By Melissa Burton, LCSW, CMC
Who comes to mind when you envision a successful person? Society often looks to wealthy and notable people as successful, but often these people are incredibly unhappy. From tragic tabloid tales and the recent high-profile suicides like Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, societal success sometimes comes at the expense of happiness. Many celebrities now openly admit to depression and anxiety including, Lady Gaga, Owen Wilson, Sarah Silverman, and Demi Lovato just to name a few. The façade of success can even creep into our neighborhoods and communities. Money, power, and popularity may “look” like success, but they are not the keys to happiness. Success, not unlike failure, is a state of mind that you can cultivate, but it comes from the inside out and not the outside in.
Where most people get off course is their approach to success
Consider the following:
Do you ever feel like you are on a hamster wheel in life? Once you arrive at your long-awaited destination you realize you need to keep moving. No time to enjoy where you have been, on to the next goal. Have you been planning for success as some distant goal barely visible on the horizon? Does it look like retirement on a sunny beach or reaching the corner office at work? Is it having a healthy well-adjusted family? Or is it having a large following on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter?
The problem with defining success as a future set point to achieve is that it fades like a mirage once you arrive at your goal. Why? Because you can’t stop time and once you get to the corner office it comes with more responsibilities, the beach gets boring after a week, families evolve and happiness one day can be strife the next, and ten thousand followers on Instagram feels small once you achieve it. Life doesn’t stop when you achieve your goals. Emotions continue to come and go like the weather, even the bad ones. Success doesn’t elude sorrow and it doesn’t last. Success from this perspective is just like failure—volatile and impermanent.
So, how can you focus instead on success as a journey and not as a destination?
- Stay true to yourself – Are you living someone else’s hopes and dreams? Living according to the expectations of others can be soul-crushing. This tendency can show up when you allow strong people in your life to dictate your choices, and it can also show up when you compare yourself to others. Social media, like Facebook and Instagram, is not the full picture of someone’s life. Remember when you compare yourself to these images you are comparing your inside to their outside. When you stifle your true self, it can manifest itself into stress, depression, anxiety and even physical ailments. Take time to evaluate what motivates you and assess if you are living in alignment with your purpose and not an external driver like the all-consuming mirage of social media. I once heard someone say that we are more easily offended by an insult to the masks we wear, but when we are living our truth in authenticity we can let go of other people’s opinions more easily.
- Learn to appreciate where you are – Each day that we are on this earth is unique and full of learning. Sometimes those lessons really stink, but each one of them is a brick in your life that creates who you are. Using yesterday and today to build a better tomorrow requires appreciating all of the experiences you are given. I like to say that your successes are like bricks and failure is the mortar. You can’t build anything important and substantial without both. Celebrate today’s you. Acknowledge how far you have come and appreciate this moment in time. As the wise Master Oogway from the movie Kung Fu Panda said, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the ‘present.’”
- Embrace your emotions… all of them. A homeless man will have a good day and a billionaire will have a bad day. None of us escapes our human condition. You can try to numb yourself from unpleasant emotions or artificially force happiness, but these fabrications of life often catch up with you. Learning to sit with your emotions and letting them come and go like the weather creates resiliency and strength. It also takes practice, lots and lots of practice.
These three steps are simple but not easy. You may not know where to start and who you are may be lost underneath the spinning hamster wheel. The good news is you don’t have to figure this out on your own. Sitting down with a professional counselor can help you wade through the clutter in your mind distracting you from knowing who you are and where you want to go. You can become successful and be your best self by taking care of both your mind and your thoughts like you would your physical body. You go to a gym to strengthen your body. Why not go to a counselor to strengthen your mind and emotional intelligence? Call Connection First Counseling today to start your journey.