Success begets success. You don’t have to be a success coach or professional educator to know that when you achieve desired results your confidence grows, and very often, so does your success. Neuroscience shows us that when you and I feel successful, the chemical dopamine is produced in the body; this neurotransmitter, sometimes known as the “success drug,” is completely natural. Moreover, the more regularly we practice giving ourselves wins, even for the little things, the more success becomes our expectation and our new normal. Professor Ian Robertson, author of The Winner Effect, offers simple, practical advice: “Contrive small successes to get big successes.”
Such advice makes a lot of sense; that is, providing you feel on track in your life.
But what happens when you achieve results that the world tells you are good results, even great ones, and deep down you don’t feel anything at all?
Or worse. What if, despite the hoop-jumping, you feel frustrated, drained, confused, and scared.
Pondering such times, I think of the expression “won the battle but lost the war,” and of a “Pyrrhic victory.” For me, the latter term elicits a flashback to a dusty, high-ceilinged, early-80s high school history classroom and lessons on battles of the Roman Empire, including King Pyrrhus of Epiria’s “success” at all costs. (Cue: inner-teenager sigh, Cherry Smash lip gloss, note-passing, and Duran Duran.) In gathering my thoughts for this post I visited Wikipedia and found this: “A Pyrrhic victory is a victory that inflicts such a devastating toll on the victor that it is tantamount to defeat. Someone who wins a Pyrrhic victory has also taken a heavy toll that negates any true sense of achievement.”
That got me thinking about the reasons why so many highly intelligent, caring, gifted and hard-working people seek significant change and breakthrough in maturity. Because sometimes the price of a particular set of outwardly impressive results is simply no longer sustainable.
Here are just a few scenarios to illustrate:
- The anniversary party goes off without a hitch, while the relationship tanks.
- The executive is promoted, and the sleeping pill dosage climbs too.
- The net worth has never been higher; the health and time freedom domains? In a sink-hole.
Any one of those situations would be worth changing. In each case, the problem isn’t a results problem; it’s an alignment problem.
What do I mean by that?
While the goals being reached may seem great in someone else’s view, if they don’t align with your own core sense of purpose and values, and with your authentic and very specific vision of success, you will continue to generate results which fall far short of being fulfilling.
Key Distinction: There are 2 different kinds of “successful” result
One kind of result looks great on the surface, but actually feels contractive and draining (or worse) to the achiever. That is because ironically, despite appearances, the accomplishment misses the mark. It is misaligned with an individual’s sense of true purpose and calling, and it comes at a personal cost that outweighs the positive effects of the achievement.
The other kind of result, which we can simply call true success, feels expansive, because it beautifully aligns with and expresses a person’s purpose and gifts. True successes give us energy, they don’t subtract from it. You and I know a true success when we experience it, because it feels expansive and fulfilling. Nothing feels better than being authentically motivated and achieving results that give us, and others, life.
On the subject of authentic motivation, I highly recommend Daniel Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. If you aren’t familiar with this work, I suggest you check it out. Pink focuses on research which clearly indicates that personal fulfillment is a much more significant motivator than most people have traditionally assumed. The message? Deeply meaningful, intrinsic rewards surpass traditional, external reward systems in motivating people to achieve.
In the most basic of terms, true successes come from love. Misaligned achievements, impressive though they may be in others’ eyes (or not), take a toll; they come from fear.
On the topic of that distinction, I have the following legend to share with you.
An Old Irish Story
This comes from the Ulster cycle and various sources including The Tain. I have read and heard multiple variations of this story, and if you share my passion for Irish myths and legends, you may enjoy following two links to audio recordings of “The Pangs of Ulster.”
There once was a chieftain named Crunniac who was in many ways a prosperous man. He was a farmer, active in his community, and a father of sons; yet he was also a widower. Crunniac’s house was a lonely one.
One night during a raging storm, a beautiful woman with long flowing hair arrived at his door. She had mysterious qualities, including the ability to run faster than any horse. The woman desired to be with him, yet she would not state her name.
When Crunniac let her in, immediately she set about tending to his house. She took to his bed. She cared for his children. She became a partner to him, ushering love and fertility back into Crunniac’s life, and making his house a true home.
The couple’s life together became loving and joyful.
One day, after his new wife had been pregnant for almost a full term, Crunniac was royally summoned to attend a feast at some distance from their home. He worried about his wife travelling in her condition, but he also feared offending the king, and so off they went.
Crunniac’s wife warned him not to be boastful or careless with his words, and he assured her he wouldn’t be. Then came the revelry. After the king’s chariot and horses won a competition, the crowd roared that nothing and no one was faster than those horses. Swept along in the excitement, Crunniac suddenly blurted: “My wife is faster!”
Enraged by Crunniac’s challenge, the king demanded on pain of death that Crunniac’s wife must race his horses. She was desperate. Knowing this was not her time to run, she begged to put it off until after she had given birth. She even appealed to the Red Branch Knights to help spare her, reminding them they all were born of women and should have mercy; but to no avail.
The woman raced the king’s horses, and she won. The running destroyed her.
As she lay dying, she gave birth to twins: a girl and a boy. In some versions of the tale the infants were born lifeless. In his translation of The Tain, Thomas Kinsella writes, “As she gave birth she screamed out that all who heard the scream would suffer from the same pangs for five days and four nights in their times of greatest difficulty. This affliction, ever afterward, seized all the men of Ulster who were there that day, and nine generations after them.”
Before departing this world, the woman revealed that her name was Macha, which comes down to us today in the Irish place name “Ard Macha” (hill of Macha): Armagh.
Why do I share this story of an old Irish war and fertility goddess in the context of a contemporary blog post on results?
Because action without alignment is dangerous, as the story shows. While the race is won, its effects are destructive.
Crunniac is a good and prosperous action-taker and provider, until he lets fear related to his status and appearances, get the better of him. He reacts without consideration and loses his connection with his own centre; the race’s aftermath reflects that loss.
Macha shifts from the energy of love and fertility to the energy of war. That is what fear does: in our world, and in our own nervous system.
I leave you with one last thought to ponder: Trust.
When was the last time you trusted Life enough to slow your pace and take time for quiet reflection? And by the way, I consider this a note to self, too.
In the quiet we find our still small voice, our vision. Living your calling is the highest expression of trust.
It is also an expression of love.
Are you willing to invite the inner guidance required to align your true purpose and authentic vision with your goals? Are you willing to be the person who truly achieves results you love?
Send me a message if you’d welcome coaching with this.
To your gifts.