As toddlers, we get the greatest praise for walking, not for trying to walk. At school, we get most recognition for our test scores, not the effort we put in. And once at work, we are expected to “perform”, meet our KPIs, hit our targets. We celebrate marriages, not relationships, medals not sportsmanship. In conversation we talk about the new car we got or the holiday we took (exciting!), not how long we saved for it (dull).
It’s everywhere and it matters. Why? Because most outcomes are not under our control. They depend on our efforts, yes, but also on other people, on our environment, genetics, technology, dumb luck.
When we buy into the lie that we are what we achieve, we allow our self-esteem and happiness to be ruled by forces outside of ourselves. We are adrift, not anchored; anxious. We spend too much time, energy and money trying to work out and follow the formula for “success”. We can try too hard for approval, sacrificing our own needs in the process, and feeling crushed when we don’t get it. We may even resort to cheating, dominating and manipulating others in a bid to control them and make ourselves feel safe.
Life is messy, uncertain, unpredictable. We can let ourselves get sucked into the cyclone, spinning as we strive to achieve the things others value and approve of.
Or, we can find solid ground and anchor ourselves in what matters most to us: what lifts us, brings us joy and gives us a deep sense of fulfilment.
From that more secure, more energising place, we can aim higher, take more risks, build more positive relationships, help others better, follow our dreams.
Here are some ways this can, and does, work in practice.
Want to be successful in your work? Notice what you are best at and love doing at work. Then figure out how doing those things can get you to where you want to be. When you are happy and fulfilled in your work you will naturally attract and build the customers and positive relationships you need to help you succeed.
Want to lose weight? Stop dieting. Stop stuffing average-tasting, unsatisfying food mindlessly into your mouth when you are bored or over-hungry or feel like you need comfort. Instead, discover what food tastes amazing and feels satisfying to you. Then make it and savour it. Over time you can adapt it to make it healthier while keeping the taste you love. But first, just learn to love food again.
Want a successful relationship? Notice and pursue what you love and lights you up. Dress in the way that makes you happy. For any relationship to succeed, particularly after kids, you need to be with someone who knows you and loves you for the person you really are.
Want your child to succeed in life? Don’t we all? But it’s not within your control. So enjoy your own life and enjoy being with them. Share their interests and help them get what they want. Expand their horizons, help them experiment, but expect nothing. Build them up and be their friend. Then leave them alone to define success for themselves.
While you are busy playing, experimenting and enjoying, the stars may align so you get that promotion or meet your soulmate or your post goes viral or your child gets an “A”. That’s just the icing on the cake. Because you’re already living a happy and satisfying life.
The above examples are simple, but not easy to do, particularly if you have got out of the habit of listening to and pleasing yourself. Working with a coach can help you discover what brings you to life and how to pursue it.
If you’d like to dig deeper into outcomes versus processes, I’d recommend almost anything written by Alfie Kohn, my parenting hero. His recent blog post inspired this one.
I also love Big Magic by hugely successful author Elizabeth Gilbert – an inspiring and uplifting book for artists, which focuses on the creative process over the output.