There are a lot of motivational books about how to get the success you want. Millions of people buy those books every year, but few people end up satisfied with what they have in life. Why?
We talk a lot about how to get what we want, but we rarely talk about how to know what we want — and I’ve come to the conclusion that very few people understand what they want and need. This leaves them pursuing other people’s goals and living other people’s lives.
I’ve spent many years working to get myself emotionally healthy. That has involved looking at where I came from and what happened to me, but it took me a long time to question what I really wanted. For many years — especially early in my life — I was certain that I wanted success, power, money and fame. In a culture driven by those things, it’s an easy mistake to make.
But I now understand that what I need is far simpler. In fact. the paradox is that I have no chance of having the things our culture says I need until I get my real needs met.
I understand now that I was chasing those other things early in life because something in me concluded that being that sort of success would make me worthy of what I really needed more than anything — unconditional love and acceptance.
In our culture, the people who get the praise and attention are those who rack up public successes. I had a lot of those when I was younger. I enjoyed the feeling of having them. I enjoyed the attention they brought. That praise swelled my ego and gave me temporary jolts of feeling good about myself.
But no matter what I did, it wasn’t enough. I didn’t feel good enough. I didn’t feel loved for who I was. I didn’t feel accepted. I didn’t feel understood. I felt only as good as my most recent success — so I was always striving to do something bigger and better and brighter. I was always eagerly holding something up to the world and saying — unconsciously — “Is this good enough for you to love me now?”
I burned out on that chase. I didn’t know why I felt burned out, but the successes felt empty and I slowly quit trying. More and more, I felt a sense of alienation from the world. I eventually felt like a failure — because I no longer even tried to do the things that had once driven me.
I understand now that none of those things mattered to me. Yes, all of them can be nice. Money can buy nice things and provide some degree of security. Success and fame can feel good for the ego. Power can be nice for helping achieve some things. But I understand now that none of them were ever enough; I understand now that they never can be enough.
We all have different things that our personalities and life experiences have taught us to chase, but I now believe that every one of them is a counterfeit. Every one of those things that seemed so important to us — success as it was defined for us — was merely an unconscious tool we used to get the love and acceptance we craved.
If we learn to associate some form of success with getting love or acceptance — especially if that’s what those things got us when we were young — we’re going to keep chasing them. But the worst part of this is that it means our priorities will be wrong.
Our striving for the things we have been programmed to chase will lead us down paths that take us away from what we really need — and we won’t understand that, because something in us is always going to unconsciously whisper to us that what we crave is just around the next corner.
We humans need love. We need acceptance. We need understanding. We need someone to know us in a genuine way — to know the depths of who we are and to accept us. If we don’t have those things, we’re always going to chase an unhealthy mirage — and we’re going to continue doing damage to ourselves and those we’re supposed to take care of.
I would still like success. There are a number of things I’d love to achieve. But I know those things will never make me worthy of love or acceptance. In fact, I have to find a way to feel loved and understood in order to achieve those successes I’d like to have.
I understand now that love and understanding and acceptance are the real inner motivations, not those more shallow forms of success that our culture praises.
It doesn’t matter how many success books you read or how hard you work on your career. You’re never going to be satisfied in life until you start with love and acceptance. If you don’t accept that as the priority of your life, you’re never going to be able to give love or experience success in the ways you want to. You’re going to be a failure with those you try to love.
We live in a culture that won’t hear a word of this — and it will probably roll off you just as it would have rolled off me 20 years ago. But I hope you’re able to learn the lesson sooner than I did. It’s been a painful lesson for me to learn.