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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