top of page

Elan Vitae


  • Michael Scholtz


“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” — Audrey Hepburn

Renewal is an integral part of the natural cycle. Growth is followed by maturity, maturity by slowing, slowing by decay, decay by death, and death by rebirth.

At times the death is literal and complete; one generation giving way to another. Other times only a part of a living thing dies, having fully served its purpose and falling away so that thriving may occur. This can be spectacular, like the changing colors of maples, oaks, and aspens in the fall. Other times it’s more clandestine, like the billions of new cells your body generates each day. And renewal at its most demanding can be hard, like a cub striking out on her own or you deciding to leave a job or a relationship that no longer nourishes you.

For the lion and the oak, motivation to grow is innate. Animals “play” at fighting or hunting and plants and trees reach instinctively for the nourishment of the sun’s rays.

It is no different for human beings. Even when growth seems more structured and a product of conscious and intentional choice; like the motivation of an athlete or an entrepreneur to succeed, most competitors will tell you that true desire lives in a place that transcends the X’s and O’s of a game or business plan. You possess the acumen to create outlines, models and predictive equations and arrive at well thought out and organized strategies, but the yearning that helps you be resolute through the rough times and against all odds comes from someplace deeper.

Following this logic reveals a way to harness the immense potential for renewal that nature offers every living thing. By listening to your needs and honoring your instincts, you can grow intentionally, fully, and with joy.

Tuning into your needs

That said, listening to your needs can be harder than it sounds! Your needs have lots of competition in our overstimulated world. At every turn is a temptation to scroll or to spectate. And there is family and job to tend to. Of course, significant relationships and a flourishing career can be enormously important parts of a fulfilling life but it’s easy to lose yourself in the needs of others.

One powerful litmus test you can use to increase awareness of your needs is listening to your emotions. Emotions give you very important and clear messages about whether your needs are being met. The basic relationship is when your needs are met you feel positive emotions, and when a need is unmet you feel negative emotions.

Yes, this still requires tuning in. But emotions have a way of getting your attention.

Emotions show up in your body in undeniable and powerful ways. When you are livid, ecstatic, sullen, or serene you can feel it physically. Anger might cause you to sweat, your voice to shake, or your muscles to tense. Joy can bring a smile, laughter, and a lightness in your chest. Calm may evoke a sigh as you feel your shoulders relax.

When you’re going to work, talking to a significant other, or exercising, notice what emotions are coursing through your body. Ask yourself why it’s there. What need is met, or unmet? You’ll gain essential insights into how much that part of your life is meeting your needs. With practice you’ll become more adept not only at noticing when you’re having an emotional reaction, but also at exploring what need is underneath it.

Following your instincts

“An optimist is the human personification of spring.” — Susan J. Bissonette

When you’re aware of your emotions and their connection to your needs, you gain awareness into how you can live fully. Just like the lion and the oak, you can follow your instincts.

A negative emotion is nature’s way of telling you that something is off. Perhaps you’re in a situation that is unpleasant or dangerous and your emotions signal the need to move to safety. But it can be much more subtle. It may be that every time you think about starting an exercise program you feel shame creep to the surface; or when a friend brings up the idea that the two of you go on a diet you notice resentment washing over you.

These are clues that those strategies may not be right for you. Perhaps the type of exercise you have done in the past is wrought with the likelihood that you’ll feel embarrassed. Or going on a diet feels like a tedious sacrifice forced on you by the rest of the world rather than something you truly want to do.

What would the lion or the oak do? They would follow the path their instincts tell them will lead to strength and vitality. They would seek the thing that promises satisfaction and even joy. Ultimately, they would choose what serves the biggest purpose in their life.

Setting down the roots for growth

Human beings are often wracked by thoughts of obligations; “I should” or “I have to”. It’s true that some parts of your life will require you to do something unpleasant or unwanted, such as working late or paying your bills.

Taking a new perspective on things you’d rather not do can assist you in navigating hard moments and becoming more autonomous and fulfilled. For example, you might choose the perspective that working late helps your co-workers, your company and represents an opportunity instead of a burden or you might view paying taxes as a way of contributing to the good of your community and your country.

But our conversation here goes beyond that level of growth. Paying attention to your needs also presents the possibility of thriving.

Following the guidance of nature and using your instincts gives you the skillset you need to reach for the life you want. When you understand your needs, you are connecting to what makes you truly you. You connect to your essence and can honestly and authentically say out loud how you want to spend your time and energy, what you want to accomplish, what fills your life with meaning, and where you find your bliss. The depth of motivation you feel when you reach these truths is magnificent and full of potential.

And with that kind of motivation inside you, the impetus to act becomes irresistible. The desire to realize your vision compels you forward.

To others this will look like you have immense willpower. But to you it will feel as if you are simply following your instincts and growing in ways that are organic and right. Your path will be clear, and your motivation resilient, though on the hardest days you’ll think it’s left you. When you are following the call of your needs and what you believe in with all your heart, you possess an innate drive to push toward your growth edges.

You will be at peace like the lion on the savannah and the oak in the forest, confident in who you are, strong enough to achieve what you need and want, and joyful in and grateful for the chance to renew yourself.

Photo Credit: Tim Manske


bottom of page