"Go to school. Get a job. Get ahead." These are the echoes of a society that thrives on success.
We are encouraged to "do," but rarely allowed to just "be." It is interesting that our society places such a high value on success. Television and movies portray actors and sports figures as successful and happy. Yet many of them are not happy. They drown their unhappiness in alcohol, drugs, sex, food or other vices. Their cries for help go unnoticed. After all, they are successful, so they must be happy, right? Nothing could be further from the truth. It may surprise you to know that many people you know who appear to be successful and happy are really not very happy. Look around your office right now. How many people would jump at the chance to do something else if they knew it would pay them the same and provide some level of security?
Are you one of them?
When I announced my intention to leave my corporate job, most of my coworkers and employees stopped by my office to wish me well and confide in me that they were jealous that I was leaving. They told me they wished they had the guts to do the same. Perhaps fear stopped them or perhaps their life's circumstances prevented a move at that moment. Whatever the reason, I found it very sad to know that the people I had worked with were, for the most part unhappy, and even sadder, to know that they were afraid of taking action to improve their own situation and life.
Society characterizes success by the attainment of some type of external goal. It may include getting or achieving wealth, respect, position, honors or fame. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary defines success as "the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame." The ingredient missing from success is also missing from its definition. There is no mention of how success will make us feel. Although we all strive for some measure of success, there is nothing in this definition that tells us how success will feel once we have attained it. How will our lives change as a result? These are the things we don't know, and won't know until we have attained the goals we strive for.
Success is elusive. Most of the time life doesn't turn out the way we think it should. And sometimes it turns out exactly the way we dreamed, but it was not what we thought it would be. After graduating, from college I was hired as a systems analyst for a major oil company in Houston, Texas. Through the following decade, I climbed the corporate ladder through a series of strategic job changes and successful projects. I was making more money than I had ever made in my life. I had the corner office, the title, and the company car. I was the epitome of success, or so it seemed. Although I had achieved the level of success that I had strived for in my career, I was not happy. I was miserable, and I felt guilty about being so unhappy. I had it all, right? I should have been happy -- but I wasn't. Why hadn't achieving all of that success guaranteed my happiness?
The reason success is so elusive is that we fail to define for ourselves what will truly make us happy. We get caught up in society's definition of what success should look like. We don't take time to reflect and think about what success should look like or feel like for us. My definition of success and happiness will be very different from your definition. It is personal. That is why you are the only one who can do this work. You must gain clarity about what a happy and successful life looks like for you.
I had a client one time who told me that figuring out what she really wanted was too hard. She could easily tell me what she didn't want, but she couldn't articulate what she did want. Guess what? This is a common problem. It is like the whack-a-mole game. By focusing on what we don't want, we actually bring more of it into our lives. Then we are constantly battling through those very things we don't want, but that we continue to focus on.
I had another client who was a successful photographer. She had started her business several years before and had built a successful business. She was making enough money from her business to support her family. She was well known and sought after in the community because of the quality of her work. In spite of her success, she was constantly in fear of running out of money. Her thoughts were constantly on worrying about not having enough. Her fear held her back. It kept her from making important investments and expanding and growing her business. By focusing on not having enough money, she actually kept her business from growing which would have brought her more money and eliminated the need to worry about not having enough. Her inability to envision what it would be like to have more money effectively kept her in a constant spiral and state of worry.
To change our circumstances, we must first change our thoughts. We must gain clarity about those things we do want. When we do, we can focus on the right things and will attract more of them. Figuring out what you really want and what will really make you happy is hard. It may be the hardest thing you ever do.
But, you can do it. You have to be intentional, and you have to start sometime if you really want to have the life you sometimes dream about. Over the next few weeks, we'll talk about the tools and exercises necessary to help you figure out who you are and what you were meant to do in this world.
Let's get started...