Chances are, by the time you’ve finished reading that title you’ve already had a small (or large) counterargument start in your head about this. I did. When I first wrote that title down I had about ten thoughts in a row: I haven’t returned those clothes I bought online, I haven’t finished cleaning out those cupboards, I haven’t properly committed to my writing goals this week, I haven’t spent enough time on social media lately, I haven’t utilised my time as best I could. For all of us, me included, this avalanche can lead dangerously towards the next layer of negative thinking: “if I don’t pick up my game I’ll never get anywhere”. “All those things I wanted for myself and my career and my finances will never happen if don’t do better, do more and hurry up about it.”
Conversations I’ve had lately have revolved around this theme. I wrote about being inconsistent (and why its ok) a couple of weeks ago because I was tired of being held to an impossible standard mostly by myself, but also by external messages around what ‘it takes’ to be taken seriously as a creative, a writer, in business, at work etc. In the online world, the arts, the media – the bar has never been higher. We dissect articles and podcasts about how the successful people do it. How many hours do you write a day? Oh, so you didn’t sleep for four years before breaking even in your business? You launched two highly successful products before quitting your full time job? You wrote a book and went on a publicity tour while taking care of your newborn?
I love hearing these stories, and if you’re anything like me I’m sure you do too. Particularly when they’re genuine and come from a place of vulnerability so you hear every side of the story, the hard parts as well as the glory. There are so many incredible people that I admire because of what they’ve done in the world – and many of them possibly didn’t have a choice but to do it by making huge sacrifices of time, sleep and finances – and so many other facets of life.
But we have come to fetishise the concept of success. Why, exactly, are you doing what you’re doing? No really, why? If the answer is because you can’t imagine doing anything else, then I tip my proverbial hat to your passion, if the answer is because you have made a decision to follow a path that lights you up and gets you up in the morning, then I would say that’s an incredible way to live your life.
But the next question that needs to be asked is why do you think this requires you to do more, and do it better all the time? This is the question we forget to ask, and often at great consequence to our own wellbeing.
We want to believe the answer to this question is about becoming our best selves, honouring our curiosity, creativity, our intelligence, about making money to set ourselves and our families up for the future. Etc. But if we’re honest I think it has much, much more to do with a deeply held idea that if we don’t measure up in this way – doing more, doing better – then we are simply not up to the task. We’re not like ‘those successful people’. We’re not good enough. And this line of thinking has less to do with becoming our best selves and honouring our work, and everything to do with what other people think. We want to belong and be admired. We want people to see what we do, and like it. Its not that those are inherently bad intentions, but they become so when they cause us to start to drift away from the very path we started on for a bigger purpose than this – to be who we are, live a good life and enjoy what we do while we’re here.
If your current situation doesn’t fit the perfect image of success, then I’m here to tell you that’s ok. Its ok now, and it will continue to be ok as the years roll on. Choosing to work and live the way you want does not necessarily equal being visible to most of the world. It doesn’t equal thousands of facebook likes and instagram followers. It doesn’t equal huge promotions and acceleration in your chosen industry. Leadership positions. Speaking gigs. It doesn’t even equal earning good money from what you do.
The point that we miss is that the decision we make to pursue a particular career direction, pick up a creative practice or start a business are never about the success part (read: the money, the fame, the accolades). We start to think that’s what its all about after a while, but it never is. Its about your life. Read that again. Your life. Not your output. Not the comments. Not the paycheck. You decided this because you want to live life a certain way.
Its usually got something to do with expressing yourself, helping other people, making (and then enjoying) the best life for yourself and the people around you. Experiencing the joy that comes from discovery, new things, creating stuff and being seen for who you are. Living in accordance with your values. Not one of those things requires that you burn yourself out by staying up all night, every night, working. It doesn’t require that you are the first person in the office everyday. You don’t need to sell a million ebooks to be happy. Really.
The irony is of course that by pushing yourself so much you not only lose sight of what your focus was in the first place, but you are making decisions that are counterproductive to what you set out to achieve. I’m pretty sure you didn’t set out to thrash yourself, put a strain on your relationships and get sick from working too much and not sleeping enough.
So here is the clincher – if you don’t think you’re working hard enough, progressing quickly enough, making enough money, gaining enough visibility – perhaps what’s really happening is that you’re living your life instead. If you want to do what you’re doing to make your life better, it makes no sense whatsoever to waste precious time either working harder than you want to (or should) or beating yourself up about needing to do more of it. Whatever you’re doing, how much or how little, how often or not, how perfectly or not, its enough. Enough for you, enough for your life and enough to be enough. So give yourself a break.