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Fame, money, power — all are external measures of success. But without fulfillment, all of that means nothing. When we struggle, it can lead us into dark places that can only be illuminated by choice to move beyond them. That kind of happiness comes from within.

On the Meaningful Way: Living What Matters podcast, we talk a lot about connections, and specifically, a link to a bigger picture for our lives beyond our circumstances. I had the privilege of speaking with Charlie Mills on a recent episode about how to recognize that connection that’s pulling you forward and commit to acting on it.

Charlie Mills envisioned himself becoming a professional drummer at the age of 13, and by age 32, he fulfilled that dream, performing for thousands of fans on tour. He took that passion and created a program for young New Jersey drummers to pass on his experience. Along the journey, his path was derailed by addiction, leading to jail, divorce, bankruptcy, and loss of his career. Charlie turned his life around from the effects of his illness, becoming a drug and alcohol counselor, and eventually a life coach after going through the iPEC training program.

What’s at the heart of the work you are doing now?

There is an opioid crisis in New Jersey, where Charlie counsels, as well as around the country. His connection to substance abuse, as well as his connection to wanting to stay home with his loving wife instead of being on the road,  led him to work in the substance abuse industry. It was important for Charlie to share what he had done wrong, and what he did right, with people in recovery to help them heal.

How did you get so clear about what you wanted to do?

Charlie’s introduction to music came from his Aunt Sheila’s record collection she left behind when she went off to war in the 70’s. Listening to Led Zeppelin changed his life. He got a drum kit at age 13 and had banged on things ever since. The moment he knew he wanted to be a musician was in a crowd of 3,500 people at the Palladium in New York City for a Rush concert. He sat down, while the rest of the place was standing, imagining what it would be like to be sitting on the stage as the drummer. Without knowing how he’d get there, Charlie felt like music chose him and there was no going back.

What happens next when you are pulled forward by a dream?

Never losing sight of the vision creates the motivation to move forward. Charlie spent nights just listening to his headphones, envisioning being up on that stage making a difference for thousands of fans. Even though his family wondered what was going on with him when he pulled away from school activities, grew out his hair, and started dressing like a musician, they soon realized that he was serious about his passion.

When we find things are natural for us, it’s like a rhythm that connects us. An effortlessness can come through at that moment.

What were some of the highs and lows along the road?

On the path of his career, Charlie played in New Jersey cover bands seven nights a week. Even though he was a local rock star, there was no endgame involved. Due to a lack of satisfaction, he started drinking. His lifestyle then became more about the party than about the music. As his drinking turned to harder substances, he found himself in jail for attempted murder one morning, not remembering what had happened.

Hitting bottom cost him his career, but he got sober. Looking for more, he got introduced to Anthony Robbins’ Personal Power CD, went through the program, and got his first taste of what it was like to work with a coach. Having that accountability piece in his life was the missing link.

What do you mean about happiness being an inside job?

When Charlie was going through a 12-step program for recovery, his sponsor imparted some wisdom to him that stuck — happiness is an inside job. Rather than looking outside of ourselves, or to alcohol or drugs, we can look within — to our integrity, our commitments, and for the opportunities in life. To have a life of true happiness, it must be one of fulfillment. We need to connect to what matters most and to what holds meaning for you.

When we help people beyond ourselves, our lives get bigger. Through connecting, and going beyond our self-limitations, we can live our meaningful way.

Check out Charlie Mill’s interview in its entirety on the Meaningful Way podcast. Click below.

Also published on Medium.