hiding a dark secret: a career without fulfillment

Last week I had planned to write a blog post – and given the events of last week, I failed at focusing my thoughts on anything work related. For a few short minutes, I became very detached from something I’ve worked incredibly hard to build over the past few years. For a few short minutes, I didn’t want to be “successful business girl” anymore. Mid conversation with my Dad, snapping at him as he was just trying to make me feel better, I even vocalized it, “Dad, being a successful businesswoman is meaningless to me unless there is someone to share in that success.”

Those feelings and those words, I could feel so strongly. But I knew it was because for so many years, I’ve hid a really dark secret from others about what drives my passion for my career – and its fear. It’s a lie. It’s not positive at all. It’s not that I’m out to change the world. It’s not that I believe I have a skill set and gift that is meant to serve others – all those things I work on daily because, naturally I just don’t. So selfishly, my success needed to be known, if not by one person, by everyone.

Jay-Z once wrote, “We hustle out of a sense of hopelessness. Sort of a desperation. Through that desperation, we become addicted. But we feel we have nothing to lose. So we offer you, well, we offer you our lives. What do you bring to the table?”

That couldn’t be more of an accurate depiction of why I have experienced early career success – hopelessness, desperation then addiction. I wasn’t good enough at sports to play college ball. I wasn’t the most popular girl in school. I had the worst luck with boys. Smart was what I could do and I was desperate to excel at my career so I had something to brag about to my family at the dinner table and my friends at social gatherings. I was afraid of continuing to fail at those things that are actually most fulfilling to me – relationships, family, and friendships.

In my early 20s, it was driven by a need to be better than someone I thought I was competing with. To have achieved more at my age than he did at his age. To buy a car earlier (and a nicer car). To have a corporate job earlier (and a hefty, better title than he.) I wanted to say that I was better, so that I felt as if being better than him meant that I actually deserved someone who could keep up with my success. My passion for my career was driven by a desperate need to compete with someone who, at that time held no real significance to future life, and was a means to achieve a sweet revenge (that I never actually achieved).

My mid-20’s saw a new passion-driver – bonding. By my mid-20s I had met someone who hustled harder than I do, re-invigorating things in me that hadn’t existed when I stopped competing. My career success became a way to prove I was worthy of his time and attention, because being so career-focused was something we shared. It was both of our lives. It gave us the opportunity to actually talk about the details of our day and I found that my conversations with him improved my ability to think creatively, problem solve, think of new ideas, take risks and overall boosted my ability to be better. I continued to place value in that relationship, going to great means to keep it, because I connected it directly to my ability to have passion and succeed in my career. “Successful business woman” was who I was because it was the role I played in a relationship that was personally fulfilling to me. I hustled because, I had everything to prove – and I knew it. In the past few months, when I yearned most for this relationship that no longer existed for me, I embodied Jay-Z’s quote the most – I offered my career my life. I threw myself at my career harder. I was ripping through books to help me improve productivity, buying new planners to make myself busier and finally set some loftier goals for 2018 and a few weeks in, having come up with an actual project to help improve some of the issues I have as a small business owner – I was more desperate than ever to bond with this person over them. I was more desperate to have a list of things I’d have achieved so that when I reconnected with him, he’d be able to whole-heartedly share in my achievements.

When you give something your life out of desperation, of hopelessness, of inadequacy and fear – there’s no chance for real fulfillment. You could spend your whole life working for something you may never get. The passion drivers are things that you can’t control. When those things you can’t control fall through – what are you left with? When I remove the need to compete, when I remove the people I’ve bonded with – what’s left? It was a girl that questioned her whole identity – her whole life (for a few short minutes). Something I had been so invested in building for so long, suddenly lost its meaning to me the minute I lost the external factors affecting my passion. Suddenly, being a “successful business woman” held no meaning at all for me – because in those relationships I do hold near and dear to my heart, those relationships I still do have, my best friends, and my family – they love me for reasons that have nothing to do with my career success.

My external factors were a need for revenge, which time heals. It was then the need to bond with someone, but not everyone is in your life forever. They were outside of my control or things that naturally change over the course of our lives. If we are driven in career by a need to prove something to someone else, we are putting our own fulfillment out of our own obtainable control. Ray Lewis is noted to have pushed as hard as he did in his career – driven by the anger he held inside over an absentee father. And though Lewis was lucky enough to have secured the spotlight long enough to get the answers he needed, many of us will spend our lives and never get there.

I had to take today to take a step back and give myself new reasons to wake up every day and work hard on my new ideas. They were there all along – but for at least right now – they need to be worked on until they become natural. They need to drive my focus, 8-hours a day. I don’t need to be a successful business woman – it is 100% true that the success I do or do not achieve is not as important to me as working toward fulfilling the following completely intrinsic factors.

  1. Because contribution fulfills me, especially when it comes to my future family. To be able to know that I work to contribute to a better life for myself and my future spouse and my future family.
  2. Because giving fulfills me – my skills, my talents – to those that I know need them.
  3. Because working toward a goal keeps you moving forward – and moving forward fulfills me. Life wasn’t meant to be lived in one place.
  4. Because continuing to have career success advances opportunities for learning, to acquire knowledge, to grow wiser, more experienced and growing is fulfilling.
  5. Because intrinsic accomplishment is fulfilling. To be able to look back on something you did and say “I did that” when maybe you thought you couldn’t. Not to say I did that to someone else, but to say “I did that” to yourself.