The Easy Place

The Quest for Self Awareness One Moment at a Time

External vs Internal Success

My friend smiled at me across the table and asked, “So it’s been more than three years since you were laid off, when are you going to get a job?”

For a moment I just looked at him in surprise. 

“Well,” I replied, “I’m working now – I spend 20 maybe 30 hours a week coaching and writing my blog.”

His next statement said it all: “But you’re hardly making any money with those.”

It makes me laugh to remember this conversation.  My friend meant no disrespect – he’s in a place in his life where making money to support his young family is of utmost importance. 

And I get it.  Like most of us I was brought up to focus on external success.  The vision of success that’s comprised of money, status, and things – diplomas, promotions, nice cars, houses and vacations.  When I went to college my parents didn’t care what I learned, I was sent there to get a diploma and find a suitable husband. 

Over the years I put lots of energy into working toward the success I was brought up to pursue.  But I noticed something funny in the process – whatever success I achieved was never enough.  No matter how much money I had I needed a bit more.  No matter how luxurious my vacations were, as soon as they were over I couldn’t wait until the next.  Each time I was promoted I eventually found myself looking at the next level up and asked “What do they have that I don’t?”

When we’re focused on externals we’re perpetually dissatisfied.  That’s because external success only takes care of our external selves.  Which is fine, as far as it goes.  I like the things that money can buy – I love my home, nice clothes, the adventure of travel.  My external self needs stuff, maybe not as much as I’ve accumulated, but I like having money to buy what I need.  

However there’s a limit to how fulfilling external success can be.  We can tell we’ve reached that limit when the only reward we get from our job is money, our house becomes merely a place to rest between bouts, and what we’re learning is what others have told us we need to know.

In other words, we’ve reached that limit when our life has become totally about money, status and things.

The fulfillment provided by internal success, however, is limitless.  While the last three years of my life spent coaching and writing haven’t been financially rewarding they have lifted me to a new level of inspiration and possibility. 

And that’s what internal success is about.  The solid thump of satisfaction when I’ve written something that states perfectly what I want to say.  It doesn’t matter what anyone might say about my piece, to me it’s just right.  When we’ve hit a bull’s eye internally, external praise isn’t necessary for us to recognize excellence, it just exists.

Internal success isn’t obvious to others, which, I think, is what my friend was reacting to.  I suspect that to him it looks like I’m sitting around playing, but he doesn’t see the hours, weeks, even months, that go into a single blog post, he just sees that they don’t bring me any money.  He isn’t aware that as I push for improvement, I grow and develop as a writer and a person.  

He doesn’t see that, for me, success isn’t found in a big pay check or a fancy car, it’s found in the period at the end of a beautiful sentence.   


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14 responses to “External vs Internal Success

  1. wctvhost November 16, 2010 at 9:44 am

    I enjoyed your post today and agree with you regarding feeling rewarded. As we struggle in our later years in life, (I am 53) we understand that there is more to life than materialistic needs or wants. I am trying to keep my life as simple as possible, enjoying the little things, savoring the cup of coffee, and trying to reach out to friends and family. I hope your journey brings you success.

    • Melinda November 16, 2010 at 9:58 am

      I agree that as we mature success begins to look quite different – having love in our lives becomes much more important than obtaining that next thing. And it sounds like you’re doing a lovely job of savoring life :)

      My journey has already brought me unimaginable success, and a comment on my blog from a new reader IS success, so thank you!


  2. Jillian Davis November 16, 2010 at 10:33 am

    I do believe we are in twin journeys — vocationally and soul-wise.

    I have found that my life’s adventure began when I finally followed my inside voice. I discovered that thousands of people had already stepped onto this path. They are everywhere, as in an ‘underground’ – visible and invisible at the same time.

    Now, I tend to see people as awake & conscious — or not. I hope this is no judgement, just a way (my way) of seeing the world once the true ride has begun.

    It’s like being in love, near-permanently.

    And it is a spiritual journey, for sure.

    Best, Jillian

    • Melinda November 16, 2010 at 2:11 pm

      Hi Jillian,

      I love the way you put it: “awake & conscious.” I look at it as a journey, we are all at various stages of awareness as our lives unfold. My work is to help folks wake up and become more conscious of who they are and who they want to be in their lives.

      Thanks for your comment,


  3. Roberta November 16, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    Good for you for being able to recognize what it is that you want and the courage to do something different. I like that we don’t have to take it personal when people judge us. We’ve done enough of that ourselves over the years.

  4. Kiquine November 17, 2010 at 6:26 am

    I was discussing this with a friend the other day who has a very gifted child, which is a big responsibility for parents. They send the boy to a private school that they cannot really afford and she is very keen that he will go on to have a very successful life and not miss any opportunities that his intelligence can offer him but the goal seemed to me to be material rewards, the successful career, house, big salary, position in life.

    Both her husband and my father were very intelligent and went to top universities and the outcomes were maybe not what their parents might have hoped for. My father was from quite a humble background and was pushed by his mother and grandmother and managed to get a scholarship to a very good school which led to him going to Cambridge University. He suffered most of his life from deep anxiety and, though he had a good job, found his level that he felt he could cope with and stayed there whilst his colleagues were promoted and overtook him on the career ladder. He always hated work but could not handle responsibility, although he worked in his job due to his responsibility towards his family. Also, because of the attitude of his family my father never pushed his own children which meant that I never really did well at school as a bit more parental guidance probably would have made me focus more. But I also strongly believe that happiness is not found in material things and I am happy with and proud of what I have, my own small flat and a job I enjoy, although it has taken me many years to get to this place and maybe that is a journey that needs to be taken.

    My friend’s husband went to Oxford but had dreams of being a classical singer, as did my friend, and therefore his education never brought him much in material rewards and his chosen path didn’t bring him the success he had hoped for either. I think this could be part of the reason my friend is so keen to make sure their son focuses on an externally successful life so he does not struggle the way his parents have as they both chased their dreams when they were young. She does seem to have some regrets, since they had their child, and feels that her life would have been much easier if they had chosen a different path that would have guaranteed more material wealth and less struggle.

    As you mention in your post, you and your friend were brought up to focus on external success. So what is the best approach to take with children to encourage them to succeed? Can this be done with the promise of fulfilment provided by internal success?

  5. Melinda November 17, 2010 at 9:36 am

    Hi Kiquine,

    First let me say thank you for your thoughtful comments. I can see that this is a subject that you’ve given a lot of thought to.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to give our kids the best education, it’s when we ignore their wants and needs in the process that things go wrong. You give excellent examples of what happens when the child’s interests are ignored – how great would it have been for your friend’s husband if all that energy of getting him in to Oxford would have been spent helping him pursue his dream of becoming a classical singer?

    To answer your questions, I think that the best approach to take with children is to always be sensitive to what interests and inspires *them*, and help them move toward excellence in their chosen field rather than merely focusing on getting them into a top school (you give great examples of what happens when the school is the ultimate goal). The emphasis should be on ensuring that they are a well-rounded, self-aware person who feels loved and supported no matter what they do. This doesn’t mean that they can’t be encouraged to go to the good schools, it just means that the good school needs to be a good fit for what the young person wants in life.

    Thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts. I love that you are happy with your life, it sounds like you’ve built a good one (I relate to your small flat – my house is small too, so much less to clean :)


  6. Beth November 17, 2010 at 5:03 pm

    Hi Melinda, I have been struck by how timely your postings are in the larger scheme of things. So often in life when we are listening and paying attention to our own conscious awareness we also are in the flow with others who are on a similar wave length. Then low and behold someone comes along and speaks or writes about exactly what we have been thinking about. Some of us are called to be the “voice” of those thoughts/ ideas and put it out there for others to see and hear. They are the Spiritual Guardians so to speak that are entrusted with the gift of communication that is clear, dependable and honest. With that gift they are able to empower others to “speak” their truth. I see you as one of those Guardians who draws people to the light of their own knowing. It is pure joy to be one who sees the illuminating success of your inner journey. You are blazing brightly! Shine on bright star!

  7. Marcia November 20, 2010 at 3:13 am

    This post certainly hit a “bulls-eye” for me. Thanks, Melinda.

  8. Walter November 25, 2010 at 2:57 am

    It has been the error of many to think that success can be achieved through external means. The flesh as well as the mind is seeking for satisfaction, yet it does not understand that it cannot be found within the physical realm. Infinite success and happiness can only be found within. :-)

    • Melinda November 25, 2010 at 7:54 am

      So true, Walter. External success can bring fun to our lives, and a measure of satisfaction in the accomplishments, but I agree that true success in life comes from our hearts.


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