One of my clients, a successful lawyer, recently confessed that as she was pushing to accomplish one of her goals, and stressing about whether she could in fact make it happen, she was stopped in her tracks by a single insight. She realized she really didn’t want that particular goal. Has this ever happened to you?
Carol (my client) didn’t know why she hadn’t realized this sooner. But then, she was busy, involved in all the details, involved with other people who were part of this project, wanting to look good in their eyes, to demonstrate that she could make it happen. Everyone else was fully engaged, believed in the cause, spoke the same language and wanted the same things. But suddenly, she could see that their goal wasn’t her goal, and she had been caught up in the momentum of their expectations. She felt like a fish out of water.
It’s considered normal to strive for ambitious goals in a culture where job titles, wealth and power are often the common measures of success. And yet, those measures of success never quite replace whatever insecurities we’ve brought with us into adulthood. They often magnify them. Worry, self doubt and fear may still be driving us, but it becomes more difficult to identify when our sole focus is the accomplishment and acclaim of an end result and not the internal rewards of the process itself.
When Carol and I started exploring how it was possible that she could have lost sight of what she did or didn’t want, she realized something else: even after all this time as a “grownup” in a well-respected career, she was still trying to prove something. To other people, certainly, but most of all, to herself. And it became a never ending cycle: the more she accomplished, the less she recognized that trying to prove herself was an underlying motive. What Carol needed - and began to do - was stop listening to what others expected of her and listen to what she wanted for herself.
So how did she do that? Carol made a point of making time to get quiet and feel into where she was at this point in her life and ask herself what was truly important. She began to identify what was rewarding and what was a burden, and what she could stop doing. She started noticing where she was postponing her own happiness - sacrificing something that would give her pleasure in order to get something done that someone else expected of her. She began to make changes, small ones at first, that allowed her to enjoy life, to rest, to play and appreciate what was all around her rather than just get through another day. And the sense of isolation that had characterized that need to prove herself began to give way to feelings of freedom and being connected to something greater. She found herself smiling more, sleeping better, and learning how to trade proving herself for finding herself.
This didn’t happen overnight. She asked for help and acted on what rang true for her. The more she followed that sense of rightness, that inner guidance, if you will, the more clarity she had about the direction she wanted her life to take.
Any good story involves a protagonist who comes up against a challenge that requires making choices, taking action and hopefully transcending that challenge. Carol had no idea that her challenge would be to let go of the need to prove herself, or that letting go of that tendency would open her to a whole new world of fulfillment. But that was her story. Do you have something that you’re trying to prove or convince others (or yourself) about? How will your story turn out?