The Reality of Success

Why is success valuable?

It was only recently that I began to accept that I was not, in fact, made of metal. 

Strange as that may sound, I have often, unconsciously, aspired to have its qualities; impenetrability, solidity, ‘coolness’, and toughness. I have grown to realize that I, like all humans, do in fact, have a vulnerability that terrifies me. There is no hard outer shell, just the illusion that one is possible. I am the creature on the left: Soft, malleable, innocent, slightly naive, squishy, and a bit fragile – also desperately seeking connection and love. However, all this, whilst somewhat strangely aspiring to be that metal block on the right. If you can relate I ask you… why do we do that?

Humans have a longer than typical gestation period (1by 37 days for an equal-sized mammal), and a comparatively long development cycle outside the womb. This extra developmental time allows our bones and brains to develop (2we are born with our brains at a mere 30% of what they grow into).  3Our brains complete their natural development in our mid to late 20’s. All that time we are growing ‘in real time’ through interacting with our environment where we painstakingly gather our emotional-cognitive selves (through mistake after mistake, and success after success) into one coherent whole. 4How we meet that process, in terms of self-supporting vs. destructive thoughts, or even an absence of self-reflective thought, is dependent on our social environment and, basically, our ability to discern that we’re in one.

And, the surest way to make this radical effort to become whole, is to aspire to become successful… at something you care deeply about.

It is the one thing that will drag us through battle upon battle both within and without. If you have not felt this battle yet, then you simply have not taken the biggest risks that still lie ahead of you on your path to success. Success is something that others can measure from the outside, but that we can only achieve from the inside. Only then do we have solidity to our success, for however long, before the next level of challenge faces us. 

One could say that our vitality is tied to our connection to life, and that our drive to achieve one specific goal is the thing that taunts us to travel through the forest of our own self-doubt in order to feel we can recognize ourselves… and breathe out finally, and fully.

The biggest battle is believing in ourselves – and being honest about our inner state, even if just with ourselves.

This is probably why we have the longest emotional developmental arc of all species; emotions are messy, hard to contain, challenging to feel and something we often think we’re avoiding.  If you doubt my words, see that as a marker for where you have not yet gone. When you do arrive there you will feel like a tiny boat in an angry sea without oars. You will doubt yourself to levels of excruciating debilitation and your measure of strength is in how you overcome your own mind that is telling you all the reasons you will fail. You will compare yourself to others, you will imagine their inside journey is flawless and that you are the only person who is really feeling doubt and anguish. It is lonely, haunting, accusatory, sometimes even mocking – and, depending on  your inner dialogue, you will be broken by it many times.

Depending on your resilience you will grow from that or let it defeat you for another year. We each take our own time to assimilate the inner dragon as a testing ground for making us stronger. You have this in you, the good dragon and the bad dragon. But, truly, the bad dragon is the one that’s going to turn you into the good dragon. It is a journey of dynamics, of faith, and disbelief. The reason the bad dragon is the one you want to spend time with, is because anything less than that is procrastination.

If you watch top athletes, they make this visible over and over – the journey from beginner’s passion to accomplished competitor. The one that wins is the one that has gained mastery over their mind and learned to distance themselves from its teeth and talons. I do not yet know if that aspect ever goes away as much as the volume perhaps gets turned down enough that it becomes background noise, like the tinnitus I’m hearing at the back of my head right now, as I write – relentless electrical signals that I must accommodate.

My journey is one of music. The closer I circle into the center of where I want to be, the wider out the circles want to push me.  The doubt about my path with it, my skill level, my competitiveness, my belief in self, challenge the joy that draws me into further devotion, commitment and productivity. For me, actually doing the work competes beautifully with doubting that I can do it. It’s actually the only thing that lifts me above those crazy waves and that daunting ocean of doubt that seems to want me to dive deeply into it’s watery depths and stay there.

Why do we have these doubts? Why is our life full of the drama of overcoming challenges? Is it childhood psychology, or cosmological design? Are we storytellers because we are drama travelers… drama journalists? Or are we explicating something that we cannot escape anymore than a wave can escape the ocean that generates it? The world was born of chaos – that is its core action, an outward explosion of life that then needed to weave something together, be woven into something coherent. It goes all the way back to the beginning of time, motion, and adventure.

I sympathise and empathise with everyone who meets this painful adventure of becoming – it is fraught with challenges and missteps, concerns and anxieties. The more we know, the less we know. But being able to ‘come home’ seems to be the metaphorical equivalent of residing in the eye of the storm. We all know hurricanes have a still center. Think of that as the mind, spinning and spinning, and sometimes just sitting still in its center is the only sane choice we have available to us while the storm seeks to spin us out.

There are ways out of this. But I think they take time, and help. Being human is hard but I think that’s only part of the journey. When we achieve what we have set out to, it means that life and our teleological passion for something specific, have worn away our resistance and turned our lives into a tapestry of acceptance and humility, albeit with bruising. I find that bruising, that humility is where I actually feel the safest, and the most capable of honest endeavour.  It’s where I find my self-acceptance and my authenticity – even if only fleetingly. I know where to find it, and how to get there.

How about you? Where are you on your voyage?

[Image by Richard Bennett, Midnight Rambler]