Where You Should Be vs. Where You Are
We spend our entire lives focused on achievement.
We get gold stars in elementary school, trophies in high school, a spot on the dean’s list in college, and promotions at work.
It’s all about achievement and we’re all grappling for it.
If you work hard you should expect success, right?
But what if success doesn’t come fast enough?
I mean, what if you’re burning the candle at both ends and STILL feel lapped by others? This describes the first 13 years of my career – and let me tell you – it was brutal.
See the problem was I had a v-e-r-y bad case of “if onlys.”
- If only I lived in New York, I would have a full life of endless opportunities.
- If only I had been born to more connected parents, I would have a network of people who can help me.
- If only I had a bestseller, my career would take off.
The list went on and on – not only crowding my head and causing me to judge others who had “more”, but robbing me of the ability to see the abundance in my life already. After all, I had a wonderful husband, two incredible little boys, family nearby, a comfortable lifestyle, freedom to do work I love, and everyone was healthy.
That’s success, right? And yet…the anxiety was crippling.
Specifically, I remember waking up each morning and – before I’d even gotten out of bed – I was already spinning in lack.
- How am I going to get ahead today?
- Why have I been working so hard and have so little to show for it?
- Why does it look so easy for her?
Still, something had to give. The turning point happened one morning when – as usual – I was hurrying my kids out the door for school. We were running late that day and I remember yelling at my five-year-old to put on his shoes.
Then, I yelled at my six-year-old to find his backpack.
Then, I yelled at both of them to get in the car.
And as I slammed the door, jerked the gear into reverse, and turned around to pull out of the driveway, I noticed my oldest son silently crying. His face was red and his body was clenched tight as he stared at the ground, tears streaming down his cheeks.
“What’s wrong?” I asked. “Mommy,” he said. “You make me sad.”
That was it.
No screaming. No tantrum. Just a child who felt defeated and was clearly hurting.
The tantrums I was prepared for, but this – this – was something else entirely. I looked over at his brother who met my eyes briefly – and then also stared coldly at the ground. Without a word I put the car in park, grabbed the steering wheel with both hands, and sat there in shocked silence.
Good God, what am I doing?
In that moment a wave of guilt and shame crashed over me and…. I lost it. I buried my face in my hands and had a good old-fashioned, red-eyed, runny nose, can’t-catch-your-breath, u-g-l-y cry. Eventually I figured I should pull myself together – if only to prevent scarring the poor kids any further. I took a couple of deep breaths, turned completely around in the seat and reached out to both of them.
“Take my hands,” I said. They grabbed the tips of my fingers. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have yelled at you. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I promise I’m going to figure it out and get better, okay?”
They nodded, but it was still an awkwardly silent ride to school.
That was a few years ago – the tipping point of my journey into mindfulness – but I’d been studying enough to know the first step was to get honest about what was REALLY going on.
And it had nothing to do with missing backpacks.
It was the fact that I had faaaar too much self-worth wrapped in my career and – when that didn’t measure up – I allowed my disappointment to bleed into every area of my life.
There you go folks. Brutal honesty.
Of course, the benefit of being honest is that it puts you in a position to make informed decisions.
In my case, waking up to emails from amazing leaders doing cool stuff was triggering me into a dark place that affected how I treated own family.
Ah, yes. More honesty – but that’s the beauty of this practice. It doesn’t let you hide.
And so the next step was to figure out what, specifically, I was jealous of.
I mean, what exactly do these people have that I want?
I sat with that question for months. I carved out a lot of thinking time. I made lists.
And through the process of staying honest, digging deep, and being mindful, I had a tremendous number of breakthroughs.
I learned goals can be dangerous, control is an illusion, and service is the real key to fulfillment. I also learned our greatest problems are often our greatest teachers. In my case, I thought I was jealous of marquee speaking engagements, bestselling status, and national media coverage. And while that’s all well and good, upon closer inspection, the only quality everyone I analyzed had in common is that they had each created a community around their message.
Turns out, I wasn’t seeking status – I was seeking connection. This is what happens when we stop turning away from our problems and turntowards them. We find the truth – and in that truth we find choice.
Once I “woke up” to the fact that it was my perception – not my circumstances – holding me back, I stopped feeling sorry for myself and started seeking like minds.
- I’m still not a mega-bestselling author.
- I still don’t live in New York.
- I’m still not rich and I don’t headline conferences.
I’m here now. And now is what matters most.
So instead of spending your life searching for the next big achievement, why not try looking in your own back yard. Examine what you have, what you have achieved, and feel grateful for those small, or big blessings. If that still leaves you longingly dreaming for the accolades of your peers, examine where that desire comes from, you may be surprised what the real reason is behind your envy.
Above all, don’t forget that one day, you’ll be looking back on this moment and appreciating your life as it was. Why not cut out the middle man and start that process today?