I love me some ambition. There is nothing more fun than riding enthusiasm in the direction of your dreams. But without equal emphasis on thriving as a human being in all aspects of life, ambition can become deadly. Currently, our beliefs around success and work are creating an environment where stress reigns and attacks our hearts, immune systems, bowels, and minds while keeping us awake most nights. I especially see this with my clients and friends in competitive industries like media, technology, and academia. After ten years in the media business as a film producer and now as a personal coach I believe the redefinition of success is essential to our survival and long-term fulfillment.
In my twenties I wouldn't have been caught dead in the self-help section of the bookstore. Um, I didn't need "help." I was a badass film producer who could multi-task and suppress emotion like a superhero. Productivity was next to godliness and navel gazing was for the selfish. I was driven by the traditional definition of success as measured by external validation such as awards, money, "impact," "likes," property, relationship, title, parental approval, and God's favor. I collected as much external validation as I possibly could (Oscar nomination, Emmy, TED fellowship, etc.) But as I entered my third generation on Earth, I experienced a profound loneliness and sense of disconnection. When I looked around at the most "successful" people I knew in the media business, no one had a life I wanted. No one seemed fully alive. In the pursuit of super-hero status we seemed to be abandoning the very essence of being human. It was then that I realized "success," as we know it, is a trap.
It is as though the glory and immortality sought by great warriors like Achilles and Agamemnon has still remained our primary motivation centuries later. We all still seek glory but from behind a computer screen with faux urgency. Now when we "hunt" for love, a home, and a job, it is automated. "There is an app for that!" We watch movies of alien invasions and the post-apocalypse to live vicariously through the hero we long to be. If only the monotony of my day would be interrupted by a giant alien spaceship calling me to duty outside this cubicle studded high-rise.
What if this moment is your alien invasion? The reality is for most of us, in the privileged west, our narratives are filled with epic subtleties. We spend the early parts of our lives living out our childhood conditioning, seeking approval, and hustling after external validation. Then there comes a time when a brutal affliction or very subtle intuition sneaks up on us and we are driven to Google something random, try something, make something, or return to a childhood passion. It is in this moment we are called to battle the aliens or dragons that appear as obstacles on our path. When life as I knew it started to fall apart it was in that moment my soul was calling me to something just beyond my fear. A small voice within was asking me to risk everything I thought I was to experiment with this precious life, discover the truth of who I am, and play all in.
It took total burnout for me to wake up to the ways I was abandoning myself for the ideal image of "success." It was like my soul used the fist of my heart to punch my mind in the face. I can be a bit stubborn. At the time vulnerability was not a word in my vocabulary. Then, of course, after I got depressed I learned that emotions aren't negotiable or suppressible forever. Emotion will be felt whether you want them to or not. Brene Brown's TED talk, The Power of Vulnerability, has over 22 million views for a reason. We all know it is our way out of the feeling of separation but are terrified to feel too much. "What if I lose my mind?" says the Mind. In my experience, vulnerability was the cure for my loneliness. Vulnerability is the language of the soul. The armor we build up inside ourselves serves as a tourniquet to the connection we seek. My heart has guided me to learn this language of vulnerability and coach others to do the same. Only then can our minds become servants to our hearts. We have all the wisdom inside of us already; we just rarely slow down enough to hear it.
I am amazed at how efficient our natural systems are. The moment you stop living the life you planned for just a few moments and sit silently, the path forward will make itself known to you. First, it usually shows up as all the things you have been running from. Being the hero of your own story is no joke. Every day I bear witness to the bravery of those who choose to heal themselves. There is nothing more inspiring than watching someone feel their fear directly, without distraction or an agenda to fix, and then surprise themselves with their own resilience. In this new electrified skin, people are infinitely more creative and alive.
How about we experiment with a new definition of success? What if success meant playing your best life game without compromising your body and heart? What if success is not armoring your heart against pain but instead letting your heart break open again and again to an even greater love? What if we all believed that our worth was inherent and consistent regardless of anything external? If we all created from our wholeness, I believe the world would look very different. The only way to do this is to inquire within, to surrender your armor, and practice vulnerability in every moment. Try it for just five minutes. Just observe your mind. What definition of success are you operating under? No one wants to watch a movie where everyone is "happy" and "successful" all the time. EVERY Disney movie starts with a parent dying for a reason. If we are to accept the privilege of this lifetime and become the hero of our own adventure we must let our pain deepen us. Whether we like it or not our lives include every genre, from drama to romantic comedy to horror. Once we stop fighting with reality and let ourselves feel all of it we may start playing an entirely new game where "likes" are for humans 1.0.
Bristol Baughan is a Private Coach and Founder of Inner Astronauts living in Los Angeles, CA.
P.S. Don't miss "Light Your Fire (& Keep it Lit) New Year Retreat with Bristol Baughan & Rebecca Rogers at Ratna Ling Retreat Sanctuary (Jan 15 - 17, 2016). Develop a clear vision, and set your path to live the life you want. Daily yoga, meditation & more. Learn more at RebeccaRogersYoga.com.