the key to success

The One Thing Holding You Back In Life (And How to Overcome it)

“The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage.”


Lisa was dazed and confused. Totally lost in life, she was feeling like she was in a life she hadn’t chosen, feeling listless and trying to figure out why she didn’t feel like herself.

She told me about how messed up her current life was, and how nothing felt right.

“My marriage feels like I just fell into it.  It just… kind of happened. I don’t know how. I was just told that I should be married before 30, so once I hit 30 I kind of panicked and married the guy I was with. In retrospect that probably wasn’t the best choice.”

“My work is a chore. My parents were immigrants that raised me to work hard and pay the bills. That’s what work was for, right?  So I’m stuck in a job I absolutely cannot stand, except I don’t really see a way out. I picked a job for the money, and now with three kids I can’t exactly ditch it just to go “find my passion.”  I did what I was supposed to do, so how come it’s backfiring?”

And finally, she told me about her overall personal life:

“Honestly? It feels like I’ve created someone else’s perfect life… but not mine.  In fact, I feel like it’s all a dream. It doesn’t feel like me. It feels like I just ‘woke up’ and this life was here, husband, kids, job and all. And I feel out of place… it feels weird. This isn’t the life I wanted for myself, but how can I change?


Lisa’s ‘problem’ is an incredibly common one today: It’s what happens when we spend our entire lives doing what we intellectually “should” be doing, rather than doing what we intuitively want to be doing.

So many of us feel dazed, lost and confused because we spend our entire lives trying to create this image of who we should be… without ever considering who we really want to be.

Think about it: many things we do in life are often the result of shoulds rather than wants – we make our decisions based on what others are doing, or what others are expecting of us.

It’s often an unconscious assumption.

Just look at work.

What happens when we’re confused about what work path to follow? We usually look to the people around us.  We get the “safe, secure job.”  We do what our parents told us we should do. Or we just do what everyone else is doing.

What happens when we’re confused about relationships? Lisa told me how she reached 30 and didn’t know what to do next in her relationship… so she just did what everyone else told her she should do – get married and have kids.  She looked around at her friends – they were all married and had kids, so she just assumed that’s what people do.

When I spoke with Lisa, I asked her one question that was the real bombshell:

“Well, what do you want?”

That question was so unusual to her that she didn’t even know how to respond, and she wasn’t quite sure what to say.

So much of her life was formed around ignoring her intuition and just doing what she thought she should be doing. No wonder it was such a tough question to answer.


If you’re struggling to find meaning in life and you’re feeling that you woke up in a life that’s not yours, let me suggest something simple that changed my life:

You don’t have to live your life the way everyone else does.

What do you actually want?

Sometimes it’s not an easy question to ask.

But just think back for a moment:

Is your work something you consciously chose, or did you fall into it based on your college major, something a friend or parent suggested, or just based on the income it would provide?
Is your leisure time filled with things you have consciously chosen that interest you?

And your overall life: Does it feel like a piece of art that you have careful and deliberately crafted, or does it feel like something that just kind of fell together – like paint splattered on a canvas?

What do you actually want?

When you start to consciously assemble your life, it feels like it’s yours, and not just some accident.


What About You?

Whether you’re in a transitional period, feeling lost in life or stuck struggling to find your purpose; rather than trying to do what you think you should be doing, intuitively what do you know you must do?

Deep down, what is it that you really want to do?


Alexander runs Modern Health Monk, a site that shows you how to reverse health problems caused by 21st century life. Check out his free weight loss crash course, or his free courses on fixing lower back pain and chronic health issues.

16 Responses to The One Thing Holding You Back In Life (And How to Overcome it)

  1. Nadja says:

    I love this article! This is why so many people burn out. Not because of stress. Because they spend energy on life which is not their life… And somehow a lot of people are afraid to answer your questions: What is that I really want to do?
    How can we change this? How can we move more people out of not-their life? If somebody knows the answer, write me: Thanks in advance!

  2. Dan Erickson says:

    I want to be living in a small house near the ocean with my soulmate and writing books for a living. Right now I’m a college teacher. I did become a college teacher by default on the way to work in media, but I still love it. In fact, teaching has become a great part of my transformation process into writing. We can use what we’re doing now as a platform for what we want to be doing in five years.

  3. What I really want to do? That’s something I’ve been thinking a lot recently.

    Three years ago I made my biggest, so far, dream come true and moved to China. But then for some reason I forgot the things I am really interested in and started doing what everyone does. I was only recently woken up from this when I met people who had similar ideas with me about education, language learning and changing the way we do things. I feel like I’m slowly finding what I really want to do for living.

    Coincidentally I’m also going to write about dreams and making them true on my blog post on Wednesday. I watched Darren Rowse’s recent speech at World Domination Summit and he gave the advice of telling our dreams to someone. So I’m going to follow that advice.

  4. Great points in the article, it kind of reminds me of the one I wrote for BickTheBrain some time ago: What do you really want and how to get it – (including a simple mind technique on how to get the process of getting to know your true nature started :) )

  5. everythingofcooking says:

    Some people finally manage to realize what they want in life, but suddenly they think it’s too late for changes and that’s their mistake i suppose. Think positively! It’s never too late to start a new life!

  6. Brad Kirsch says:

    This article hits home in so many ways. We have all been stuck in a situation like this at some point. Understanding its time for a change is a powerful step we take.

    Transition and growth can be very scary, but always trust your intuition.

  7. Nadja, I totally agree. Too many of us focus on working towards things that don’t even matter! Things we don’t care about tend to sap energy from us… while doing stuff we enjoy tends to re-invigorate us. I’ve found that you truly can do work that energizes you.

    IMHO the best book on the subject is “Finding Your Own North Star” By Martha Beck.

    – Alex

  8. Brad,

    Totally agree, it is VERY scary and not easy. Imagine leaving the love of your life because you know you’re not in the right life and you need to change.Terrifying! It takes guts.

    – Alex

  9. Everythingofcooking,

    Totally agree. Another thing I mention to people is this: yes you may be 50 or 60. But do you really want to live another 20 years unhappy, wondering what kind of life will really fulfill you? No! So start, now.

    – Alex

  10. Sara,

    Haha too funny! I moved to China too and did the same. I was in Beijing for a while.

    A bunch of people told me that Darren’s speech at WDS was amazing and inspiring. Let me know how it goes on your journey!

    – Alex

  11. Dan,

    Absolutely agree. It’s also important to be happy whatever phase you’re in – e.g. right now even though your job isn’t your soulmate, it might be the path that leads you to your soulmate. It’s really easy to ignore now and just become obsessed with the outcome… but it usually just ends up making us unhappy.

    – Alex

  12. mary says:

    what do you suggest if you don’t even know what you “want” to be doing? i feel like i have spent my whole life in the “should” realm — so much so that i have convinced myself that my current job (college professor), for example, is what I “want” to be doing. But I am burnt out — and wonder if I would feel more engaged with life if I were doing something else.

  13. Nadja says:

    how can we change this? imagine, all the energy we would win!!

  14. Josh - says:

    This is deep stuff. That’s a tough question to ask because the answer may scare us! It definitely does take courage to not only admit it but to take action and become it!

  15. Shaun Emerson says:

    This is a really good article. It gets people to think about things they may not necessarily be thinking about. It kind of reminds me of a few articles I wrote last year about finding happiness, life design and one on how we derive our definition of success. The sad thing is, that too many people think their lives are out of their control. Like they just need to “go with the flow” so to say. They just float through life taking whatever comes their way. If only people would realize that we do have more control of our lives, and that when we arrange the things in our lives to work the way WE want them to, things move a lot more smoothly for us. We don’t have to settle for second best, just because that’s what other people think we should do.

  16. Lumbra says:

    I am going to be the contrarian here. This article says nothing knew. It basically asks, “what do you want?” This is a very hard question to answer. I have read tons of self help books, they all say this. The biggest problem is how to answer it honestly. No one tells you HOW to do this or how to even approach this, as if the answers are simple and easy to get. I have totally lost interest in life, and I cannot answer that question. The only thing that i want is to go to sleep and rest, I have no interests to pursue and don’t care about anything, and are not interested in anything. So, this question cannot be answered for me, and it does not take me anywhere.

    Sorry for the wet blanket

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