My name is Ann marie Houghtailing, and I am an accomplishment junkie. I am someone who sets out to hit a target, hits it, and then sets up another target. I have an insatiable need to accomplish. Nearly five years ago I started my own consulting firm, and in that time I have had a nearly insatiable appetite to accomplish. In five years while building a thriving business I've launched The Millionaire Girls' Movement, written a book, did a TEDx talk, launched a speaking career, wrote and toured a one-woman show, wrote a second show, and the list goes on. This is not bragging. Bragging requires pride. I'm not entirely sure pride is my reward because like any addict chasing the dragon, my pleasure only lasts until I've reached my goal and then it dissipates so quickly I am compelled to chase the next accomplishment.
When I performed my one-woman show in New York, the tech person was this wonderful woman named Ellen. Ellen did not know me prior to coming to New York. One night after my show as we shared a glass of wine in the lobby Ellen asked if she could share some feedback with me. Ever hungry to improve, I enthusiastically invited her criticism. She said, "Every night after the lights come back up and people applaud, you barely bow and then you rush off stage. You're in New York! You're in New York performing your show that you wrote and these people are clapping in appreciation of your work and you aren't even acknowledging the experience. Slow down. When the lights come up -- wait. Look at everyone and enjoy that moment."
Every time I think of that story I want to cry a little bit. I want to cry for every glass of champagne I didn't taste, every compliment I didn't hear and every beautiful moment I did not see because I was looking past it to the next moment. I am in recovery. I still have lots I want to do in this world but I am conscious and careful to acknowledge and enjoy every moment of this extraordinary life. Sometimes I sit in gratitude that I can pay my mortgage as a single mother, that I have books to read or that I have clean water every day, which in some parts of this world is nothing short of a miracle.
It's confusing being an accomplishment junkie. People tell you to slow down and relax while congratulating you for all that you've done.
I will never lose my desire to achieve or reach. Part of the beauty of the human experience is to be able to reach beyond what we believe is possible. This is why we have athletes and writers and adventurous spirits that scale mountains, because some of us seek challenge. I enjoy big challenges and extraordinary attempts at tackling the seemingly impossible.
I love the simplicity of being able to assign blame to my addiction. But in fact, I did not have parents who demanded excellence or had expectations as high as skyscrapers. My parents wanted me to be able to take care for myself and to be happy. If I could accomplish those tasks as a waitress, neurosurgeon, media mogul or donut maker -- it was all the same to them.
I could try to blame our culture or perhaps the government -- people love to blame the government for everything. But I think this is how I was built and somewhere along the way, the shy, small, awkward girl I was as a child found exhilaration and comfort in the hum of accomplishment. I will never stop questing. Fulfilling my human potential and purpose is critical to my being, but perhaps instead of chasing accomplishments I will seek experiences where I can emerge more aware, engaged, and connected to the world around me.
As addiction goes, mine appears mostly harmless. My addiction will not render me homeless or friendless. What real loss do I suffer? I suppose that the danger for those of us chasing the accomplishment dragon is that we never live inside of a moment because we are straining to see what's ahead. I know this intellectually of course but living this truth is a more complex affair demanding much more of me. In the last three months I have stopped chasing the dragon of accomplishment. I pay attention to the experience of striving. I honor my frustrations and missteps and sink into microscopic victories that don't make the news or even Facebook.
I spent many years studying theater and I had forgotten one of the beautiful lessons of scene study -- to be present. Don't wait for your turn to talk but instead listen. Listen so you can respond with your full self. Be generous to the other actor across from you and be present. Don't just wait for your turn. I am present now. It has made me happier and kinder and more patient -- a better person to be around and to know.