According to the should-be-a-blockbuster-bestseller article “15 Powerful Things Happy People Do Differently,” there is a difference between ambition and success, but not meaning and success.
Or at least there is if I am reading it correctly.
Here is what I am reading: “The irony here is that most of the time they [the happy people] get both, success and meaning, just because they choose to focus on doing the things they love the most and they always pursue their heart desires. They are not motivated by money; they want to make a difference in the lives of those around them and in the world.”
Being a freelance writer, speaker, and (very) non-profit director with a, um, variable income, I do have to confess that there is also a point where meaning and success at least want to, if not choose to, part ways. By that I mean – it can become very, very hard to focus on making a meaningful difference to others – at least in a way that actually has any meaning to it – when one’s own bank account has logged a certain number of hours in the red zone.
But then again, as my mentor always reminds me, “Anything worth doing is worth giving everything of yourself to”. It is the hardest stuff that also comes with the biggest payoff attached, and the most meaningful stuff that often takes the most effort and time to accomplish.
In this mix there is also another variable my mentor has struggled to infuse me with – a meaningful attention to self.
Here is where the bank account dilemma begins to factor into any power struggle between meaning and material success in a big way. If I am not properly taking care of my own basic needs, then at least in theory if in not fact I really have no business helping others until I put my own affairs to right again.
I have learned this well and the hardest way possible in my years’ long work in the eating disorder field. Recovering people watch what we (the recovered folks) do much more than they pay attention to what we say. Because we are essentially walking the same path, people in recovery have a finely tuned radar to feel and call out deception wherever they find it. The work is too difficult, too scary, and too improbable to tolerate deception in any way, shape or form along the way.
In this, what I have discovered is that the only way to mentor others well is to walk your own path with honesty. My mentor mirrors this to me every day, and I do my utmost to offer this same mirror to others in turn.
It is not different from writing a blog, for that matter. Readers can tell when the writer is writing from the heart and their honest experiences. Those writers – the honest, transparent ones – attract readers like spray millet attracts my bird, Pearl.
This also applies to working through issues where personal ambition seems to be in conflict with success and/or meaning.
As it turns out, transparent honesty is a soul- (and career-) saver in all the ways that truly matter.
Today’s Takeaway: There is nothing wrong with struggling with wanting to be successful and wanting to have a meaningful life and career. In fact, there is everything right about it and certainly a lot of happiness to be had when you find the mix that works for you! But perhaps the only sure way to arrive at a personal resolution is also to accept that comparisons are useless here. You must find your own unique “set point” where ambition, success, and meaning all intersect in a way that resonates with you.
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Last reviewed: 12 Jul 2012