Direct Core Relationships

Have you thought much about the core relationships you’d like to cultivate with life, such as your relationships with work, people, physical reality, your body, government, creativity, entertainment, time, food, intimacy, home, etc?

You surely have many specific instances of these relationships showing up in your life, such as a particular job or family member. But have you ever stepped back from the specifics to make some high-level decisions about the purest forms of these relationships that you want to experience? There’s tremendous power in doing this since it helps you elevate your standards, define boundaries, sculpt your character, and make wiser decisions.

Remember this: You won’t necessarily get what you want; you’ll get what you tolerate.

If you want to experience your desires, stop tolerating less than your desires. Don’t be so easily seduced by partial matches.

Repeatedly engaging with whatever shows up in your life and making decisions based on the menu that life presents you, however randomly, can eventually lead to a semi-chaotic mess. You may end up with a job that’s so-so, work that lacks purpose, a place to live that’s just okay, a romantic relationship that sometimes works but is mostly stringing you along, a body you wish would be better, and so on. Ordering off the limited standard menu is a surefire pathway to the land of partial matches.

Consider the difference between these three options:

  1. Go to a typical restaurant, and mkae the best choice you can by ordering off the menu.
  2. Pre-decide what type of meal (from anywhere) would please you most, and then either make it yourself or go to the restaurant where you expect to find that meal.
  3. Reflect and decide what kind of high-level relationships you want to have with food, dining, and your body; then determine which meals would most honor those relationships and where you can find those meals.

In the first case you’re more likely to receive a partial match or a mismatch. In the second case, you’re being more proactive about clarifying what a match looks like and where you can expect to find it. In the third case, you’re assuming even more responsibility by reflecting upon the big picture and how you can honor your most consciously chosen standards.

The third case let’s you channel more power and make lower level decisions that you might not otherwise consider. For instance, you might move to a different part of town to be closer to the healthiest food options. Or move to a city with the kind of culture you really want to experience. It’s difficult to justify these kinds of decisions, if you haven’t clarified and committed to your high-level standards.

Accepting the Obvious

One benefit of thinking at the higher level and making decisions there first is that it helps you accept the obvious. You’ll recognize when you’re going to the wrong restaurant for you because it won’t satisfy your high-level standards. It won’t honor the direct core relationship you want to experience.

Many people don’t want to face this simple truth, so they remain in denial, telling themselves they’ll just have to make the best of what shows up. I get emails from people living in the Bible Belt, for instance, lamenting that they can’t seem to find intelligent, open-minded relationship partners there. Ya think?

Another common instance is when someone would choose to do creative work yet finds themselves in an uncreative department, an uncreative school, an uncreative company, or an uncreative field. They may get sucked into thinking of their career options based on the limited field of “opportunities” around them, instead of acknowledging the obvious.

When you look deeply into your desires and decide what you want at the higher levels, it’s important to accept the obvious, which is that you won’t get far unless you commit to those standards, which means you’re going to have to start dismissing and rejecting partial matches.

Passing the Test

Most likely when you make some high-level decisions – real decisions, not wishy-washy pretend ones – about the direct core relationships you want with different area of life, you’ll find life testing your resolve. You may encounter even more partial matches or mismatches, as if life is tempting you to settle for less. It is tempting you. Life wants to find out how certain and committed you are. It doesn’t want to meet your standard if it doesn’t have to.

This is the time when it’s most important to maintain your standards and keep them high. Accept the test that life is offering you, and pass it by rejecting the partial matches. Keep reaffirming what you want. Don’t settle. Reminder yourself that the direct core relationship you want is possible, but not if you settle for less.

If you want to do work that feels meaningful and purposeful to you, decline the job that’s almost purposeful. Hold out for the one that really lights you up.

If you want a sexually engaging relationship, decline the partial match that feels sexually stunted.

Passing the test includes dealing with the inner objections that may arise along the way, like the voice that tells you you’re being unreasonable, the voice of impatience, and so on.


Don’t expect a free ride because relationships run both ways. Clarify what you’re willing and able to give to each relationship as well as what you desire to receive. What’s the overall experiential package?

If you want to do creative work sustainably, what’s your commitment on the giving side? In addition to publishing your work, will you also mentor and support others? Will you share openly about your creative process to help other creative people?

If you want a generous lover, will you also be a generous lover? Is that part of your commitment too?

For many people it’s easier to raise their standards on one side (giving or receiving) and harder on the other. Some people find it relatively easy to clarify their personal desires, but they aren’t offering much to life in exchange, so the offer falls flat. Other people find it natural to give and serve others, but they find it difficult to decline situations where they aren’t receiving much.

Regardless of the challenges, life seems to appreciate (and often require) reciprocity, especially when it’s so deeply woven into the offer that we no longer see much separation between the two sides.

A Personal Example: Community vs. Commerce

One example of a direct core relationship decision was that I wanted to socialize directly with the people I serve through my work and business. This decision was largely born of pain from doing the opposite at first. During the first five years of running my computer games business in the 1990s, I mainly worked with publishers. They would fund my game projects, but all of the customers would be theirs. Note that this was before social media, so there weren’t already established ways to build direct relationships with customers. There was no Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, etc. There was no Google yet either.

I soon discovered that I found more joy in these direct customer relationships than I did in going through publishers as gatekeepers. I kept leaning in this direction, releasing some small games directly online, even though it wasn’t working very well financially at first. Customers began emailing me feedback, so I could finally interact with them a little. I added a customer discussion forum to my website way before that was popular. I also hosted an indie developer forum for many years to connect with peers in the field. These weren’t financially lucrative decisions, but I felt more engaged with the business when I made more community-oriented choices. It just seemed like the right standard for my overall happiness, and over time I began clarifying the importance of this community relationship aspect and choosing to do it more consciously.

This direct community aspect remains a big part of my life and work to this day, both with customers and with peers, and I’ve explored it in many more ways, such as with our workshops, courses, and Conscious Growth Club.

Another aspect of my work is that I like to run my life and business based on casual social rules as opposed to commercial rules as much as possible. It’s important to make a sustainable income and to deliver on business commitments and responsibilities, but otherwise I prefer to operate with a more community- and service-oriented mindset and heartset. That’s one reason I like to open Conscious Growth Club for new members only once a year. This allows us to get the transactional part handled in a week, and then we can spend the rest of the year relating, connecting, and growing as human beings without having to deal with any commercial aspects. There aren’t any upsells or financially-oriented decisions to deal with inside the club, and that’s exactly how I like it. I prefer to focus on serving and connecting with people as friends and colleagues inside, and I like having a community that resonates with that approach.

Many businesses are very businessy. It’s obvious that they play mainly by commercial rules, not social ones. I think they have their place in the world, but I never resonated with working in that kind of operation, nor with building one. I love intimacy – and hugs – and too much commercialization gets in the way of that. I do what’s necessary on the financial side to keep my life and work abundantly sustainable, but I’m way more motivated by community and connection. Most days that I’m working, I don’t think about money at all. I spend way more time thinking about the people that I regularly connect with.

So this is an example of acknowledging that the businessy way of doing business isn’t a match for me. It’s not even a partial match. It’s just a mismatch. It doesn’t help me create the kind of life I want to experience.

In considering the direct core relationship I want to have with my work and business, I’ve been able to clarify that I want to prioritize the community and co-creative exploration aspects above the commercial aspects. This helps me make more aligned decisions that feel right to me. I like being a person who can freely explore, share, and connect with people in deep and meaningful ways. I like being a person who doesn’t put so much emphasis on transactions yet who can still manage that aspect of life and business without feeling overly resistant to it. I like earning enough money that I can ignore money most of the time, so I can focus more energy and attention on what matters.

Living by Your Own Rules

Pay attention to how you feel when following different rules and standards. Notice where inner objections arise. How do you feel when a business treats you only like the money you’re worth to them. How do you feel when people set commerce aside and connect like real human beings, even when there’s a transactional aspect involved?

How do you feel about the standards you’re currently honoring in life? Are any of these standards screaming for an upgrade?

It’s a Sunday morning, and I felt inspired to write and publish this right after I got up, before having any breakfast. Is today a workday? I don’t know. I just like honoring the energy of inspiration when it shows up; that’s part of the direct core relationship with life that I enjoy and appreciate.

In a few weeks, I’ll be traveling to Belfast, Edinburgh, and London. I’ve been to London twice before, but this will be my first time in Northern Ireland and Scotland. I love exploring new places; it lights me up inside, and it further honors the core relationship I want to have with life – a highly engaged one.

What are the rules and standards by which you want to live? I encourage you to reflect upon them and clarify what really matters to you. Realize that you needn’t follow anyone else’s rules or expectations. If you don’t like the rules that have been presented to you, rewrite them. You’re not limited to the current menu.

Steve Pavlina

Steve Pavlina is an American self-help author, motivational speaker and entrepreneur. He is the author of the web site and the book Personal Development for Smart People.

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