The Opportunity Cost of an Unfulfilled Life

by | Jul 7, 2020 | Aha! Life

Marianne Williamson penned this beautiful poem in her book A Return to Love. Read and sit with these words and the emotions this poem summons in you.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.

We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.

Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine,
As children do.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us;
It’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we’re liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

I thought of this poem as I thought about how so few people live their best and highest lives. Abraham Maslow estimated that only about 2% of people realize their highest potential, their self-actualized state of being. Even if that percentage is 50%, it would still mean that half the people never walk in the fullness of their personal power.

And that is sad.

My personal mission is to help people realize all that is within them and around them to live the lives they dream about, the lives they are meant to live. It’s what I call Your Aha! Life. I’ve written about this life in previous articles, What is the Aha! Life? and How to Live with More Joy, Purpose, and Fulfillment. I encourage you to read them, if you haven’t. The mission drives me because I think about the opportunity cost that people incur when they choose to live below what they are capable of, below what their hearts desire, and frankly below what the world needs of them.

What is the cost of their unfulfillment?

Loss of dreams. Langston Hughes said,

Hold fast to your dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

Loss of happiness.

Loss of life’s meaning.

Loss of fulfillment.

In a recent weekly Aha! Moment on How to Live with Integrity not Regret, I talked about Erik Erikson’s eight stages of development. The eighth stage being late adulthood, marked by Integrity or Despair. In this stage, a person either looks back with a sense of Integrity – that is, contentment and fulfillment – or they look back with Despair on their experiences and failures, struggling to make sense of their lives and wondering if it has even mattered that they are here.

No one wants to get to the end of their life and feel the pain of regret. The opportunity cost of an unfulfilled life is simply too great a cost to bear. And it’s not necessary. So, why do so many people choose the path of living outside their dreams and below their potential? I believe there are a couple of reasons.

Comfort.

If there is no perceived pain in a person’s life, they likely have no urgency to change their circumstances. To change what seems “good enough” may be scary. It’s safer to stay with what’s known. Complacency is the real danger of the comfort zone. We know growth does not happen in the comfort zone, but it is comfortable. It provides just enough to get by. Many people give up their best and highest selves to remain comfortable.

In the personal development coaching world, I’m told that few people will sign up for or invest in coaching, at least the life coaching I want to do more, because it’s maximizer coaching. I’m interested in helping people move from what might be considered a good life to their best life – their Aha! Life.

Some experienced coaches tell me that people will only invest in themselves if you can help them go from hell to heaven – from a point of extreme pain and despair to a healthier, more fulfilling life. Perhaps they are right, but I’m hoping there are people out there who know within themselves that where they are today is only a small part of the vision they hold of their lives. To settle for where they are when their hearts tell them there is so much more available to them is a huge opportunity cost to pay. It is these same people, who, in Erikson’s eighth stage, may look back with regret, not having lived the life they dreamed of having.

Fear.

Marianne Williamson was right. The second, and perhaps the root cause of anyone choosing to live below their best and highest self is fear. Fear of failure. Fear of loss (ironically). Fear of not being good enough or not deserving of the life they dream about. Whatever you call it, the name begins with fear.

So far, I’ve written this to talk about the “person” out there – not close enough. What if I asked you what is the opportunity cost of your unfulfillment? If I self-examined and asked myself the same question? What might we be allowing to stand in the way of us becoming the highest and best versions of ourselves and living our fullest lives? How might we feel when we look back on our experiences and the chances we didn’t dare to take? Let us both commit to sitting with these questions and let us commit to choosing ourselves over our fears.

There are four things you can do to move in the direction of the life you dream about and the life you deserve.

  1. Create a vision for your life that inspires you. You may decide to graphically create a vision board of who you are at your best, who you are becoming, what you want more of in your life, and what you purpose to give to the world. Be as specific as possible so that the vision of your best and highest self is vivid in your mind and heart. If you don’t create a vision board, write a letter to yourself and read it often.
  2. Set a goal beyond your comfort zone. I’ve always believed that when we set a goal we’re comfortable with and one we’re sure we will accomplish, that goal only helps us to maintain current state. I call it the confirmative goal – it simply confirms what we already know about ourselves. It’s the stretch goal, though reasonable, that enables your growth and increases your confidence in your ability to do hard things. It is the goal that demands self-discipline and grit that gives you a glimpse into your greatness. And once you see your greatness, your personal power, you can never un-see it.
  3. Read, watch or listen to personal development stories of success. Consider starting with Marianne Williamson’s book, A Return to Love. Candidly, I’ve not read it yet, but I’ve heard a few of my friends tell me that it was a life-changing book for them. So, one of the things I’m doing for myself, is downloading the book and will make it my book to read for July. Read along with me. Empowering messages can inspire you and clear away the clutter of self-limiting beliefs. They give you a picture of who you really are, what you’re capable of, and the life you want to live. 
  4. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and who inspire you. Perhaps even more important than the books you read, videos you watch or podcasts you listen to, is having a circle of influencers in your life who inspire you and motivate you to create the life you dream of having. Conversely, let go of people in your life who would rather you play small and who make you feel that way. It is possible that some relationships have served their term. It’s okay to let go. I’m reminded of this quote by Paulo Coelho: “Close some doors. Not because of pride, incapacity or arrogance, but simply because they no longer lead somewhere.”

The opportunity cost of an unfulfilled life is too great to bear. When you live below your potential, you are settling for less than you deserve. You may not be in extreme pain, but you deserve more. You are brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous, and you were born to shine.

And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we’re liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

If you enjoyed reading this article, check out more like this by going to my website Your Aha! Life. If you’d like to be surrounded by a community of people who are on the journey of living their best lives, consider joining my private Facebook group, The Aha! Community. You can also follow me on Instagram @tonya.yourahalife or on my YouTube channel Tonya Harris Cornileus.

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