ANXIETY, SELF KNOWLEDGE AND THE MIRAGE OF EXTERNAL SUCCESS
One inauthentic style of dealing with our emotional confusion and shaky psychology is to try to negate them through achievement. Those who do this flee from a lot of self-doubt and insecurity, but just barely.
They stay just a step ahead of it, like someone fleeing from an angry dog that’s right behind them. The angry dog of fear, anxiety, confusion and “shaky uncertainty”, that accompanies a life that lacks self-knowledge, can chase many people into a fierce struggle for power, position and wealth.
It’s important that you avoid this seductive struggle because it’s a false path; it doesn’t deliver what it promises.
As a consultant to many hundreds of high achievers, I’ve worked with a lot of people who fall into this category. They reason that great financial success and recognition will conquer their doubt and uncertainty.
They place huge bets that achieving wealth and power will free them from anxiety and uncertainty and that the payoff will be a life of relaxed ease and satisfaction.
Many folks work hard to achieve great success and huge wealth because they are driven to do so.
But very often it’s a half-hearted, external success only, not an inside-out success, not a success flowing from real self-knowledge and a deeply felt certainty about who they are and what their lives are uniquely about. Unlike the successes of someone who has found their core or essential identity, theirs are driven from behind by the attacking dog of their insecurities, not pulled up ahead by their dreams and visions for tomorrow.
Our culture tends to reward this kind of effort to medicate fear and self-doubt by seeking certainty outside of oneself. It doesn’t matter how you get to rich and powerful, as long as you get to rich and powerful.
But as Lily Tomlin told us—even if we win the rat race—we’re still a rat. Big time outside success always markets and promotes itself as a great antidote for our self-doubt and insecurity—but it never turns out to be that. It’s not a good remedy for shaky uncertainty at all.
It may be better to be rich, powerful and poisoned than to be just poisoned, but surely not that much better.
And people who are stuck at the mere surface of life, who achieve external success, have the added burden of having to face that they have been misled, that they have spent long and often tortuous hours marching in the heat of many a noonday sun—toward a mirage.
After they get their sought after success, they often discover that there’s no deep relief or satisfaction in it. They’re still under attack by the same old feelings, but now with a different agenda of concerns. “Was I just lucky? Will I be found out? Can I do it again? Will I lose my position, my wealth…and so on and on and on.”
The stress, anxiety and uncertainty monsters don’t go away if we get rich and powerful; they just drive in more expensive cars and live in more expensive homes.