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Unfulfilling Success: Looks Good on the Outside, But What About Your Heartache?

Unfulfilling Success: Looks Good on the Outside, But What About Your Heartache?

Maybe you’ve checked most of the boxes for what you were told Success looks like, but inside is another story. It might be hard to talk about it because you think no one will get it.

I have a window into this experience on a regular basis. When people contact me for coaching, unfulfilling “success” is often the case. Big heartache, often in secret. It’s a major cause of burnout.

unfulfilling success

It’s so common. Worse, a lot of people think that’s just how it is, or how it has to be: that work and fulfillment don’t go together unless you make too little money to sustain it. As if it’s “success versus fulfillment.”

It does NOT have to be that way. To me, it can’t be true success without fulfillment.

I have the good fortune to know a lot of people who have found a more fulfilling way. I include myself in that. I know it’s possible in my bones to have sustainability and meaningful work.

In my own work experience, the most miserable job of all was the one that looked the most “successful” on the outside! I have never realized that correlation until now. I think that’s true for a lot of people.

There’s an old saying about a ladder, referred to in Stephen Covey’s classic book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, that captures this classic problem well.

It’s incredibly easy to get caught up in an activity trap, in the busy-ness of life, to work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover it’s leaning against the wrong wall.”
~Stephen Covey

I’ll explain why it matters to go for something better, and why it’s possible.

It Matters. And It’s Possible.

It’s not only possible to have both fulfillment and sustainability in your work, I believe the world needs for more of us to align our work with our values.

We can’t just leave our hearts at home. That has a far bigger cost than trying a better route. A big cost to you, and a big cost to the world.

Quote - What the world needs is people who have come alive. Howard Thurman

Align Work With My Values, Huh?

When I say align your work with your values, I don’t mean we all have to go work for a non-profit. There are a zillion options for doing meaningful work outside of non-profits.

It’s not as hard as you think to make a switch to something that works better for your heart and your sustainability.

But yes, transitions are challenging.

It’s just that it is not an impossible challenge. You have faced many challenges and you’re better for it.

We Humans Actually Enjoy Challenges.

Peak Experience
One of the hardest and most important experiences of my life – a wilderness backpacking trip in the Rockies.

One time I wrote down a list of ten peak experiences. (Which is a fun and very useful exercise.)

I noticed that in every case, the experience had some kind of challenge at the core, such as a wilderness backpacking experience when I was a teen.

I did NOT want to go and did NOT think I could do it. But something nudged me forward.

It was the challenge+breakthrough that made each item on my list a peak experience. But notice there had to be a challenge to create that pleasure.

We are built for challenge, and we even like it. All of us. Yes, even those so-called “risk-averse” types, like me, are built for challenge.

We can handle it. We even enjoy it. It’s not all doom and gloom to face a challenge.

But How?

OK, now I bet you’re saying, But How? That’s good news. It means you are now thinking “Maybe it’s possible!”

Just be with that “Maybe” energy in your heart for today. Let it do its magic on you. The How can be figured out later.

Sending love,

P.S., Facing a challenge does not have to mean getting overwhelmed. There’s a middle way. When you’re ready to read more, see the resources below.

Picture of Val Nelson

Val Nelson

I’ve been a self-employed career/business/purpose coach since 2009. I help introverts and HSPs (like me) who want to make a difference — in a way that fits our practical needs too.
Val Nelson | Coaching | Groups | Courses | Newsletter | LinkedIn

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