I’ve spent a lifetime chasing achievements.
High school popularity – Check.
Impact the world as a Peace Corps Volunteer – Check.
Graduate with honors from a top MBA program – Check
Get the job at the impossible to get into company – Check, Check, Check.
With each of these accomplishments, I never allowed myself time to celebrate and truly enjoy the moment. The fear monger was always there, reluctantly handing me the achievement trophy, while letting me know that my time is running out.
This is no time to take my foot off the pedal, this is the time to double down. The Imposter Police are closing in. After each achievement, my eyes would start darting around for the next mountain of external validation to hurl myself against.
I know I’m not alone. You know this story. You are also intimately familiar with the race for success and external validation.
Then, one day everything changed for me.
The moment I took a step back and realized that success doesn’t bring happiness.
There are two realizations that led to that ah-ha moment that I’ll share with you. Two culturally ingrained untruths about success and happiness, that are intertwined and stronger as a result.
Untruth 1: Success Requires Suffering
You’ve all heard it. There’s a very good chance you’ve said it. And let’s be honest, you also believe it.
“No pain no gain.”
The belief that you need to suffer in order to succeed has infected our psyche. Look around. Crossfit. Barry’s Boot Camp. The latest 10 day cleanse. New Year’s resolutions. Med school. Law firms.
We wear “sacrifice in the pursuit of success” as a badge of honor. We keep running, keep burning the midnight oil, believing that as soon as we get the next achievement, we’ll be happy. We’ll finally step off the hamster wheel and enjoy the life we’ve worked so hard to create.
But the hamster wheel is sticky.
How can you get off, when everyone else is still running and there is always a new goal to reach for?
Have you ever stopped to ask yourself if this is the race you want to be in? Have you stopped to ask your self what you’re running for?
Untruth 2: Success Brings Happiness
If you’re like me, you’re running in the pursuit of happiness. Sure, we dress the race up in different names without ever consciously acknowledging that we believe these external “achievement trophies” will ultimately bring happiness. Success. Praise. Fame. Envy. Money.
But somewhere along the line, this new virus seeped into our subconscious nestling next to “no pain, no gain”. The untruth that success brings happiness. The belief that success and happiness are two sides of the same coin. In order to be happy, we need external validation and external achievement. We need to go through pain to earn success and ultimately to achieve happiness.
But the truth is, while a promotion might give us a quick hit of joy, that joy is fleeting. Soon we’re right back in the same place wondering why we feel empty, looking for another way to fill the bottomless hole inside. External validation is a fickle companion and a poor strategy to happiness. It’s like pulling an all-nighter every night of your college experience. Not sustainable.
If success doesn’t guarantee happiness, then what does?
Happiness comes from gratitude and listening to your heart.
Happiness comes from being grateful for who you are and what you have. When you focus your energy on gratitude your perspective shifts, everything changes. Gratitude fills the hole inside.
This perspective shift also allows you to become clear on the things that bring you the most joy. These are sign posts. If you pay attention to them, lean in, and start following them. You’ll begin to chart a path to a fulfilling life (instead of feeling trapped in one soul-sucking place after another).
I can feel you rolling your eyes, heaving a big sigh, thinking “it’s a lot easier to put my head down and work hard.”
True. That does feel easier. After all, you’ve been practicing the “work hard” approach for decades. This approach is part of your identity, part of how you value yourself. But you also know this approach doesn’t work. This approach is not the path to happiness. If it was, you would have had an A+ in happiness by the time you were 9 years old.
So now what?
You know that gratitude is the pathway to happiness, so what are you going to do about it?
How will you use your finely tuned work ethic and redirect it to get into the driver’s seat and start intentionally taking steps that create a life you love.