“How to get rid of ego as dictator and turn it into messenger and servant and scout to be in your service, is the trick.”― Joseph Campbell
I’ve been thinking about this topic for quite a while now; my post, Finding Your Why being an outcropping of that. Then listening to Tim Ferriss’ recent podcast with Tony Robbins (On Achievement Versus Fulfillment) got me thinking even more about the disconnect that often exists in otherwise “successful” people between said “success”, and that lacking sense of personal fulfillment. Or being just downright miserable human beings in spite of that hard-earned success. So, why the persistent and widespread disconnect?
As entrepreneurs, we’re skilled at surveying the marketplace, finding a void, then creating a service or widget to satisfy market demand.
Like locus, we rush in and devour. We refine business systems and processes to fit the demand of the situation, and get to work organizing teams and producing what it is the market desires. That scenario — the end result of an extensive entrepreneurial toolbox and refined acumen — is called achievement. And we Americans, in particular, are damn good at it. That drive and know-how seeps even into the non-entrepreneurial white and blue collar “worker”, resulting in an uber efficient and effective hybrid of the American / Puritan work ethic. The end result being that per capita, American workers are the most productive in the world.
And also some of the most miserable.
Consider that while it’s true that the total number of US manufacturing jobs has steadily declined since the 1970s, US manufacturing output has increased by nearly 40% over the last two decades. For more detail on that idea, see this LA Times article. The gist of this is that we as entrepreneurs continue to become ever more proficient at creating and wielding the tools of achievement. Marketing savvy, technology, system processes, sales funnels… the acumen required to produce and sell “stuff” to consumers (oftentimes unwittingly) hungry for “stuff” is mind boggling in it’s effect and efficiency.
In short, we kick friggin’ ass at the achievement game. So why are we so gawtdamn miserable?
On the surface, every successful entrepreneur I know looks to be living the dream. But I’ve found that, when really drilled (i.e., the “five whys” approach) about whether or not said successful entrepreneur is fulfilled, an entirely different answer emerges. Most entrepreneurs are anything but (i.e., “something’s missing”; “there’s a persistent void”), and so…on to the next entrepreneurial conquest…
… and on to the next “material upgrade”. The ages-old, “keeping up with the (uber-successful) Joneses”. Only now, in the digital era, the pace has sped exponentially.
No judgement on this cycle. Just things as they are. But you have to ask yourself: is that “dream” the direct conduit to happiness and fulfillment?
And don’t think this phenomena is limited to Type-A entrepreneurs and professionals. It’s rampant within the fitness community as well. There’s just a different definition of success involved. Whether it be body type or performance (or both) driven.
Now, to be fair here, I’ve also known (albeit, a very few) entrepreneurs who are truly fulfilled, and who follow this very same (let’s call it “material-driven”) process. And I’d say that personally I’m about 80% “there”, on the fulfillment scale, following this wash-rinse-repeat cycle.
So what gives? How is it that some of the most success entrepreneurs are utterly miserable and unfulfilled, while a select few radiate peace and satisfaction?
Let’s step back for a moment and look a little deeper at the differences between Achievement and Fulfillment.
Loosely defined, what I’m attempting to parse here is the what and how’s (or Achievement) from the why‘s (fulfilment). It’s the difference between Getting Things Done, and the 4 Hour Workweek and realizing / pursuing your true dharma (more on that in a future post). It’s the acumen of successful business practice vs the “why am I doing it” dilemma.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not implying that dogged business pursuit will only lead to a gaping, burning hole where your soul used to be; a crater that can only be soothed with hookers, coke, and a plethora of other poor and aimless lifestyle choices. But I would suggest taking a step back to ensure that your business pursuits align with your deepest personal vision statement. Find out what it means for you to be fulfilled, first — then act in and on the world accordingly. You may find that the drive for more money will never bring you fulfillment, but that pursuing your true, north star vision is what will ultimately bring you the peace and happiness that you’re actually looking for.
For me, ensuring that all that I do aligns with me unleashing vast human potential imprisoned in poor health also ensures that those pursuits fulfill my soul. I’ve also found, through some extensive self-evaluation, and with the help of plant medicine, that I value life experience much, much more that material goods or prestige. In other words, a new Ferrari, or a year of backpacking the globe on the cheap? The former does little to excite me, but the latter gets me jacked-the-fuck-UP!
But here’s the rub: to make that backpack-the-globe experience truly fulfilling, I’d need to tie it somehow to my personal vision. I don’t just want to retire to the coconut and Aya farm to dawdle. Maybe the venture becomes a moveable classroom on health, wellness and fitness designed for the residents of whatever niche environment I happen to find myself in. A living, traveling, environment-specific demonstration of the Five T’s in action. And maybe it’s funded, in large part, by Kickstarter donations, with those donors then having access to my extensive travel log.
This is how the entrepreneurial mind thinks. It’s like one endless whiteboard that’s continuously being filled with the next “what if…”
And that’s all fine and exciting, but the reality is that the bottom line and ROI must be met because we do have to keep ourselves fed, and put a roof over our heads. So business acumen does matter. But my “ask” is that entrepreneurs then tether that creativity and business acumen to their personal vision. Because what the world can never have too many of are happy, truly fulfilled influencers.
Finding your vision
For me, my involvement with plant medicine has been a life changer. It has allowed me to cut through all the cultural preconditioning that we’re all subjected to from the time we are born, to find what’s truly at my core. My purpose, and what it is that truly makes me tick.
Shedding that skin of preconditioning is in no way an easy task. In part, because the bulk of that conditioning resides in the subconscious and was “put there” mostly be people you dearly love, who only wanted the best for you vis-a-vis their cultural conditioning. That’s powerful. Then it’s reinforced by the society at large. Can any kid survive to young adulthood in this culture without believing that happiness and fulfillment will naturally follow material success?
So what I’m asking you to do is to break that chain of material success being equated to true, lasting happiness. Start by asking yourself some serious questions. What would you do if money wasn’t an issue? What is it that you need to do, on a daily basis, that connects you to the “whole”? What actions can you perform (or what unique gifts do you have) that can be put to work in the service of others?
Something to ponder, and something I know from personal experience: why is depression rampant in former athletes and service members returning from deployment? The bottom line is that these individuals no longer have a sense of purpose to a greater good. Even though they are now safe from harm and in a “cushy” (by comparison) environment, they lack a sense of meaningful contribution to tribe. They might not be able to articulate it, but they feel the effects of material gain not being able to substitute for whatever internal vision statement they may have.
And at their root, all personal vision statements I have seen from those who have seriously wrestled with this question have some form of “service to tribe” imbedded within them.
Heal thyself, harden thyself; change the world –