He stared, his eyes fixed on some distant nothing over my shoulder. His fingers absently caressed the handle of his coffee mug. After a few seconds that seemed like longer, he regained his focus and took a steadying sip of his drink. Looking back at me, he said, “I just feel like something is missing.”
I was listening to my friend John share over an early morning coffee. And I knew exactly what he was going through.
Have you ever felt like something was missing in your life?
Maybe something just feels off. Maybe you find yourself looking for something, but you aren’t sure what. Maybe life seems to be passing you by.
I think anyone who is honest will tell you they’ve been there. I’ve been there. I’ve been in that place. And if you’re reading this, you probably have too.
I’m going to share with you the advice I gave John, though I’ll admit our conversation didn’t come out in a nice cohesive list. But if you feel like John did, here are five steps you can take to get closer to where you want to be.
1. Spend some time in silence.
Silence is like water for the soul. There’s a difference between being a little thirsty, and being dehydrated.
Can we survive without silence? Sure, for a time. Can we get by when our world is constantly filled with noise? Yes, just like you can survive on only soda without ever taking a drink of water. But if you really want to thrive, you need water. The same is true with silence.
Silence nourishes us. It sustains us. It elevates us. When you get to a point in your life when you feel like something is missing, the first place to look is the role silence has in your daily routine. Clarity emerges from silence. And you will need that clarity to determine what is missing in your life.
Try entering into the classroom of silence to get yourself right. This one step—repeated daily—might just be enough. Take ten minutes, go to a comfortable place, leave the phone and tablet in the other room, avoid the television and other people, and just get into some quiet.
2. Define your expectations.
One of the questions I asked John was, “How do you expect you should feel?” This one question made all the difference for him. Why?
Because he didn’t know.
After considering the question for a moment, he realized that he didn’t know how he expected to feel. He knew he didn’t feel right, but he didn’t know why, and—I think more importantly—he didn’t know how he thought he should feel. He hadn’t even considered the question.
If you are feeling like something is missing in your life, this is the first question you should bring into your classroom of silence. Do you think you should feel happy? What does that look like? Do you think you should feel that way all the time? Maybe happy isn’t the right word. Content? Joyous? Peaceful?
If you feel like something is missing, it might just be that you need to spend more time figuring out your answers to life’s biggest questions.
If you spend some time with this question you might just find what you are looking for. Maybe it’s more peace. Maybe it’s more joy. Maybe it’s more happiness. Maybe it’s more companionship. Maybe it’s purpose. Your thing probably isn’t the same as my thing and it’s probably not the same thing as those of your coworkers, friends, neighbors, or spouse. That’s okay.
Define your expectations and you are going to find what’s missing. You might not know how to get it. You might not know why you feel like you are missing it. But at least you’ll know what it is.
3. Do a little life tracking.
I’d recommend to this to just about anyone, no matter what they are experiencing in life.
Life tracking simply means paying extra close attention to all of your sensory experiences throughout a day: food and drinks, sleep, temperature, weather, interactions with other people, entertainment, silence, etc.
Get yourself a simple journal. Keep track of when you wake up and go to bed, what you eat and drink, what you wear, how the weather is, who you interact with, how much time you spend working, exercising, watching TV, and other activities. Go hour by hour if you can. A super easy way to do this is to use a daily planner, but instead of filling your schedule out in advance of the day, fill it out as the day goes on.
Then, begin to note—you can just put a star right in your journal—when you feel this sense that something is missing. If you were able to identify something specific in step two, then you can also track that.
So let’s say in step two you identified that you expected to feel more companionship. Pay close attention to when you feel lonely, and note that in your tracker.
After doing this for a few days, start looking for trends. It just might be that something you are doing, something you’re eating, or someone you are interacting with is making you feel like something is missing. Identify what that is, and take the appropriate next step.
4. Dig deeper.
Okay, at this point, hopefully you have added some more time in silence, you’ve identified what you really feel like you are missing, and you’ve begun to track your daily life to identify what triggers feeling that way.
Now it’s time to dig a little deeper. What are you looking for?
You’re looking for why.
Identifying the why is super important, because it’s hard to make any changes without a strong sense of why you are doing it.
Why do you feel lonely, or sad, or without purpose? Whatever the thing you’re looking for is that you identified in step two, now is the time to figure out why.
You might have identified some triggers in step three, but underneath the triggers and the emotions there is likely something else going on. Here you find two more great questions to bring to the classroom of silence:
Why do I feel like this is missing?
Why do I feel this way when that happens?
I want to try to make this as concrete as possible, but the truth is this is really an exercise in thinking deeply. Don’t just gloss over the “why” question. Take fifteen or twenty minutes and really roll it around in your head. Do that for a couple of days. Write things down if you need to.
You are likely to find memories or experiences that are at the root of your “why.” Identifying the why is super important, because it’s hard to make any changes without a strong sense of why you are doing it.
So, for example, let’s say you have recognized that what you are really feeling is a lack of purpose, and you notice that you really begin to feel that way when you have to work on a certain project at your job. You begin to dig deeper and realize you have some reservations about the intent of the people on the project team. You realize that if the people you work with have a questionable intent or motives, you struggle to feel passion and purpose in your work.
Now that you know why you feel this lack of purpose, you can take steps to change it. Without the why, you would have never known what to change!
So take some time to get at the why.
5. Ask the big questions of life.
For thousands of years, men and women of every age, race, and culture have sought to understand the meaning of life. And it seems to me that this search can be boiled down into five questions.
Until you have answered these questions and begin to live your life accordingly, you will never truly feel fulfilled.
We might articulate the questions slightly differently. We might not even be aware that we are asking the questions. But how we answer these questions determines the shape, form, and direction that our lives take on:
- Who am I?
- Where did I come from?
- What am I here for?
- How do I do it?
- Where am I going?
Knowingly and unknowingly, each of us seeks to answer these questions in our own way. They are the questions that hungry hearts place at the center of their lives.
Philosophically, this may all be very sound. Practically, however, the process of answering these five questions and conforming our lives to the answers we find can be very difficult.
But I know this: until you have answered these questions and begin to live your life accordingly, you will never truly feel fulfilled. You will always feel like something is missing.
— Dynamic Catholic (@DynamicCatholic) November 17, 2018
If you feel like something is missing, it might just be that you need to spend more time figuring out your answers to life’s biggest questions. Can you figure it out on your own? Sure. But experience can be a brutal teacher. But if you want to explore some hard-earned wisdom on life’s biggest questions, I recommend you check out Matthew Kelly’s bestseller The Rhythm of Life.
The last thing you should know when you feel like something is missing:
You are not alone.
You are not alone. You’re never alone in that feeling. You’re never alone in these questions. John was there, and he needed to hear that. I’ve been there. We’ve all been there. Take comfort in knowing that you are on a journey—one of life’s most important journeys.