I don’t know how long I’ve been confused about this but I do know it has kept me from achieving many things such as keeping a balanced checkbook, finishing grad school on the time schedule I carved out for myself and countless other things I’m sure I’m keeping from my own memory. I hadn’t thought about this question for a while but I’m pretty sure that is because it confused me. I did what many people do when they are confused; I stopped thinking about it.
A podcast by Ami Alexander starring James Altucher brought the question back to the forefront of my mind as the answer to my question kind of came crashing over me. Altucher answered it of course, not me. That’s okay though because I’m still intelligent enough to have asked the question in the first place. People don’t just stumble upon questions you know, they have them thrust upon them – kind of like greatness.
In any case, his answer was that success is not what you’ve accomplished but instead it’s “a combination of being physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually healthy today.” In the interview you can go on to hear Altucher elaborate on his comment but this article is about how he answered my question.
“Why is my need to be whole and recognized interfering with everything I am trying to get done?” That was my question, the nagging monkey on my back that I couldn’t seem to shake. This question would pop up at completely inconvenient and inappropriate times and often got in the way of my being content with the life I was living. It made me irritable when I was reminded to complete basic tasks before I had set foot through the doorway. The question urged me to pine away for settings I had never been in before and situations that required me to think fast and produce things I had never done before like a 21st century MacGyver. It insisted, without breathing for air, that I get to know the deepest, farthest, most out of sight and forgotten pieces of what I could and could not do…. so that I could do it. Or learn to do it.
I had no idea why I yearned to live in discomfort. When I finally threw myself under the bus a few times, I learned that it had less to do with my desire for all of mankind to equally carry the burden of sacrifice and more to do with my psyche trying desperately to figure itself out. It was willing to unravel itself just to figure out how it ticked. It was crawling towards chaos just to get to the source of peace, because it wasn’t where I thought it was.
Altucher hit on something that I have been experiencing for the last several months, which is that success is something you carry inside of you – it’s not something you go towards unless where you’re going is deeper and deeper inside of your own mind, desires and capabilities. Now I’m not trying to say that you have a secret world of fairies inside of you and that if you unleash them you can conquer anything. What I’m saying is what many people had been trying to get through to me for years. You’re ultimately the only one who can satisfy your hunger for acknowledgement. You know what you have inside of you and while everyone else’s view of you swells or wains your view of you can combat it all.
Many of us end up taking on detrimental or just not so healthy habits in order to placate that monkey on our back. I have always had a spending habit that went off the deep end during times of stress. When I didn’t feel that my ideas were good enough or like I wasn’t shining bright enough for my teachers, family or mentors I quieted my fears with a new bag or a cup of coffee that I could not afford at the time. I dug myself into quite a few holes trying not to feel bad for being human and average. There was a cycle there, where when one thing didn’t go right it set off a domino affect in my life. Which is where I think Altucher’s comment comes into play.
If your emotional life is a mess, it’s going to seep into your career. If your mentality is stagnated, it’s going to stagnate your success. If your physicality is threatened, that’s going to change everything.
So you have to be okay with what you’re attaining and how you’re doing it because that’s the only point of view that you have the ability to keep somewhat consistent. And that consistency is what’s going to keep you moving along through all the changes you’re going to experience.
So that need to be whole and to be recognized is not a character flaw. It’s not going to hold you back. The only thing that will hold you back is not filling that need from the inside instead of the outside.