By Bill Reeb
It’s funny ... every business I have counseled is different, yet fundamentally they are all dealing with some of the same basic issues.
And while every individual I work with is unique, I also find that we are all fundamentally similar (just another reflection of the concept “same-same”).
It is common for overachievers to wrestle with accomplishment expectations that cause us to re-evaluate who we are, who we aspire to be, whether our existence has made a difference to anyone, if we will ever live up to our idealized self-image and more. What makes this self-analysis or self-report even more difficult is that each of us also has to try to separate our own true feelings and beliefs from those emotions and values we unquestionably adopt from influential groups that are part of our lives, such as
- family, teachers, mentors, employers or others one aspires to emulate
- someone you want to “gain” something from, whether that be love, affirmation, advancement, money, gift, approval and so on
- personally developed standards like ethical/moral constructs, service/devotional beliefs and more
The point is ... we are complex. As is often said, we are like onions with layers and layers of protective skin, making it difficult to find the core. With each layer we peel back, though on one hand we might be closer to uncovering the truth of who we are, we might also just be uncovering another layer of disorienting chaos and clutter.
For example, I am a CPA by profession. Did I choose that profession because it was who I saw myself to be early on in my life? Was it because of someone I knew whom I wanted to emulate? Perhaps I am a CPA because this career synced with a personal ethic or belief. Maybe I thought my parents would be proud of me.
It is often very hard to identify the difference between what we really want versus what we believe we want in order to satisfy
- those we care about,
- those we aspire to please or prove wrong, or
- beliefs and values we have embraced.
Our quest for understanding is made even more difficult because the people who influence us, as well as our beliefs, change as we evolve throughout life.
For example, have you ever met someone who had faith and then lost it, or someone who found faith? In both of these cases, those people’s belief systems were torn apart and rebuilt on opposite extremes. As you can imagine, for all of us, determining what we want out of life is not as straightforward as it would seem.
As you might guess from the little I have covered so far, I believe that one of our biggest roadblocks is our unwillingness to peel back our protective layers until we can determine what drives or hinders us. Are you willing to unpeel enough layers so that you can finally separate what actions and beliefs you embrace merely to gratify others versus those you welcome to satisfy your own needs and desires? To find a sustainable bridge to our own success and happiness, each of us should take the time to identify what is truly important to us rather than just default to societal norms and pressures.
For instance, young couples are often pressured by family and friends to start having children immediately after they marry. It is not uncommon for friends, family, community and support groups, without negative intent and with love in their hearts, to create an extra load for the couple to carry by laying down guilt, duty, fear and other emotional baggage in order to convince them to have children immediately. This couple may have other aspirations at this stage of their lives, like climbing a career ladder, traveling the world or just enjoying the freedom of being unencumbered youth in love. But in the face of confusion, lack of clarity of direction or priorities, or pressure, this young couple often will embark on the path desired for them by others. I have heard over the years from a number of young professionals that they believed had they had chosen a path of their own, they would have been perceived as “selfishly indulging” themselves rather than growing up.
Just so you know, this example is not about when or whether anyone should have children – that is each person’s individual choice. But what this example is trying to point out is that others truly don’t know what is best for you or what will give you the greatest satisfaction. The decision to have children early may work out perfectly, but it also might also expedite an early divorce if the couple allowed others to overly influence the direction and priorities of their lives.
Overachievers, because we are regularly trying to surpass the expectations of those around us, are overly susceptible to the influence of others. Often we take on a mindset of martyrdom with the internal thought, “Well, I can just work a little harder and longer so that my efforts will create a result that will satisfy them too.”
The lesson here is: Stop thinking like that!
Don’t routinely sacrifice the limited time in your life to making everyone else happy while deferring your own success and happiness until such a time in the future when everyone else has been taken care of.
Please understand this: The best person to determine what is important to you is you! Others, if they have taken the time to do their own self-analysis, should know what is best for them. However, that awareness in no way makes them experts on how you should focus your efforts or spend your life. Only you can determine what you really want. And if you are not confident, then the answer is not to chastise yourself for not knowing, nor is it to simply follow the direction of the support group around you, but rather for you to start taking steps every day to peel back enough layers of your own onion to see and feel your own truth. You must learn how to maneuver around, over and through the many roadblocks you can expect to find along your path, including what you need to do the next time you find yourself stuck or starting to get stuck.