Whether we’re entrepreneurs or we’re simply ambitious in our career, the mantra most of us have absorbed from western culture is “If I work harder, then I’ll be successful. And if I become more successful, then I’ll be happier.” Consciously or subconsciously we believe that somewhere in the future after x, y, and z happens this magical time will exist where we will finally feel secure and fulfilled with our life.
However, upon closer examination, this formula of “deferred wellbeing” is a complete illusion. In fact, it is the formula for a fulfilled life set completely backward.
How many times have we set out with this idea of “If only I get into X school, or if only I can make Y amount of income in a year, then my life will be totally set.” “If I can attract this type of social circle, then I’ll feel ok.” Or, “If I can start a successful company, then I’ll feel secure and satisfied within myself.”
But then we progress in life. Many times we may have accomplished the goal we set to achieve, and yet, once reached, something still feels missing. We pass some major milestone of “success” and feel high for a few days, but then come down only to realize we feel the exact same as we did before.
So we think, “Oh, I guess I need to accomplish this new, bigger goal in order to feel satisfied.” So, in our mind, we move the goalposts of success further ahead, and this cycle of work-goal, work-goal, work-goal repeats itself again and again and again in perpetuity. Thus, we forever find ourselves in an internal state of feeling insufficient and incomplete as we strive towards some goal that’s always out there ahead of us somewhere.
As your friend, I am here to share that as long as you’re putting your wellbeing and happiness on the other side of your success, you’re never going to get there. Because the fundamental problem really has nothing to do with your level of external success, the source of the problem is the feeling of incompleteness itself. It’s that internal sense of “whatever I am right now, it is not enough.”
The fundamental problem really has nothing to do with your level of external success, the source of the problem is the feeling of incompleteness itself.
The root of this incompleteness is your deepest internal core psychological beliefs about yourself. These beliefs are encoded into us as small children through our relationship with our parents and the world around us. When we are young, we believe that our environment is a reflection of the absolute truth of the entire universe, so any words or emotions directed towards us early in life we take to represent the absolute truth about who we are. So for example, if we had a parent who always pointed out our shortcomings or peers who made fun of us, then it’s likely we’ve taken on a negative set of beliefs about our worthiness as a person.
It’s only when we grow and mature that we realize the world is vast and diverse, and that the environment in which we grew up was perhaps not the healthiest or the most enlightened. But despite the higher degree of awareness offered by adulthood, we continue to carry these beliefs that were imprinted in us as children because they are rooted so deeply in the mind. These subconscious mental scripts represent the underlying emotional programming which rule every major decision we make in life. Thus, we go through adulthood with this sense of incompleteness that we attempt to fulfill through external things.
Essentially, everything we do in life is done towards this pursuit of fulfillment. If we go to the bar we’re seeking one type of fulfillment. If we’re striving towards a promotion, we’re seeking another type of fulfillment. If we’re going on a date, going to the gym, or even if we’re starting a company, we’re doing so because we believe it will lead us to a more fulfilled and pleasant future. It’s not that pursuing things in life is bad, in fact, it’s completely necessary. It’s just that when we pursue things with compulsiveness rather than with consciousness, it leads to suffering and dissatisfaction.
The Wise Man / Wise Woman’s Approach
I invite you to consider a more direct route. If your ultimate goal in life is to feel fulfilled, peaceful, and joyful, then focusing on it directly is the only approach that actually works because our sense of fulfillment, or lack thereof, is an internal process. So it’s time to examine your core beliefs and your lifestyle choices related to health and wellbeing with AT LEAST as much involvement and urgency as your devoting to building your business or career.
Because, for me, it’s not that being peaceful and fulfilled is our only goal in life or even the highest, but rather it’s recognizing that a state of inner pleasantness, confidence, and balance is actually the most fundamental foundation to living effectively. Only in a state of pleasantness and vibrant energy are you your most creative, dynamic, and resilient. It’s wellbeing which LEADS to true success, not the other way around.
Think about a particular week when you were naturally happy and energized. Whatever challenges came your way, dealing with them felt quite effortless. You were persuasive and influential in your interactions with people. Your friends, employees, and even strangers responded to you with more engagement and interest and treated you with greater respect. Many of us have had experiences like this for a few days or even a few weeks where we felt totally in flow, but there is a problem. We don’t know how to sustain it once it’s going or how to regenerate it once it’s gone.
It’s wellbeing which LEADS to true success, not the other way around.
How much more productive, effective, and joyful could you be in life if you could turn this flow state into a daily reality?
The scientific literature now supports our anecdotal experience in a major way. Only in a state of pleasantness and ease do we have our full cognitive capability. Research has also found that just 25% of professional success is determined by IQ, while 75% is determined by one’s optimism levels, social support, and the ability to experience stress as a challenge rather than a threat. Research from Harvard (see TED) also reveals that people are 31% more productive and 37% better at sales when they are happy, and company revenues can improve by as much as 50% when employees are happy.
Imagine if you could be 30% more productive and successful this year simply by taking care of your inner wellbeing. Imagine those gains compounded over 5 years or 10 years. This shift would completely rewrite your destiny.
A New Life Formula
I invite you to consider a new formula for your wellbeing.
- Work long hours with great tension and stress
- Achieve arbitrary “success” benchmarks
- Hypothetical happiness is dangled in front of you set at some point in the future, but you never seem able to get there
- Internal wellbeing and health is #1 Priority
- Live and work with joy, wisdom, and creativity
- Feel sustained fulfillment internally, and generate increased positive and meaningful impact on the world externally
So how we go about designing a life around the New Formula?
You may be expecting a Buzzfeed-like “Top 5 Quick Tips for Happiness,” but the reality is that lasting significant self-transformation requires a certain depth of introspection, motivation, and effort. In fact, it takes tremendous courage because traversing the fires of facing oneself is terrifying, and yet, this fire represents the ultimate portal to our liberation. I promise you this journey of self-knowledge is the most worthwhile journey you will ever make in life by a million miles. In reality, it’s the only journey you can ever make, and while there are no quick fixes, there are simple practices and mindsets you can build into your life, regardless of your present circumstances, that will assuredly manifest steady transformation over time.
From Silicon Valley to the Amazon to India
A bit about my story.
My career began working at startups in New York and then at LinkedIn in Silicon Valley. External success always came somewhat naturally, but internally I had struggled with depression, anxiety, and deep insecurity since adolescence. My inner suffering reached a certain excruciating crescendo in my early 20s despite my “successful” surroundings, and so I bid farewell the gourmet cafeterias and lush beanbag chairs of Silicon Valley and embarked into the mysterious and expansive jungles of my inner nature endeavoring to find healing and to understand the fundamental truths about life.
This journey of self-exploration took me around the world to many mystical locales including the Amazon Rainforest where I trained with traditional shamans and to India where I formally trained with a guru in meditation and yoga in a tradition that’s over 5,000 years old. This journey has borne for me the inner fruits of joy, peacefulness, and contentment while simultaneously making me orders of magnitude more effective in my external pursuits.
In an effort to give back to the world from which I come, I’m now distilling the tools, technologies, and insights learned on my journey into a language and framework that’s relevant and applicable to people living the demanding and oftentimes grueling lifestyle of the modern entrepreneur or busy professional.
As I mentioned, there is no Buzzfeed Top 5 for self-transformation, but there are simple practices and aspects of awareness we can adopt regardless of our life situation that will begin to open the portals of higher possibilities. Over the next several weeks, I will share in-depth on just what these practices are and how to apply them. You can follow along on my blog by subscribing to my Empowered Human newsletter, and I’ll also be sharing much of it here on LinkedIn as well.
A Simple Way to Start Your Evolution
Gratitude is an immensely powerful tool that can be leveraged to radically transform one’s experience of life. As we’ve established, the source of suffering in our life is this deeply ingrained sense of incompleteness. By consciously reorienting our attention towards what we have, rather than towards what we lack, over time we can manifest a powerful sense of abundance, ease, and joy within ourselves.
A simple practice: Start each day by sending a note of gratitude or thanks to someone in your world. It could be someone on your work team, a mentor, a boss, a junior employee, a college friend, your old soccer coach, whomever. The key is consciously deciding that sending out a message of gratitude is the very first thing that happens when you turn on your electronics in the morning. Think about a project at work that went really well, or someone who gave a really persuasive presentation, a friend who was with you through trying times, or a family member who could use your support. Get creative!
This simple practice will do several things for you:
- You’ll start your day with a sense of appreciation. Instead of being consumed with the thought stream of the many problems to be solved that day, your focus, at least for a few minutes, will be on something and someone you’re grateful for. This can set a buoyant tone for your entire morning.
- You’ll connect more deeply with the people presently in your life, and you’ll reconnect with people who had an impact on your life years ago. You’ll give these people a delightful and unexpected gift of gratitude which is a great joy in and of itself. You likely will also find that the more you support others from a place of gratitude, the more, in turn, you will feel supported and connected yourself.
- As this becomes a regular practice, you’ll naturally begin to look for things to be grateful for throughout the day. Day by day your mind will reorient itself away from only seeing the problems in situations, to seeing the enduring beauty that is always present.
This is an extremely simple practice, but it can bear formidable fruit. Let me know how it works for you!
Photos provided by Louis Solywoda