Coming out of the Trance
Go to college, work hard, stay the course, get a job, work harder, earn lots of money and happiness will follow, for some that is the case, but for some it can feel like something is missing. This cookie cutter definition of success can make us feel that anything or anyone that deviates from that path is somehow not enough.
When I was 18, I applied to UCD with no idea of what I wanted from life but my friends were going to university and the fear of being left behind was real. I choose history, economics and politics because they sounded difficult, I am sure you can imagine already how this chapter ended.
I completed a year and passed my exams but I was miserable, I could not see how this was going to be my life, but looking back I was also terrified that I would be a drop out and all the connotations that went with that. I packed my bags and moved to the UK and began working with Polo horses (Yes, like Prince Charles). Horses had been my passion throughout my teenage years and when I look back I felt completely fulfilled even at a young age working with horses.
I spent the next chapter in my life working for Royalty and some of the wealthiest people in the world, traveling and working my way up to a management role (imagine premier football teams and that will give you a sense of the responsibility). I learnt some of my most important lessons in Polo from working with the horses in a competitive environment to working for people who were millionaires and billionaires that I could never have had access to and I credit that experience with making me the coach that I am today, life experience that university could never have taught me. I worked for professional sports people who were at the top of their game but yet still only as good as the last match that they had played in the eyes of their bosses. I saw people go back and play with injuries that would have had most of us stretchered away but to an extent it was a high performance culture leveraged on fear as a motivator.
One conversation will always stick with me and it changed my perception of success completely, it was with someone who was extremely wealthy beyond what most of us could imagine, and they told me that they were tired of work, tired of the constant battles and when I suggested that they retire, they told me that they did not have enough money. I began to realise that success was something to be chased and often not caught, the goal posts kept changing. There was little time to enjoy what they had created, and they did not know how to stop even though some part of them clearly wanted to. I went back to University and did a double BSc in Psychology and Sociology because I wanted to understand people and society more.
A study referenced in “Dark Horse" by Todd Rose tells how 3000 men and women were asked about their perspective on how society defined success, 2 popular answers were wealth and status, but when they were asked if they agreed with this as an individual, only 18 % agreed with this view. 40% felt that as they had moved through life they deviated away from this perspective. In contrast a large proportion defined their personal definition of success as prioritising happiness and achievement.
When asked for a societal view of what a successful person was, 74% said it was a “powerful person” in contrast when asked how they defined success themselves 91% said that for a successful person was “purpose driven”.
We have become so compliant psychologically to what we should be doing that we sometimes forget to consider what we could be doing, what we want to be doing. We live with a cultural pressure to be performing and achieving and attaining and for that reason we are constantly on and we can struggle to find mental space to really explore who we want to be. I went back to university to study psychology at 25 and now do what I do because I took the time to figure out my “Why”. Do you know yours?
Recently a friend told me about a conversation that they had with someone that I used to know, they asked how I was doing, and said that they were delighted that I was doing well but wasn’t it a pity that I had wasted those years with horses and “gone off track for a while”.
Taking the time to find the things that give you purpose and passion is not going off track, it is instead recognising the signposts that help you to feel fulfilled and that is happiness. I know not everyone has the time to pause and assess right now and that's okay, but if you do have the time, start to consider what you would like the next chapter of your career/life to look/feel like. This could be a 3 year plan, it could be to make a move in the next couple of months, but it will give you something to start building towards. The feeling of moving forward is so important if we are feeling stuck.
As for what other people think about your journey sometimes, in the words of Deepak Chopra, that is none of your business!
Have you thought about how you define success in your life? Check back here next week where I'll be giving you some strategies to help you uncover who you are as an individual and what you want from your life in order to feel fulfilled.