This text is the result of years of deep thoughts, scars on soul and heart, tremendous success in my career, deep holes I crawled out and love given to me by people worldwide. It could be a good read for everyone. It's as much as a wisecrack as I can be at this age. Pretentiousness included.
The following text can help you if you seek happiness, if you are caught in a rat race for admiration, career and money. If you want to break free from consumerism and superficiality. If you ask yourself what to do with your life, if you have self-optimized yourself enough, this may be for you. And if it all sucks to read because I suck at writing, at the end there are links with influx from people who are renowned and who are preaching the same things.
If you check LinkedIn and its recommended news, there is always a great supply of motivational posts by influencer, movers and shakers. Sheryl Sandberg and her fellows pop up, Branson and Al Gore want to empower you. And that is all cool, because these people matter and have reached top level in this life. Top level is something people tend to seek overall. It seems that for many members of Western(ized) societies, reaching significance is the goal in life. Work hard, reach high and excel. I was under this conception, too. I sought to patch up flaws and missing parts of my self-esteem and -value through tremendous success, with recognition, status and significance coming along.
Especially with women, but also with my inner peace.
Your inner voice is weak and easily overheard
What I came to find in the past years, while racing along the contestants for power, influence and recognition - while often taking the lead - is that it does not matter at all. The harder you work, the faster you run, the higher you reach the harder it becomes to listen to that inner voice. There are individuals who excel in their career and life because their work fulfills them, these are true entrepreneurs in the right spirits. They can balance family and work because passion drives both. They do what they do not because it pays bills, because it is accepted and promises status or safety, but because their heart drives them to do it.
I see Branson and Jobs in the line of these people. Of most people I met in the past years of career, only a handful of individuals did what they do because it was their passion. There was one guy who was so much in love with computer vision algorithms, that it was a delight to have him explain his newest invention and jointly come up with uses cases for it. Some of those use cases will hit the shelf in the near future. I loved that. Or a British scholar, who was able to explain string theory and quantum physics with such clear words and bright smile, that you actually thought you understand what he was talking about, while actually you totally weren't. At least not me.
Then of course there is my good colleague who loves sales. Before I met him, I thought sales was the lowest position in a company, the bitch who has to sell what all others envisioned, produced and packed. But not all, sales is the stage where you prove yourself and sell yourself. It's a fine dance around the client, needs, demands and reality. It's theater with real money, it requires empathy, balls and can be tremendous, challenging fun - if you are not just shifting boxes and Excel tables in a high volume environment. You can love whatever you do, it just needs to be your passion. Importantly: Being good as something does not translate to personal fulfillment or growth, because you can be good at something you hate, but continue doing because you have to. Knowing this, I understand that what I write here can be considered disgusting elitist talk of a
gifted individual free to chose where to work next on this planet. I am well aware of this, but please bear with me.
What neo-liberal societies expect
Many exchange following their true passion and heart with motivational posters, raises and promotions, external advice and recognition.
It is what this world and society expects:
- You are only successful if what you do and represent is recognized or pays off.
- An idea is just as good as its market potential.
- A person is just as successful as his bank account, status symbol or influence on other people.
Integrity and moral standard don't matter in their true form, just when they promise even more gain of whatever is sought. This is not just for commercial, corporate world. People might join Greenpeace not for idealism, but because so they can say "I do something good" while still not being in tune with themselves, while still eating packed meat, cheating on their partners.
Many even don't have or don't develop a passion, sometimes out of fear that this passion will bring insecurity and lack acceptance by peers, or just because their character was never allowed to develop far enough to find out where heart and passions sits. These individuals have to dig even deeper than what I am trying to bring across here to find "their way". Every individual should aim for true autonomy. This means that you live a life in balance with yourself, which is a feat you can only achieve if you accept and correctly mirror your strengths and weaknesses.
While it is easy to argue that asking everyone to do what they love is an elitist, first world demand and only further feeds egotism, hedonism and over paced individualism, the ability to take a good look at yourself is independent of economic realities.
Once you realize that many people are running away form themselves, from their weaknesses, from father- and mother complexes or are suffering from narcissistic personality disorder as a result of self-denial and suppressed shame and self-hate - the world gets much easier to understand.
The crowd of the world splits and you can spot those few in balance with themselves. And sadly, most of those are not to be found on main street, but in the side streets. Accepting weaknesses, finding your inner balance can throw you of the highway of "success" or career, because education and the corporate world are structured to serve as a substitute for reflection and acceptance and happiness with the world as it is. More and more, more money, more influence, more success is a driving force that clouds the reception of the inner self. And once you step out of that system, once you blow away the clouds, you might drop out of this construct. It's an ego driven world, but ego does not mean individual, true self.
Find inner balance before taking responsibility for others.
It takes courage and willingness to suffer and step into uncertainty to look at your inner self closely.If you are raising, or are about to, a family, it is vital that you have found balance, because otherwise you will transport your inner conflicts to your offspring and another generation will be raised to walk down the same path. A path that can lead to self-denial, suffering and suppressed inner aggression. It can lead to depression, cheating, violence and sickness, influence the choice of partners, career and and all other kinds of personality disorders.
That is why inner balance is crucial. If your life is not governed by autonomy and thus, true self-fulfillment, other factors will take over: Politicians aim for power, business leaders for power and money, artists for fame and so forth. Those aims are based on external influx, recognition with the aim of patching up what is missing on the inside.
You will make others suffer if you don't find autonomy
The truth is: This might work, but I am now sure that inner peace and happiness will not prevail this way. People can live denying reality, denying the urge for autonomy until it falls silent. Those people might end up being driven by inner conflict and suffer from hate for themselves. Those conflicts can be projected to the outside world, their sources sought in the outside world.
If you lose the ability to reflect and analyze yourself, you see faults, mistakes in and project your issues onto everyone but yourself. One might look to fill a gap on the inside with another person, with blind hope and live an illusion. One might patch up unhappiness and the sense of failure by relaying personal responsibility for happiness, purpose, vision and balance to somebody else.
Find your true partner by being true to yourself
Sadly, this is how a lot of couples and a whole lot of people work, but on the inside they cannot be happy, as they have defeated themselves. To be giving and a true partner, you need to find balance for yourself. This brings us back to the offspring: Kids may grow up suffering from parents who are out of balance and adopt their behavior and values, without knowing and feeling them through. Their entire life might be lived without the ability to reflect and see what is really going on. They might turn glib, self-absorbed and always feel like the victim. Even if they realize a wrongdoing, the lack of independence and low self-esteem will keep them from being really sorry.
Shame is a powerful force ready to ruin you
Shame will have so much power, that denial and fleeing is much easier than facing the truth, asking for forgiveness and working on inner flaws. Basically: People that are out of balance with themselves have harder times dealing with ambiguity, guilt, responsibility and the challenges of life. Independence and responsibility might be given up and away in favor of a life repeating the life of the parents, or a life governed by dependence on someone else or something else (religion, drugs).
Such a dependence can deliver a feeling of security and ease life by denial of responsibility for actions and emotions. Realizing this, empowered me to look at people I meet, to look at myself and around me with a different perspective. Suddenly the patterns described emerged everywhere. Many people are aware that they live a life of denial, but previous pain, abuse or disappointment have thrown them on the safe track and shame, angst and comfort keep them there.
The definition of success and a good life is a mix between individual choice and socialization, therefore some might be genuinely happy with a status quo, avoiding autonomy. But I consider this the fast track to self-defeat. Fear and protection are in the way of finding passion and inner balance. A common concept, especially in a masculine and individual society, is that vulnerability is equal to weakness and weakness as equal to failure. I can say from my experience, that this is not true at all.
Be vulnerable to succeed
Realizing and working on weaknesses, working with your past, old conflicts and taking good looks at yourself and those you chose to be around you, has given me more than I gave. I left the race for significance, for salary and for status. Once you realize you have all you need, the world opens up. You hear, see, smell and feel everything with more intensity and life becomes calmer. Once you let your heart speak, listen to that little man in your head and stop being someone they want you to be, stop making people proud, stop excelling because it is what needs to be done to have success, stop committing to anyone but yourself and those who love you for your character, life becomes easy. And courage comes. Comes to let your life be guided by love instead of fear. We all make mistakes, sometimes grave ones. It can take time, strength and honesty to accept these, even more to apologize and make up for, or forgive, but it is a key ingredient in finding balance.
Shake your society, add vulnerability to the equation
I wish that societies with a high uncertainty avoidance would open up and be more accepting of vulnerability and weakness, to leap of faiths and sensitivity. Instead of avoiding them, these displays of courage and true strength should be embraced as wonderful sources of inspiration and improvement. Instead of regarding that man with most influence, expensive toys and young mistress as the winner of society, we should return to embrace the scholar, the passionate, the individual - the potentially not so well-off person. Can I be successful in terms of inner balance, without giving into a rat race and also have that kind of outer success which is non-threatening to those too weak to face their weaknesses?
How to drop out of this race for self-defeat?
The answer is simple: Listen. Listen to yourself, to those genuinely meaning good and take a good look at yourself. Those who mean good will give you a hard time when deserved and will tell you when your shit stinks. That is the time when you should listen. Life is always two-sided. You can't have happiness while avoiding sadness. You can't be strong by avoiding weakness. Even if you suffered a great disappointment, missed the influence of a parent or society made you insecure about yourself: You always have it in you to change and to listen to yourself. Ask yourself what you fear, what you dislike about someone close, what you seek from your career, from other people. What you are waiting for.
Embrace the path & respect the process
May the answers or just the questions will lead to an inner process of realizing that what you seek from the world can be found in yourself, but you just dropped it somewhere along the way. Many of us have defeated our inner child, that innocent, bright-eyed and curious little being looking at the world without prejudice, sexual desires and poisoned values. Just find that naivety again. Being someone they want you to be, or you want to be, can lead to misery.
Being yourself is hard, because it means that you have to accept that you can be something and something not - that you have to make compromises and yourself vulnerable. But a realistic view at yourself allows you to excel in what you love and agree to compromises which truly make this life great. What you fear will transform to what makes you strong. Accept your mistakes, apologize where you can and try to repair damage done when possible.
Most importantly: Finding balance by accepting you as how you are ends the race for recognition, materialistic pleasures and money because you realize that you carry all you need in yourself. Another big help is to find a passion for yourself, find something that makes you happy just for yourself. Like listening to Drum and Bass. Every human being benefits from bass love. Of course, as we all need to secure our existence, such revelations or self improvement endeavors do not need to collide with making money. On the contrary: I would argue making lots the right amount of money and enjoying life while doing so comes way easier, once you follow your heart and inner compass.
At the end, maybe something about balance from Karma:
Any conscious thought, word and/or action, arising from a cognitively unresolved emotion (cognitive dissonance), results in karma. Jung once opined on unresolved emotions and the synchronicity of karma; 'When an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside as fate.'
I did not just wake up one day with these insights. If you are interested where some inspiration for these ramblings comes from, which have some esoteric-feel-good-new-age-hippie feel, I recommend the following sources. As always, you are welcome to discuss this.
- Arno Gruen - Der Verrat am Selbst: Die Angst vor Autonomie bei Mann und Frau // The Betrayal of the Self: The Fear of Autonomy in Men and Women
- How to get everything you want
- Brené Brown on vulnerability
- Funny enough, this one was posted one morning after I had this piece up and goes in the exact same direction: Arianna Huffington - Taking the Third Metric Abroad: Redefining Success Goes Global
- The Wisdom Principle - Another one that popped up in my LinkedIn stream. Great, concise and short.
And if anyone ever copies this text and puts some stupid motivational poster on top or inline, I will personally drive or fly over and shove something up somewhere.