Listen to this article
I’m going to tell you a short story about the events of my life that answered this question. You may or may not be able to relate to my story, but I want you to know, no matter the conditions of your life, no matter how you have tried to endure consistent disappointment, if you’re asking the question, “Is this all there is?” then you already know that there has to be more. You may just not know how to access it.
I was about 5 years sober and asking myself, “Is this all there is?” Life was supposed to get better once I got sober. I know for a lot of people it does. But for me, if anything, life was harder.
I didn’t know what good friends alcohol and cannabis had been for me. They both helped me numb the dull ache of existence, the undefined sorrow, the rage and anger, and the fear. Nothing was too much to handle when I knew relief was only a few beers or tokes away. But now that I was sober, I felt no relief.
I was 32 years old, married with two kids, going to recovery meetings, holding down a full-time job, and staying sober. Instead of sitting in front of the TV or shooting pool at the bar with the guys and drinking beer, I was sitting in meetings drinking coffee.
That’s about all that had changed. Sobriety was something new and it was uncomfortable and unfamiliar. Getting sober didn’t make life better. My wife and I still weren’t connecting. My impatience with the kids was just as bad if not worse. The challenges at work still landed as they always had. By not engaging in my addiction, I felt increasingly overwhelmed by life with no end in sight.
Why hadn’t life gotten better? Was this all that life had to offer?
This persisted for about 20 years until finally, I found a path to more. Although there was little to no evidence that life had any more to offer than what I was accustomed to, I always believed there was a way to get far more out of life. I never gave up.
Looking back, I realize that those 20 years, although full of pain, suffering, and sometimes despair, formed the foundation to build my life on. Simply staying sober while attempting to apply the principles of the recovery program put me in a position to recognize the opportunity for personal development. That opportunity presented itself when I learned about The Work of Byron Katie (TheWork.com).
For as long as I could remember, I believed there was something wrong with me. But, The Work showed me that there was something wrong with my thinking – and that I could correct my thinking simply by evaluating it. This made an immediate and permanent difference in my level of suffering and capacity for change.
My first wife died of a brain tumor, and I remarried 2 years later. The second marriage was unbearable, so we divorced. My ex-wife provided the emotional triggers and exposed the thoughts that were the source of my suffering. Eventually, I changed her name in my phone to “The Gift” because I knew every time we interacted, I was going to be upset. And when I was upset, there was an opportunity to examine my thinking and replace my suffering with clarity and peace.
Before finding The Work, I believed my moods, attitudes, and feelings were determined by the circumstances of my life. Gradually, as I formed the new habit of self-inquiry, I realized that how I feel is determined by what I believe and think about the circumstances of my life.
This was a life changing realization. Abstinence put me in a position to recognize the need for more work. I just didn’t know what work there was to do. Byron Katie helped me begin my healing journey. It had been so difficult to hang on to any hope that life could be better. Once I found a modality that worked for me, I sensed that I had moved from the waiting room of apathetic abstinence to an invigorating sense of progress and awareness.
It didn’t seem like others suffered and struggled as I did with money, jobs, and relationships. I saw myself as broken and expended great amounts of energy trying to find a fix while simultaneously hiding my brokenness from others.
Because I thought I was broken, self-improvement seemed to be what was called for. But eventually I learned that I was never broken and that there was nothing wrong with me. What was broken was my programming. My beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and responses to life resulted in dysfunction and chronic suffering.
With an ACE score of 7 (indicating a high level of early childhood trauma), I realized the past was directly affecting my perspective and my responses to life. If you would like to learn more about the ACE Quiz, click on this link.
Over time, I saw that personal discovery and self-awareness were the keys to breaking out of a life to be endured. By applying what I learned from Byron Katie, I began a journey of self-discovery and was eventually introduced to the Internal Family Systems model (IFS-Institute.com).
As I become more self-aware, I learn more about:
- Who I am and who I am not
- What is true and what is not
- How to access my personal power and choice
How exciting to learn that I am not at the mercy of externally imposed limitations!
My personal development journey spans four decades. I mark the beginning of that journey as my first day of sobriety which was on November 15, 1982. I sometimes still wonder if this is all there is, and when I am willing to do the work of healing the past, I find that the answer is always “No, this is not all there is.” The question itself is an invitation to go inside and get curious about the part of me that is asking the question.
My coaching clients believe that the gnawing sense there must be more deserves their attention. They recognize that they don’t voluntarily think these thoughts or generate the discomfort. They simply notice the thoughts as questions or complaints and experience the discomfort of the unanswered question or the unresolved complaint.
The sense that something is missing is a form of suffering which ranges from unsettling to excruciating. We enter and exit jobs and relationships attempting to ease the suffering. We shop, eat, drink, use, lie, cheat, steal, and hide attempting to manage it.
I believe there is a correlation between this state of malcontent and our level of self-trust. We suffer when we allow others to direct our lives and fail to take responsibility for the choice to do so.
Why would we allow others to make our decisions for us? Ultimately, when we do so, we are choosing to let someone else direct our lives. We believe that the values and logic provided by someone else is more valid than our own because we don’t trust ourselves.
And we don’t trust ourselves because we don’t know ourselves.
One of the things I heard in a meeting several years ago was that we compare our insides to everyone else’s outsides and come up short. How true this is.
We can see our own weaknesses, vulnerabilities, fears, and shame. But we work hard to make sure no one else sees that version of ourselves. To some extent, everyone else is doing exactly the same thing.
We assign authority to spouses, bosses, counselors, coaches, ministers, authors, parents, actors, politicians, law makers, siblings, friends, corporations, advertisers, social media gurus, and more. We trust them more than we trust themselves.
Consciously or not, we defer to the opinions of others who are not burdened by the consequences of their advice. We follow their formulas, embrace their beliefs and values, work hard to meet their expectations, and try to please them.
And then we are surprised that our lives don’t work.
For some of us, even while being so unfulfilled in our lives, we give advice to others, imposing our second and third hand rules, values, and expectations on them.
Before I continue, I want you to know that you don’t have to spend 40 years suffering to learn what I did. You are cordially invited to exit the waiting room.
In some areas of life, we sense there is something missing. This sensation can cause chronic suffering. At the core of the problem is a lack of trust in ourselves to make our own decisions or to live by our own values and beliefs. Consciously or not, we defer to the opinions, beliefs, preferences, and values of others. We spend our lives conforming to the expectations, perceived or real, of those who we have assigned authority to.
There is a good reason for that distrust. At some level, we believe we are incompetent to decide for ourselves. Over time, our deference has become automatic.
What we have done in the past to resolve this sense of lack and incompleteness hasn’t worked because most of look outside of ourselves for the solution. We upgrade or rearrange the external circumstances of our lives, believing that happiness and contentment happen from the outside in.
This is the key for how to resolve our suffering. By looking inside, we can find the source of our dissatisfaction as well as the resources needed to address it. But very few of us know how to do that. Rare is the individual who knows what to look for once the gaze has moved from outside to in. What is needed is a curriculum for how to live from the inside out.
I offer what I have learned about how to live from the inside out in the form of just such a curriculum. I call it the Self-Led Project and I offer it for your consideration.
The Self-Led Project is not just another set of values and beliefs. It is also not a formula for how to live a happy life. I have learned that we come with an innate ability to live an inspired and rewarding life. The most joyous moments of my life were those when I was able to be fully present to those moments, no matter the circumstances.
The Self-Led Project is a curriculum that is designed to help you access your unique qualities and resources. As you learn to access the Self that possesses these qualities and resources, your inspired and fulfilling life will reveal itself and unfold.
Don’t believe for a moment that the life that has you asking, “Is this all there is?” is the life you must settle for. Find a path to discover what blocks you from living from the true and highest version of yourself. Whether you become a student and practitioner of The Work of Byron Katie, Internal Family Systems, The Self-Led Project, or another modality or curriculum, embrace a path that takes you inside so you can learn to trust your own wisdom to choose what is best for you.