Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

5 “Secrets” to Living the Good Life

Recently, I did a reboot on my approach to life and work, wondering if how I’ve been doing things is the right way. The truth is I’m still not sure. But the experience has taught me some important lessons I nearly forgot.

5 "Secrets" to Living the Good Life

Before sharing these lessons, here’s a quick side note: many “successful” people don’t consider themselves a success. This is a word other people give to your achievements. So while I don’t consider what I’ve done successful, I appreciate that this is what some people perceive.

The truth is, I have achieved far more than I ever thought possible after starting this blog five years ago. So this is a cautionary tale. Be careful what you wish for, as the saying goes, because you just might get it. So you’d better be sure you’re wishing on the right star.

If you want to live a good life, if you want to do good work and make a difference in the world, then you have to go deep. You have to explore uncomfortable questions like, “Why am I doing this?” and, “Just because I can do this, should I?”

Awhile back, my friend Jonathan Fields (who, by the way, has tackled the question of what it takes to live a good life better than anyone else I know) and we talked about these very questions on his podcast. In that interview, he said,

You’ve built something. And you’re comfortable. And you’ve got a certain structure around it. You don’t want to complain to anyone else. But there’s something inside you saying, ‘something’s not right.’

Yes, that’s exactly right. So what does it take to live the good life? What did I remember after getting everything I wanted and realizing something wasn’t right? Well, there were five things, which we’ll call “secrets”, though they’re kind of obvious when you think about them.

Secret #1: It’s not (just) about you

You were lied to, when you were told that if you worked enough hours, got enough stuff, and followed enough rules, that you’d be okay. That you’d be happy. But now, hopefully, you know the truth: We only find fulfillment when we let go of comfort, when we risk losing everything. That’s what a really good story, and incidentally what a really good life, is all about.

Secret 2: Passion is not optional

It’s not enough to simply commit to a task and do it really well for the rest of your life. You were put on this earth to do something, something specific. Until you do, you will be anxious and on-edge. Passion is what we need to have a fulfilled, whole life. Of course, passion alone won’t necessarily get you everything you want, but without it, you will die a slow, bitter death.

Secret 3: Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it

Anything worth doing is difficult. It will require courage and strength from you; otherwise, it’s probably not worth doing.

Nobody goes to the gym to feel good. They go there to sweat and scream and stretch themselves. And they leave better versions of the people that entered an hour before. If you’re going to grow, life will at times be hard. Get used to it.

Secret 4: Fear is your friend

FDR was wrong. We shouldn’t fear fear. We should embrace fear as a part of life. Fear is the flinch, telling us that we could die. It reminds us of what’s dangerous and why we’re prone to avoid pain.

Fear is good. It keeps us alive, but it also keeps us compliant (if we’re not careful). My rule of thumb is this: if I don’t feel afraid of doing something, then I’m probably playing it too safe.

Secret 5: Values are better than goals

If you don’t know where you stand on work and friends family when an opportunity to succeed at something comes along, you’ll screw it up.

The best way to get your life in order? Screw the goals and skip the plans. Jump straight to values, your non-negotiables for how you do business, treat your loved ones, and do life. Everything else falls under this.

Sure, plans are good and goals are fine. But even Hitler had goals. The Nazis had a very well-designed plan. That’s not enough to live a good life. You have to have values, good ones, in order for your life to make a positive dent in this universe.

Here’s hoping you do (and God willing, me too).

Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated, thus, everyone’s task is unique as his specific opportunity to implement it.

—Viktor Frankl

Bonus: If you want to learn more about living the good life, tune in with me later this week for a live chat on Blab with my friend Michael Hyatt about how to stop drifting through life and finally get to do the stuff you dream of doing.

How do you define “success”? What is one of your secrets to living a good life? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • Alexander Swallow

    Thanks for sharing this Jeff: thought-provoking as ever. Your writing has inspired me a lot- I launched a new business today and gave you a mention in one of my first posts http://theinfluenceexpert.com/key-influencers-i-follow-how-they-have-inspired-me/

  • Thanks Jeff for sharing your thoughts on this. I love feeling the fear and one of my favourite sayings is ‘Do it afraid’. Do you think we get to a point where we can become numb to the fear though?
    I really love the idea of setting values over goals and plans. Excited to try this out! Thanks again.

  • “You were put on this earth to do something, something specific. Until you do, you will be anxious and on edge.”
    That sentence stood out to me more than any other in this post.
    I get frustrated with myself for being anxious and restless, but it’s only because I don’t feel fulfilled. I am not doing what I am meant to do. I am living someone else’s life, accomplishing someone else’s goals. If I would listen to myself more often, I would realize that the restlessness is my calling talking to me.
    Thank you, Jeff, for this post. I always walk away from you blog with something.

  • Emergecontent

    ‘…Jump straight to values, your non-negotiables for how you do business, treat your loved ones, and do life. Everything else falls under this.’ I really enjoy your posts, thank you for sharing such passionate insights. The above sentences stood out for me. I agree that it’s so important to get one’s values right and to live and operate from that point.. constantly aspirating for more knowledge and self-awareness as we go too. One of my secrets to living a good life? Recently I’m finding that living from the belief that ‘life is rigged in my favour’ rather than living from fear, is powerful – which ultimately is about trusting that I have a purpose based on making a valuable contribution to life! Emer :)

  • Carol Collett

    Great post. Lots to think about. Couple of things resonate enough to implement immediately. However, what is your response to someone who is in the wrong place professionally, but can’t just switch gears because she has to make a living? That’s tough. It’s soul sucking to watch your life pass you by knowing you’re not living your passion. It’s a struggle to get out of that rut. Any thoughts?

  • 5. Values are Better than Goals. This resonated. All we hear about are goals, goals, goals, but we rarely hear about the driving force behind them. I love how you find that uncommon angle to approach all-too-common topics.

  • Adriana Otero Vargas

    I wouldn’t say fear keeps us going but pain. We should embrace pain. It’s what makes us humans, it’s so universal we all can identifiy ourselves with other people and has it’s own word for it. Empathy.

  • Angela Lacey

    I think, the true key to happiness in life is seeking the things first which cannot be bought with money, such as family love, the love of a true heart, and a personal relationship with your creator.

  • Hey Jeff,

    I’m digging this reboot that you are going through!

    I love the thought that you have to have values in place first. I couldn’t agree more. Without values that guide us we will just drift from one thing to the next. Values give us the ultimate finish line to aim for, while goals are the stops along the race.

    I like John Maxwell’s definition of success: “Success means having those closest to me love and respect me the most.” Without the love and respect of those we love and respect, what’s the point of all our striving?

    As always, I appreciate your encouragement and insights. Keep them coming.

    Jesse

  • Vera Linsalata

    One of my secrets to the good life is to see the good in whatever season I’m in and be grateful for it. Relationships with people and God ultimately are what satisfy us. A few years ago I reached a point where my “dream job” became unfulfilling and I wasn’t passionate about it anymore. But I stayed a couple years longer so we could afford to adopt a child. And I learned to channel my passions in hobbies and service. I don’t regret any of that now as I try to restart my career.

  • Virg Lewis

    Jeff – strong points about caring enough about yourself in order to live into your positive values. I have risked and lost and learned from it. I’ve also gained. Stepping out of the comfort zone is both fun and scary. Almost always, it’s worth it.

  • I believe the secret to living a good life is to follow through with the promises one makes to himself or herself. What I’m trying to say is when promising to do something rather it be committing to writing x number of words for a composition each day, or to exercise for x number of minutes, or even to be there for family in their times of need or to spend some quality time with oneself or with friends or family, it’s important to follow through with all such promises. It’s like you said, Mr. Jeff Goins, everything in life pertains to ones calling. It’s not just one’s profession, but it’s one’s family, friends and other activities one is active in which creates a portfolio life. So, the overall secret to living a good life is to have a portfolio life. It’s the only way for one to obtain both inner and outer balance.

  • jkubik1976

    This is such a great reminder…embracing fear truly resonated with me. I like feeling confident before attempting most endeavors but i see how fear can be a good “gut guide!”

  • Values are the terrain that you draw your plans and goals upon. If you don’t know your values, you won’t go very far. But, I don’t think you should ever say screw your goals, just have values. You need both. Goals are the destination and plans are the route you will take to get there. Travel becomes much easier if you know the terrain (values) so you can choose the optimal routes (plans) to reach your destination (goal).

  • Murigi Wainaina

    Thanks for this great post. Incorporating values into one’s goals is great and makes a lot of sense and gives peace of mind later on.

  • Mason Williams

    I haven’t been on this Earth for very long (almost 19 years) but God’s taught me an important lesson early on: you weren’t born to live an easy life or one that consists of you making millions and paying bills and dying. The life that we’re meant for is the one Christ showed us how to live: selflessly and humbly in service to Him and others. It’s not always an easy or popular life but it’s certainly one worth living. We aren’t and shouldn’t be measured by the cash we make or empires we build, but by how we impacted the world through Christ and the life in Him we led. Take this knowledge wherever you go, my dear friends, and know that living the life Christ intended is the one that’ll get us to the one that does not end.

  • Jeff, you hit the nail on the head. Values are the key. The things we know in our hearts to be right. Thanks for pointing that out, it’s easy to let the rhythms of life blur our deeper truths.

  • N K

    For me success is about going to sleep tired but fulfilled, with a clear conscience. It is about being able to look into the mirror and love the expression in your eyes. It’s about living a meaningful life & giving back to our fellow Earthlings.
    Great post as always, Jeff. The point about values resonated with me the most. Also the one on fear. If we strongly believe in something, we should have the courage to take the risks. Right now I’m getting the signs from above that my life is steering towards where exactly it is supposed to be going, my life purpose. But it also entails certain risks, because it’s worth taking them. Your blog is always so inspiring, thank you so much :)

  • Jodi H

    Living a good life is simply about love. Love God, yourself, family, friends, acquaintances and even the difficult ones. Make love your dominant life value, and everything else will fall into place. A life worth living is based on love.

  • Monica

    You always hit me right in my heart! Thanks. I needed that.

  • Jay Harrington

    Excellent post, Jeff. Fear is essential to progress. You need to live on the edge a bit, as most good things in life happen when you’re outside your comfort zone. Failue (of some degree) is inevitable if you’re doing something difficult, but every stumble is a step forward.

  • Linda Darlene

    One of your new subscribers who looks forward to your posts. I am probably at a later stage of life than most of your readers but find such truths in your young wisdom. I have always loved to write but found little time while raising my three children. Now a new blogger for only a few months, with no following, but write just the same on Living the Purposed Life. For now it helps me be more puposed by putting into written words the amazing things I forgot I already know, and hope it finds its way to help others. I am passionate about living life in each moment and diligent in acknowledging thankfulness for even the smallest of things. That is true success for me!

  • A while ago I did an interview on HuffPost Live about Arianna Huffington’s idea that there’s more to life than money or power. That there was a “third metric” to success. I believe I said contentment. Working from home isn’t easy, but if it means getting to spend more time with my husband…that’s success. (Although money is nice LOL)

  • Rajaratnam Abel

    I did not recognize the relationship between goals and values. As one who promotes values in all work and writing, I ma happy to learn this relationship that values are more important than goals.

  • Karen Wittgraf

    The good life is waking every day in wonder at what “adventure” (big or small) will transpire for that very day. It may be a sweet smile from a stranger, or an amazing thought in a book,
    possibly a moment of laughter with a friend, or a coral sunset, or the joy of solving a problem. Anticipation is the wonder of life.

  • G. Blake Harrison-Lane

    Good article. However, I take issue with point number 4. FDR was correct. My takeaway from the FDR quote is that the only think we ever fear is a hypothetical future we create in our own heads. We create our own fears. Once it is understood that we are the source of our fear and not some external force then we can wisely avoid things that will be detrimental for us in a logical manner rather than illogically being afraid of our own imagination.

  • eveh

    Fear serves as a warning that something is not the way we have believed to be true. But maybe normal is not what we need. Maybe the fear is misplaced. The thing we fear may be what we need. My husband runs a Karoke business and he says to see someone grab a mic and sing when they are scared to death, opens up to them a whole new world. Once they get that first song under their belt, he can’t get them down. LoL. Experiences enrich our lives, not things.

  • Moira Green

    Several times in life my choice has been between fear or boredom and I’ve always decided (reluctantly) to live with the fear. Living with it and managing it can be a moment by moment practice sometimes though. Yes, pursuing the profitable passion can be damn hard as you say. But I think you’re writing, Jeff, about the kind of work experience that creatively, can be like wallowing and rolling around in something you just can’t get enough of and I’m just beginning to get a taste of that, largely thanks to you and Tim Grahl.