What makes really good people with strong personal values work at a job or have a career that is so obviously misaligned to their values? What makes them stay in situations that negatively impacts their health, their stress levels, their relationships, and their general outlook on life? I mentioned in my last blog called Rethinking Fear, “It’s funny, if you told your 5-year-old kid how much you hated what you were doing and how unhappy you were, they would probably ask why don’t you do something else? Why don’t we do something else?”
I have a theory based on my own experience and observations of others that the reason that people stay in and justify unhappy situations whether it be work, relationships, etc. is for one or more of these three reasons:
- Not being able to see a good alternative;
- Addiction to instant gratification; and/or,
- Addiction to external validation.
Please revisit my previous blogs if you’d like to explore point number one. For the purpose of this blog, although we all know what instant gratification feels like (think of the first bite into a homemade fudge brownie), the external validity definition is basically needing or wanting something outside of ourselves to confirm that we are doing well. It’s typically something that can be measured on some level – your title, how much money you make, how big your house is, how many Facebook friends you have, what size dress you can fit into, your children’s grades . . . you get the picture. At first glance, it seems like an easy way to measure how well we are doing right? However, after a while, I want to suggest that it actually becomes a trap or an addiction that begins to drain us and becomes very difficult to get out of.
My theory is that the path to doing what you are truly passionate about is not initially filled with much external validation. Perhaps it’s starting your own business, or taking a step down into a new industry that you’re passionate about, or going back to school. Maybe it’s having to adjust your lifestyle because you won’t initially be making as much money as you once were or any at all.
We are externally validated by people and society when we live the marketed version that we see on television. Good education, promising job, big house in a great neighbourhood, nice car, designer clothes, off-season tan, 2.5 kids in the best daycares or schools, more stuff, etc. It feels nice to be admired and respected doesn’t it? The problem is what is the cost of keeping this up? If you love what you do that’s great. But, what if having and keeping more stuff is causing you less happiness, less being present with the people that you care about, less sleep, less health, and an overall decreased quality of life? Doesn’t seem to make much sense does it? But if we are truly honest with ourselves, the majority of us in fact do this. The thing about addiction is that you start needing more and more of it, not to feel good anymore but just to justify your life and feel okay.
The solution? Similar to any other addiction like alcohol or drugs, you need to give up external validation altogether. This is challenging because unless you’re fortunate enough to have people in your life who have already figured this out, likely the people around you are all addicted too, so we end up feeding each others addictions.
Try introducing yourself by your name and not telling people what you do for a living or how well your kids are doing or anything else that boosts your profile. It’s tough at first, you are just dying to say something that makes you look good or competent or validates your success but you need to stop completely. Stop hanging out for a while with people who trigger that need in you to be validated (you know who I’m talking about). Try surrounding yourself only with people who care about you as a person and not all of your stuff – if you think this is hard, try imagining yourself unemployed for a year, no job, no title, no income, downsizing your house or maybe moving out of your neighbourhood and think about which of your friends would still want to hang out with you (the list is getting smaller isn’t it?). Stop hanging out with people and going to places where you are treated better because you have a status of some kind. It might end up that you have to spend some time alone. Once you stop all of this, I assure you, you will start to hear the quieter, calmer but stronger voice of your true self and you will start to feel validated internally.
While taking what initially seems like a more difficult path may seem like you are moving further away from a “successful life”, taking actions towards what truly fulfills you will bring you alive and you will begin to feel motivated by your wonderful values rather than by your fears. This will bring you deep peace, a renewed energy, true happiness and fulfillment. Internal validation is essentially when your sense of self- worth comes from aligning your actions with your core beliefs and values. The ironic thing is you will likely still end of with lots of stuff (maybe even the same stuff) but your relationship to it will be different – you will appreciate and be grateful for it but you will not be defined by it.
What if less stuff (just for now) will lead you to more of what you are looking for in life?; more being present, more connection, more having a positive impact on the people around you, more happiness and more fulfillment. What would it be like to let go of all the stuff? What would it be like to not have to worry about how you’re going to keep all the stuff?
What have you been tolerating? What do you truly want?