The minute I say I know who I am
Updated: Feb 22
I believe that fulfilment arises when we live life in a way that is aligned with our personal values
“All that I want is out there, waiting for me, the minute I say I know who I am” Biff, Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
What is a fulfilling life? A fulfilling career? A fulfilling relationship? What is fulfilment?
For me, fulfilment is distinct from happiness. It is not a positive emotional feeling. Nor is it a sensation of pleasure. I think fulfilment is the state when you are living life in a way that is aligned with your personal values. In fact, it is possible to be deeply fulfilled whilst in the depths of incredibly difficult emotion (think of the parent caring for their sick child, they could be living out their value of family whilst also experiencing very difficult emotional circumstances. In short, they can be unhappy and deeply fulfilled). So my advice for a fulfilling life, career, relationship, anything is actually quite simple. Spend time discovering what your values are, and be true to them in absolutely everything that you do.
Now personal values are different from societal or cultural values because they are internal; they are different for everyone. It is not possible for an external influence to dictate our values because they exist internally. So what should you do to avoid the trap of leading a life dictated by external influences rather than internal values? Well if values are the things that are most deeply important to you, I would suggest spending time consciously reflecting on what those things are. Perhaps start by reflecting on a time when you felt deeply fulfilled - consider, what you were doing, what kind of person you were being, and what principles you were being true to.
You might also do the exact opposite, and consider things that drive you absolutely insane - the things that make you really angry can often be indicators of your values. I’ll give you an example; I used to be a teacher, and I had a boss who insisted I make certain changes to an extracurricular club even though it was definitely going to lead to a worse experience for the children. I was irate. Reflecting on this later revealed two major values of mine. First, compassion - I really cared about those children and the experience they were having. Second, respect - I absolutely needed my professional expertise to be respected in that scenario.
Once you have taken the time to discover these values, then you can go out there and live the life that you actually want for yourself, rather than the life that anyone else wants for you. You can ground every decision in those values. This brings me to the quote I opened this article with. Biff, the tormented son in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman has spent his whole life trying to live up to someone else’s definition of success. He can’t be fulfilled, because he is never living out his own values, he never knows who he is. And so if we take his quote and turn it on its head, he provides the advice that I would advocate for everyone; discover who you are, and all that you want is out there waiting for you.