Winning isn’t Everything… It’s Worse.
How our childhood conditioning creates deeply rooted, unhealthy behaviors.
Every month I sit in Conscious Circle with 5 other beautiful souls. We have two main rules: let the space we create be sacred and seek to help the inner-teach inside each of us find its way through exquisite listening and presence (v. giving advice or comfort.) The 2 – 3 hours we spend sharing our life challenges and curiosity is priceless.
In my last circle, we decided to talk about “What in our childhood shows up in our behavior today?” and “Who does/does not serve us?” Of course, I will not share what we discussed, but the questions alone are extremely healthy to explore. It has more recently emerged in some of my exchanges with friends, colleagues and loved ones, and I wanted to explore what I found in going a bit deeper on the topic.
Success as a Child, is NOT Joy as Adult
Like myself, many of us we’re taught (overtly and subconsciously) many things that are destructive to our deeper joy and ease with life. An example of this is competition. When I grew up, to win at a pickup game of basketball or be in the top 10% of your class academically meant adulation, praise and reward. It filled me with self-confidence and a sense of being better than others. My self-worth was obtained through winning and achievement. Sound familiar? But does that serve us in being a full mature, connected and self-aware adult? Experience has taught me, “No” it does not. At least not in the current form.
This conversation was most interesting in talking to a well-known Olympic Athlete over dinner at an industry “Happiness” event at which we we’re both speaking. We started to have a disagreement about winning and excelling being core traits of human beings and where such winning got us in life. My conclusion was competitiveness is not a core human trait. It is taught-learned, and that it creates a pavlovian bell syndrome that has us constantly chasing the next reward or winning versus, say, getting to know ourselves or be more connected with others. The counter argument is, winning gets you societal success. It gets you ahead. Ahead of what though? What really defines Success?
We work with the notions of success that society, family and school teach us, however, it has created a vacuum of self-worth, one that is only filled with temporary moments of achievements. That cycle never ends… one achievement, milestone, W2 or bonus after the other…Is this what life is about?
As an adult success is often financial. A nice car, big home, exotic vacations or so we tell ourselves, reinforcing such with the incessant, self-congratulating posts we share on Facebook and Instagram. Deep inside we know better, we know how shallow and unfulfilling that is. We crave more. We want deep connections with others. We want a family and community that we can belong to and feel supported by. We want more ease and joy in our life. We just want to be in a state of happiness, a more connected sense of self that keeps life in perspective and one with meaning and purpose. We know the next car we buy or vacation we take won’t get us any closer to the life success we really seek.
In addition, think about the lesson we are teaching our children, probably because our parents passed it on to us, but none the less, how often do we say, “Kids, I work so much so we can have nice things.” That statement could not be more detrimental to their definition of success as we are basically saying, “My time spent getting nice things is more important than my time being with you.” Right, what is going on here?! Yet, we can’t find a better way. No one told us or taught us any different.
As I ponder this idea, there is question I keep asking myself, “What are my values that inform these priorities?” Basically, what’s behind it? Am I acting like a child to get the “feeling good” through success as opposed to understanding my deeper self and rooted needs to build a fulfilling life that is more “successful” than anything I can achieve or acquire? Like:
And on it goes…
Gaining Attention through Achievement
In one of my discussions with a wonderfully big-hearted entrepreneur this past week the achievement knot came up. Basically, we talked about the relentless need to achieve to prove one’s worth. She talked about how clearly the roots of such came from how/why she received attention as a child. Without much examination (until recently) she hadn’t realized how much anxiety, self judgement and sleepless nights it had caused over the years. Another form of this is in the energy driven by Proving Others Wrong. Proving, We Are Worthy. You know, when a family member tells us we will never achieve that or don’t deserve this, and our sole motivation for crazy work ethic is to prove them wrong.
I was quickly reminded of some of the best advice I had been given. Basically, “Aaron, ask yourself, what is it that is driving this decision or energy inside you now. Is it based in Fear or Love?” For me (and most I believe) it is fear. Fear of being rejected. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of failure. Fear of not being “successful enough.” Nothing new here… but it has been so good for me to keep asking.
“What is driving me here… is it Fear?” Is it a deeper desire, maybe one of love, or compassion or abundance for me and all around, or just the passion of an activity that makes my heart and hands come together beautifully? So many times, it’s fear, and so we must root it out. Take a hard look at, name it and honestly assess how to change our fear-based behaviors:
Is the fear driving us to doing something or taking a path that is not serving; or is fear creating the misaligned energy toward how we are taking the path?
Another way of phrasing that would be, are we on the right path or is it rooted in Fear? And if yes, is the way we are showing up on that path being in full open-awareness of what is driving us? What is driving us to work so, so hard? Are we on a career path because of the “quality of life” it brings and the fear of losing such?
This is not a quick scan exercise to get an easy answer, although sometimes a few answers come quickly. Rather, it requires some deeper sitting, looking, contemplating. Maybe it’s sharing with friends you trust will give you honest feedback, even if not something you like to hear, or possibly sitting in Conscious Circle to unravel the truth for you.
What Can Be Done?
In my experience, just naming it can be half the battle. “Yep, this is fear driving me to do ABC…. and causing some anxiety.” This way we disassociate ourselves with the fear and the fear becomes its own object to look at.
I have also felt transition past fear happen when I simply try to look at the most difficult and painful place of the fear. Literally breath it in like a ball of fire and breathe it out, releasing it to the greater universe. Look intensely at it versus what much of my life had been about, avoiding it and protecting myself from the pain of having to deal with it.
Finally, I’ll add that we need to ask ourselves a bit more about our values, about what matters most, what comes first, and not lip service like “Family first” or “Love,” but more context and depth of belief that allows you to make your values your everyday intentions, to live. What are your intentions today? How do they align with your values? Can you name places in your life where that might not be aligned and worth a harder look?
Winning, being the grand example of us losing the very meaning of life, and then, maybe … just maybe … we can really win at the only game in town, our own joy of life.