I was asked to give a talk at a local college as part of Entrepreneur Week some time ago. In the current economic and social environment being an entrepreneur is heavily labelled as about making profit and increasing wealth. Knowing that I was going to come in to contact with many budding entrepreneurs my mind was drawn to the experience I have been having with a great deal of my clients.
In our workshops we deal with emotional development and emotional resilience. Many people come to us in order to avoid issues with stress and self esteem. Many more come to us because they have an issue with stress or self esteem which are often being expressed through conflict in their relationships or workplace.
A large number of our clients fit in to a bracket that we would describe as High Achiever – Low Self Esteemer. The title of high achiever does not necessarily mean they earn massive amounts of money but they are driven and drive themselves mercilessly to achieve in their chosen field.
The issue with their self esteem is that they had begun to rely mainly on their workplace, occupation or business to boost their self esteem. In fact the majority of them felt that they were defined by the success or failure of their career or business. In other words if you asked them how they would describe themselves they would give job titles, experience, success levels etc. A few may stray towards acknowledging they are parents. None of them would describe themselves as a human being or as happy or content.
Part of the stress they brought into theirs and their families lives was the need for external validation. They associate their success in the world, whether people would respect them and like them with the level of success they achieved and how they could demonstrate it. The size of the car they drove, the house and the area they lived in, the holidays they took and the job title they had. All of these contributed to their self esteem.
To put it another way they felt that the outward expressions of success reflected the value of the inner person. I would contest that it is actually exactly the opposite.
The key issue here is that we start to associate our inner happiness with what is technically known as “stuff.” The more stuff we can acquire, the theory goes, the happier we will be and what’s more everyone else will see how happy we are.
The reality is that as we achieve these milestones such as the bigger house and the bigger job they only keep us happy for a little while. After that it sinks in that it has not made us happy as we thought it would and we find ourselves thinking that the next one will pull off the magical trick of making us happy and so it goes on. The endless search for fulfilment and happiness in the form of stuff.
A wise man called Chuang Tzn wrote that “Happiness is the absence of striving for happiness.”
Am I advocating that we should not have targets and goals? No I am not!
I do advocate that we should have goals, aspirations, dreams and even fantasies. What I do not advocate is leaving the power of your overall happiness on the achievement of those goals.
What’s the advice I gave to the students at Entrepreneur Week? I told them to find something that they are happy doing and then try to make money from it. That way, if they don’t make money, achieve wealth etc. they are still happy. That’s a win-win in my book.
I’ll finish this with another quote. This time from Mildred Barthel “Happiness is a conscious choice, not an automatic response. “