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The word "Joy" is misunderstood.
It gets mixed up with words like ‘happiness’, ‘fun’, or ‘cheerful’.
All of these terms feel slightly different than the word ‘joy’ to me.
Joy means something else. It isn't naive in the same way those other words are. It can't be manufactured or used as a distraction the same way a word like ‘fun’ can.
Joy is earned.
Joy is the first laugh after a painful cry.
Your kids graduating after 18 years of raising them.
Getting a job after countless rejections.
Joy is when we've processed the good and bad of our lives and are satisfied with where we've landed once the dust has settled.
We are all spinning our wheels striving to find joy
So how do we get there?
How do we find Joy?
Modern culture makes joy incredibly elusive.
Half of us are consumed by our careers, making money, gaining status, or any other vain metric that tends to leave you feeling lonely in your success. The other half is so busy with family, life's obligations, and "just getting by" that we don't leave much time for ourselves. We put your dreams on hold and before we know it, we've never actually chased what we wanted all along.
I've been on both sides. Hyper-selfish, and hyper-selfless. On their own, neither one brought me joy. Why couldn't I find fulfillment? What was I doing wrong?
Like most things in life, neither direction is all good or all bad. I found that we can only find joy by balancing two distinct aspects of the human experience.
Finding joy is the balance of individual fulfillment and deep commitments to a community larger than yourself.
Here's how I want to approach these two forces.
Individual fulfillment means actualizing your fullest potential as a single person on this planet. The word 'potential' is not to be confused with 'desires'. In fact, most of the time, our potential is at odds with our desires.
I desire to sit at home and eat donuts. But I have the potential to eat healthy and lift weights.
I desire to be famous. But I have the potential to live free of concern with how the world sees me.
I desire to zone out and look at my phone. But I have the potential to call a friend and see how they're doing.
This distinction is vital for us to recognize.
Now that we have, here's why chasing your potential is important.
If you're on an airplane that is about to crash, the rule is that you have to put the oxygen mask on first in order to help those around you. The same goes for chasing your potential. If you don't take ownership of your life and the possibilities of what it could be, then you won’t be the best version of yourself for others.
Your potential is like your oxygen. You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else.
So what do you do once you’ve gotten your oxygen? You share.
This has been a hard lesson for me to learn. I tend to be a lone wolf. It's easier for me to just focus on my work and lean into my individual fulfillment with all of my time. But the older I get, the more I realize I could never reach my fullest potential on my own. I could never find joy without sharing it with those that I love.
Communal investment is about sharing your life with other people. It's not always shiny or easy…and it’s certainly not efficient. If you're used to seeing returns on your time, this process can be incredibly challenging to trust because you won't see the gains until it saves your life.
There is no substitute for what your relationships provide. In his book The Second Mountain, David Brooks says, "People tend to want to live up to their friends' high regard." I think that is true. Deep friendships bring out the best in all of us. Deep friendships help us reach our potential.
Being committed to a community means pushing your friends and family in the direction they want to go. It means being there in the highs and lows and sticking around when it gets hard. It means offering and receiving forgiveness, grace, and love. Communal investment brings us closer to joy.
The balance of both communal investment and individual fulfillment will never be easy. It will take time, patience, and discipline.
But these two forces are cyclical. They feed each other. Your individual fulfillment leads to greater relationships. Greater relationships lead to individual fulfillment. When they work together, we find joy.