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What Does Getting Your Life Together Mean and How the Heck do You do it?

Danielle Dahl, Lead Contributor

We hear this phrase all the time, and have likely said it to others, but do we really know what it means? I’m sure we all want to “get our lives together.” Most of us try to do just that, but maybe we are going about it the wrong way because we don’t understand what the phrase truly means?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as, “to begin to live in a good and sensible way: to stop being confused, foolish, etc.” That makes it a little clearer, but we each define “good” and “sensible” in different ways, and that’s where this definition gets confusing for people.

Assess your life

How do you define a “good life?” For some, it might mean that you have completed a mental life checklist like:

  • Have a steady job with benefits
  • Own a home
  • Provide stability for your family
  • Maintain a long term monogamous relationship

As I have gotten older, I have learned that everyone’s definition of success is different. Not only that but sometimes your own definition of success changes. Two years ago, I was working a steady job that paid well, had benefits, and was stable. I had just finished up a Master’s in Management and Leadership. I own a home, been married 18 years, and have two children who are great kids. By any account, my life was as together as the next person’s.

I could check nearly all the boxes. I had overcome a traumatic childhood, avoided becoming a drug addict like my parents, and never stepped foot in a prison. My mother had been in and out of jail my whole life, and those things were things I associated with the opposite of living a good life. I had worked so hard to have my life together and do things the opposite of how she had done them.

I had taken college classes while in high school, graduating with an Associate’s degree before graduating from high school. I had been the youngest store manager at one company I worked for early in my career. It had been a concentrated effort, and a well-thought-out plan to “live life in a good way.”

When I was younger, I wanted to be a journalist before I moved across the country to live with my estranged mother. The school here didn’t have a journalism program, so I went with my second love of horses and became an equestrian major. My mother died six months later when I was only 18, and my life spiraled out of the orbit I had charted. Years later, I went back to school, but online. I had been working in management for years at that point, so it was “sensible” to get a degree in business.

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Now, here I was at 35 and it was all wrong. I felt so lost. I started going to therapy. I was depressed and gaining weight. I didn’t like my job, and I wasn’t sure why I was spending so much money and time on a degree that I wasn’t sure I even wanted to use. My mood was affecting how I was at home, and it got harder and harder to be happy with the life around me. I decided I needed to get back to writing.

I wanted to write a book about my life but didn’t know where to start, so I joined a local writer’s group. One author there told me to write about something else, and the other book would come; kind of like the advice about how love finds you when you aren’t looking. I thought, ok great, what else could I write about?

I randomly went for a walk around my house and then read an article about how routines can help change your life. So, I decided I would write a book about what happened when I walked around the lake every single day for a year, regardless of the weather (I live in Montana), or anything else that might pop up. I’m still working on that project (winter keeps killing me), but I did it for 10 months straight.

During that time, though, I learned so much about who I was and who I wanted to be. I became reacquainted with the girl I used to be. I awakened all her dreams and hopes. I started unchecking the boxes. I quit the job I didn’t like, that had the benefits I was so worried about. I started a freelance writing career. I have written articles on everything from management to trauma to pets. I am working on a fiction novel and publish personal blog posts.

It took a few months to get going, but I can earn much more than I did at “work.” I flew to Mexico and had weight loss surgery because I realized I was worth it and wanted to live my best life. I quit being so hard on my kids and husband.

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My life has never felt more together, even though everyone told me I was crazy at one point over the last year. My boss told me I would regret it before six months went by (it’s been nearly a year and only gets better). The point is, maybe your life doesn’t feel put together because that checklist that you are working off of is wrong.

Live in a good way

Who says you can’t have your life together if you aren’t staying in one place? Who decided that you needed to work all kinds of hours to have your life together. Maybe monogamy isn’t your thing, but you are happy and healthy.

If you are living what you consider a good life and aren’t hurting anyone, maybe your life is more together than you realize. Ultimately, it is your life to live, and only you should decide if it is good or not. If you need a checklist, try one that looks like this:

  • Are you enjoying the simplest things life offers? Sunsets? Nature?
  • Do you have meaningful friendships and relationships?
  • Can you make yourself happy without depending on someone else?
  • Is your day filled with something you are passionate about?
  • Do you have ‘enough’ to keep you safe and healthy?
  • Are you staying engaged mentally and physically?

If you answered yes to these, then it may not matter where you live, or how long you have lived at the same address. How many jobs you have held or businesses you have tried might be a concern for you. Society, and other people, may have their own ideas, but they are not living your life. You will know when your life is “together.”

What does getting your life together feel like?

For me, it is knowing that I can provide for my family by doing something I am passionate about. Something that makes me happy to wake up in the morning. When I sit at the computer to write, it feels like I am meant to be here. I carefully choose every word I type to reach someone who needs help and inspiration.

I started taking care of myself too, working on improving my health, both mental and physical. Life is not easy, and there are setbacks, but I do not feel like life is trying to tell me I am on the wrong path. That feeling is how I knew I was getting my life on track.

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I started a life coach certification program, and it really drove home that getting your life together is more about how you think about things. The thoughts you tell yourself matter and learning how to reshape them so you respond to life’s challenges in a more productive way is essential. There will always be something you have to face, but having your life together can help eliminate that sense of chaos and worrying.

There are things you can do to get your life together today. Start with those little everyday things that you know you should do, but don’t. Drink more water, make healthy food choices, and exercise daily. Build routines that work for your life and start prioritizing yourself.

Talk to someone about the negative thoughts you might have, but be careful not to ruminate on them. According to Bridget Murray Law, that type of behavior makes things harder to handle and increases depression.

Here is a quick list of things that you can do right now to help get your life together:

  • Define your goals and have a system on how to reach them.
  • Build your tribe of people who will support you as you learn and grow.
  • Stop pretending you don’t know what you want and own who you are.
  • Be more mindful and practice gratitude.
  • Dive into your fears and develop a plan to face them.

Focus more on those types of things and less on the checklist that someone else used to define success, and you will be amazed at how much more you feel you are living life in a good and stable way.

What does getting your life together mean for you? Share your thoughts in the comment section below, and maybe your story will inspire someone else to take stock of how they can improve their life. We can all try to figure out how to get our life together, well together, and live our lives filled with the most beauty and purpose we can muster.

“None of us understand what we’re doing, but we do beautiful things anyway.” — Allen Ginsberg

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