You are important, no matter what you achieve.
As you're reading this, you may think that I'm telling you to take it easy on your career and not strive as much. But I'm not going to tell you that.
You may think that I'm telling you that achievements aren't worth pursuing, but I'm not going to do that either.
I'm going to share with you how you can achieve success with ease while taking exquisite care of yourself so that you don't feel like you're sacrificing the best years of your life for your career.
Because I get it: career advancement is important. It's what makes us feel respected, recognized and valued. We need this to keep us challenged so that we constantly learn and that's a great thing.
There are, of course, times when the career isn't going as well as we'd like.
So when the career is all we have going for us, life in general doesn't feel like success. When things don't work at work, it feels like the whole world is crashing down on us and there's nothing else to make us feel valued and appreciated.
We've depended on our careers to give us that feeling of importance when in fact, we are important no matter how much we achieve.
It took me years of social anxiety, loneliness and therapy to figure this out. I was raised on the motto "no pain, no gain," and was taught that sacrifice of leisure was admirable. This long-term relationship to success left me feeling empty while I validated myself through fleeting external accomplishments.
After burning out from working late nights and weekends for years without a hobby or a social life, I felt lost, insecure and deeply unsatisfied. I was also tired all the time, which made me less excited about work and life in general. But I was working hard and doing all the right things. Why wasn't I happy? After months of painful self-analysis and tearful sessions in the therapist's office, I realized that achievements don't mean much when you aren't at peace with yourself without them. Achievements also don't mean much when you are disconnected from doing things for the sake of enjoyment. It's moments like these when we realize that we need something more to give our lives meaning. We need something that creatively nourishes us and keeps us excited about life so that we can feel good about ourselves.
When we lose this connection to life, we depend dangerously on achievement to feel good about ourselves. One client put it this way: when you're in school, the goals were outlined clearly. You studied hard, got the A, and that was that. On the job, success is not nearly so clear and it's easy for things to drag on with no clear end in sight. On top of that, there's the pressure that the more time you put in, the more you'll get out of it.
I support my clients to see that success isn't only what you accomplish at work. It's also not the title or the degree. It's about living all parts of your life. But sometimes, it's hard to break the connection between your self-worth and the recognition you receive. I realized this when I woke up in the morning one day and for a couple seconds, I couldn't remember who I was. I didn't remember my name, where I was located, my honors, achievements, affiliations or what I did. The first time I experienced this, it scared me. I frantically remembered everything about myself and then felt safe. But then along with my "identity" would barge in the rest of reality like the things I had to do associated with those identities. And so the forgetful moment was actually more peaceful in comparison, but it was already gone.
In a culture where we so often identify ourselves with what we do and strive for in life, it can be easy to fall into thinking that without our accomplishments, our lives are without meaning and purpose. This thinking alone can cause much anguish because it creates the illusion that accomplishments are equivalent to our identity and self-worth (I've been there). In this light, accomplishments can sometimes distract us from our true value.
You are important and valuable regardless of what you achieve. The key is to be comfortable with the blank slate. Nowadays, I embrace that moment when I don't remember myself. There's less pressure when we recognize that we are who we are before we remember who we are. We are the wall from which the framed degrees and titles are hung, rather than the degrees and titles themselves.
Don't get me wrong: I think it's great to decorate the wall, it makes life more interesting and personalized. Just remember to acknowledge the wall. It'll still be there whether or not you have something to tack onto it. Overload the wall, and it may start crumbling under the weight of it all or you may forget that it's there altogether...
Are you overloading yourself? Are you comfortable with who you are without all that you strive for?
The key to valuing yourself beyond your career successes is to do things for the sake of personal enjoyment, rather than for personal achievement. This mind shift is so simple, yet profound for us high achievers. We're so used to challenging ourselves with what might give us that competitive edge or what might look good on paper, and discount what gives us simple enjoyment.
Instead, do things for the sake of experimentation. Do it because it's outrageous. Doing things for the sake of enjoyment makes life light up again.
Another thing that makes life light up is allowing ourselves to have boundaries.
I remember when I first laid my boundaries with my boss, who made a request for me to work on a study that would have taken me away from my main project's progress. I was so petrified of saying no... but I put my foot down and told him I wouldn't be as effective doing both projects. I was nervous of what he was going to say, but he understood. I had honored my boundaries and it felt great! It seems like a weak thing to say no to someone we want to impress, but saying no is the strongest thing we can do for ourselves because we take a stand for what we want while delivering the best of what we have within our capabilities. You are not a victim of your success... because you are in control!
Success is living and expressing all parts of who you are. The funny thing is, the more you take a stand for yourself, the easier things are to achieve. Your career, relationships and life thrive. You have more energy, confidence and peace, all of which draw all the opportunities that you desire. By expressing all parts of you, you become a force that is unstoppable.
Because you are important, regardless of what you achieve.
Catherine Chen, Ph.D., is a Health Coach who supports high-octane women to achieve with ease, have time for what they love and live a balanced life. Prior to launching her wellness practice, she worked in the management consulting industry and at one of the leading cancer research biotechnology companies. She loves to bellydance. Click here to sign-up for a complimentary Stress Relief Session with her or sign-up to get free work-life balance tips at http://catherinechenwellness.com