Thomas Merton

When Success is the Ultimate Failure

You wouldn’t be looking at this if you were 100% content with you current life and circumstances. And I’m not sure that ever becoming 100% content with your life is a recipe for success, fulfillment and happiness. By being 100% satisfied and content with your current life, there is no room for growth and progress. And inside all of us, I believe, is the need to grow so that we have more to give. Our yearning to grow and to give are the needs of our spirit and the soul. This is why I believe if you aren’t growing, you’re dying. How often do you hear about successful and wealthy corporate executives who retire and move down to Florida with the intention of doing nothing but relax, that die soon thereafter. It’s an amazing phenomenon. They literally within a month or two of retirement. Our nervous systems weren’t built to sit on the beach and drink pina coladas all day.  We were built to be constantly improving and growing ourselves so that we have more to give to others (whether it be the ones we love, the community we live in or the rest of the world).  Another place where this shows up is in depression and anxiety. Depression and anxiety are great signals. They typically manifest themselves as a result of a neurotic and intense self focus. People who are clinically depressed as well as those who suffer from anxiety (the co-morbidity between anxiety and depression is high) have mastered focusing their attention on themselves and their problems.  As a metaphor, people who are depressed are literally running a negative tv commercial about themselves and their problems on repeat- over and over in their mind. They spend virtually none of their attention and focus on helping others or getting outside of their narrow view of the world. Anxiety is much of the same.  This is why people commonly say that depressed and anxious people should spend time around those who are less fortunate. Additionally, Dale Carnegie in his book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living affirmed this idea when he wrote, “A good deed, said the prophet Mohammed, is one that brings a smile of joy to the face of another. Why will doing a good deed every day produce such astounding efforts on the doer? Because trying to please others will cause us to stop thinking of ourselves: the very thing that produces worry and fear and melancholia.” And there is a stark difference between the ‘pleasing’ he is talking about and ‘people pleasing’. People pleasing comes at the expense of one’s own happiness. People pleasing is being an emotional hostage to others and allows no room for free self expression.

 

Many people initially enter the self help and personal development world because they are hungry for more success- whether it be money, relationships, career success, power, possessions, etc. They then seek strategies and methods for achieving these external goals. I have no problem with success driven individuals. Success is a noble goal. However I think what many of these success seekers fail to understand is that just by getting the money, the car, the house, the girl or their perfect physique- this will not lead to happiness and contentment in and of itself. What leads to true fulfillment is not what we get or achieve, but who we become as a person. Interviews with numerous 80 and 90 year olds’ who are on their death beds have consistently affirmed this overlooked distinction. Jim Rohn always affirmed this by saying, “The major value in life is not what you get. The major value in life is what you become”.  Have you ever achieved a goal that you had wanted so dearly and once you got it you asked yourself, “Is this it? Is this all there is?” The pleasure and enjoyment derived from the money, the possession, or the actual goal that was attained is a temporary high. It might last a day, a week or a month, but soon thereafter you will return to your default state of existence and only be left with the person you have become. This is why people who win the lottery see only a momentary spike in their level of happiness and then return to their default level soon thereafter. Unfortunately lottery winners almost always find a way to lose all their winnings and return to their default financial level too. This is not a coincidence. Money is nothing more than a symbol for the amount of value we are able to provide as a human being.  And most people choose to chase money directly and never focus on the value they are providing to others. Most people seek external goals for the possession of the prize in and of itself, when in reality the quest for the external goal is a journey that is going to require them to grow, develop and improve themselves in a way they never expected. Such a journey is going to be rewarding not because of the prize that is sitting at the end of the road, but because of the person they will have to become to get to the finish line. Enjoyment is found in the journey. The end result is a pleasant reward temporarily, but the ultimate fulfillment is found in who the seeker had to become to get there. 

 

Understanding these distinctions is crucial for your own journey toward greater success and fulfillment.  Many spend their entire life climbing one latter, only to realize that it is resting against the wrong wall.  The question you should be asking yourself is not what external goal you think will make your life better, but rather who you must become in order to be satisfied and fulfilled. Step into your 80 year old self and look backwards. This exercise of evaluating your current path from your 80 year self is about operating out of the context rather than the content. Most people make huge life decisions based on what is the easiest or most comfortable route in that moment. They inherently sacrifice long term success and fulfillment for short term comfort. Its kind of funny, people spend more time planning their next vacation then they do planning the rest of their life. 

 

This post is not to sway you away from going after your goals and dreams, rather it is to awaken you to the fact that the goals themselves are not going to be the things that provide the ultimate enjoyment and fulfillment.  The person you are to become en route to your goals is the ultimate prize. The actual goal is just the cherry on the top and a great symbol to remind you of the person you have become. Understanding this simple yet commonly overlooked premise of personal development can literally save your life. Failure is not the ultimate failure. Failure is temporary. The ultimate failure is reaching your ultimate goal and still not being fulfilled.

 

 

 

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