tree, unknown to her.
As the controversy around her memorial design swirled around her, Lin’s father sat her down and shared for the first time that her aunt, his half-sister, had been a celebrated architect in China. She had no idea of this when she had elected to become an architect. Fascinating!
Through the research done by Gates and his team, Lin also learned of ancestors that included a revolutionary political thinker who inspired a national movement, and a young widow who, in the 1800s, became a gynecologist and pediatrician at a time when there were few career options for women.
It was clear that paradigm-busting was a trait passed down through her family tree; a trait she’s exemplified without knowing of this history.
There’s one important caveat, however, in this whole family influence thing: there are lots of people who have followed their family path despite their unhappiness with the choice, and have regretted it.
Branson shares that his beloved father became an attorney because it was his father’s wish, and he was never quite happy with that choice. And, Branson says, he wasn’t that great at it either, something that is often the case when we are mismatched to our choice of work.
The elder Branson’s story is a reminder for us to be clear on whether it’s a positive influence or the pressure of outside expectations we are feeling.
So, is it literally in our genes to become what we are, or is it a result of strong family influences through the generations? I’m not sure. But I do think we can blend clues like these with the clues from our childhood and current passions, to create and live a life we love, doing work that is in harmony with who we are.
What are the traits and passions that have come down through the years to influence who you are and create the conditions for you to live your unique life? It’s a fun and interesting puzzle, one well worth pondering.
“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken,” said Oscar Wilde. Who is that “self” and what’s your “Best Life DNA”?