“Why do you care so much what other people think? The only person you have to prove anything to is yourself. Be proud of your achievements!”
Does this sound familiar?
Growing up, I had a chip on my shoulder:
- I never felt good enough.
- I wanted to be liked.
- I wanted to be accepted.
Not being good enough pushed me to extremes – especially in my work ethic. I put all my energy into chasing after the wrong achievements, for all the wrong reasons.
Through the painful process of achieving goals for all the wrong reasons, I learned how to start achieving for the right reasons. It all came down to defining achievement in a way that felt aligned for me.
3 Obstacles to Personal (Not External) Achievement I Overcame
Let’s take a trip down memory lane.
In high school, three things were very prevalent and abundant in my life.
- Trying to Please Everyone Except Myself: First, as I’ve reflected a lot on my parents divorce, the common theme that’s come up over the years is me always trying to please both sides. I’d tell my mom one thing and my dad another, just to make them both happy… but I was never happy myself. Doing everything in your life to please others brings nothing but pain in the long run.
- Getting Blindsided by Focusing on a Short-Term Goal: Not making the Varsity basketball team freshman year was a crushing blow. It made it hard to fit in during such a formative time. I had a great group of friends in high school, but never felt 100% aligned in most of those relationships. I felt like a square peg constantly being jammed into a round hole. In most relationships, this isn’t not worth the struggle. And yet I kept trying, while never fully being accepted.
- Letting Struggles in School Diminish My Worth: School never came easy to me. It was very hard to get by in the classroom. The effort I put into my studies didn’t align with most report cards. I’d constantly study topics I saw little value in, without getting the results I wanted.
These struggles made me value the tangible ways I can succeed outside the classroom. All those years led up to me forcing my way into college. I was waitlisted and rejected from the top 5 schools I applied to with a 3.5 GPA. I wrote an extra letter to each school’s admissions office explaining how I’d fulfill their vision and mission statement. The University of Georgia let me in.
I learned two major life lessons from this triumph:
- The Extra Mile is Never Crowded
- Go Where You are Appreciated, Not Just Tolerated
Find Where you Belong in the World by Finding the Courage to Stand Out
My story isn’t an uncommon one. All these themes are ones we face when we are trying to belong in the world. Learning how to belong for who we truly are is scary. It means we have to figure out how to show up 100% authentically as ourselves, day in and day out.
We must come to terms with who we are not, too. Even if it hurts, sometimes we just have to realize that we are not the right fit for a particular group we had set our hearts on trying to fit in with.
This is a really hard realization to make. It challenges us to confront what we have to give up on others to find the people most suited for us.
Over my journey, I’ve learned that if we want to really “fit in,” we must first stand out.
The Best Solution: Pursue Achievements you Truly Care About
The solution to my upbringing was trying to belong on the wrong path continuously as I went to college. Trying to prove myself to my peers and other coaches that made up my high school or my parents that I was going to do great in the world.
I worked many jobs in college where I continuously bit off more than I could chew. I worked, worked, and worked. Every waking moment, I was trying new things, constantly trying to be seen and understood externally.
By the time I was a senior in college, I had worked for a sports agency, two college athletic departments, started a failed t-shirt business, a professional sports team, and built a self sustaining program that did $80k in revenue in its’ first year for the Atlanta Hawks. The classroom to me was a checklist, get through the known structure as fast as possible, as everything beyond it was my chance to prove others wrong.
By the time I hit my junior year – I hit a breaking point. I was achieving, succeeding (for others), but at what cost?
My health was deteriorating as I was burning out and getting sick. My personal relationships were so intense and falling apart at the same time, and I constantly was hearing how I needed to “smell the roses” more.
This narrative doesn’t seem so uncommon, either. After speaking with our brand architect, Rich Keller, he experienced a similar story with his family. Rich, who felt invisible growing up in his challenged home.
Rich became so focused on his mantra, “Success is the best revenge” that all he could think about was proving to the world that he was visible. He learned the hard way that the only person he needed to please was himself.
No title, diploma or material possession is more important than knowing who you are and letting that drive what you do.
The summer between my junior and senior year I stayed home, almost in solitude, for 3 months working on a farm and going to therapy, digging up my past.
I finally had a moment of total clarity: I was living my entire life for other people. The chain of events since I entered college was a mad dash to prove my self worth and be liked and accepted by others – through achievements I could control – on my own terms.
But, they were driving me into a hole both with my health (mental and physical) and I started to self evaluate.
And at what cost?
As I dug deeper into them through my writing it was apparent my upbringing and key events pushed me on the brink of excessive work ethic and lofty achievements that was unsustainable, and for the wrong reasons.
These realizations led me to discovering Simon Sinek’s work TED Talk and book Start With Why. I started giving thought to my purpose much earlier than most – and not that we ever truly have it figured out, I really started pondering life’s deep questions at a young age – when most are out partying.
I remember spending hours writing out and thinking through these questions:
- “What is my Why?”
- “What is My Purpose?”
I picked up every book that I felt would give me the answer, like “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl. I continued doing a lot of writing and self evaluation.
Then I started thinking about what actions can I take that feel more aligned, more informed around who I truly am as a person and the achievements I want to look back on with pride someday.
When I came out of my “summer isolation” I felt transformed. When I went back to college, and everything felt different. I felt like I was moving through the world and taking actions from the inside out. Additionally, the relationships I spent the most time in college, weren’t as strong and connective.
I felt like a lobster that grew out of its shell. And needed to find a new home or set of homes where people would understand what I went through.
By the time I graduated, I said “no” to two job offers (listen here to learn more). They weren’t in alignment with my goals and I didn’t want to sacrifice my]worth, time, and life for society’s ideals of success by having a job right out of college.
So, I created my own. Wish Dish.
While I failed financially, it was the first time I felt connected to who I was and what I was doing. We had told hundreds of impactful stories and impacted hundreds of thousands of readers over a 2 year journey.
In a matter of a year and a half, I went from rock bottom, to getting clear on my past, and then figuring out the right actions and achievements for my future that were intentional and aligned around who I was as a person.
Today, I feel more fulfilled than ever before personally and professionally. I’m letting who I am drive and the achievements I seek for fulfillment. No longer is this cause and effect the other way around.
This is why I care so much about young professionals.
If you do the hard work early, I believe it will become so much easier to belong on your own terms.
While our work at BW Missions is about pathfinding and bringing important messages for very successful thought leaders and CEO’s to the forefront, I’m noticing how most of these individuals have become real on who they are and overcome a lot of their past trauma.
I think there’s a link between thought leaders fully belonging in their own shoes and overcoming their past hollow self. That’s how they learn to teach others to stop chasing achievements that only other people care about. That’s how they resonate so deeply with young people who remind them of themselves, people who are currently trailblazing a similar journey.
4 Ways to Reframe Achievements and Values to Align With the Real You
1. Get Clear on Your Past: Start asking yourself questions about your actions and why you’re taking them. Are they for you? Or to please and “win over” other people? If they are for the latter, then re-assess the actions you’re taking and get clear on the end pursuits and what living for you means.
Recommended Resources: There are a lot of good self discovery journals out there such as Case Kenny’s workbook, Rich’s program, Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why” course, and books likeMan’s Search for Meaning are all resources that can help you draw insights to your own path.
2. Identify Key Relationships: Think about the relationships you surround yourself with — are they because they’re forced and put in place because you are taking actions out of alignment with your own terms? I believe the best relationships come when you are living life authentically and being intentional about the action steps. The right people always seem to show up at the right time as they’re leading similar lives as you. Invest in relationships in the right pockets and neighborhoods that will fully accept you and help you belong. You can’t do this alone.
Recommended Resource: Tribes by Seth Godin.
3. Put Your Own Oxygen Mask On First: Think about what living for “you” actually means and how to look out for your own needs so you can help others who are in need. When you’re taking actions to prove yourself or constantly others, it’s hard to feel a sense of genuine belonging.
4. Spend Time Alone: The best breakthroughs come when your pen meets paper; brainstorming thinking, with no distraction. You’d be surprised whatt subconscious thoughts come to the front of mind. This can be a routine practice or a silent meditation retreat, or include other methods. There’s no “right” or “wrong” way, but alone time is essential.
If you take away one thing from this article, I hope it’s the inspiration to make this change for yourself: Live in accordance with your values. Work towards achievements you identify as important.
Living for other peoples’ approval is a slippery slope. When you live for yourself, the right people will show up around your actions when you’re making them fully for you.
Most importantly, even though I hit my breaking point early, this doesn’t have to be the story for everyone. You don’t have to hit rock bottom or get to the same kind of breaking point I did if you start doing the hard work from the beginning.