*** This blog post was published in the August 2018 edition of Natural Awakenings**
We live in a culture driven by hunger for success. When talking about success, we typically talk about making billions of dollars, authoring multiple bestsellers, or rising to fame. But if we ask people who actually do those things, about the definition of ‘success’, their interpretation of the word has little to do with the very achievements that made them famous. Instead their sentiments surprisingly mimic those of one of man’s oldest allies; the horse.
The Funeral Experience
Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, is worth some $5 billion and equates success with personal fulfillment. "Too many people measure how successful they are by how much money they make or the people that they associate with," he wrote on LinkedIn. "In my opinion, true success should be measured by how happy you are." American poet, singer, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou defined success as "Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it." Author Steven Covey of the best selling book "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," told the New York Times: "If you carefully consider what you want to be said of you in the funeral experience, you will find your definition of success.
Family Of Origin Influences
So which definition of success should you use? Despite what others say, what matters most is our personal interpretation of success. Yet, our personal interpretation is often anything but personal. During our formative years, which most of us spend in or near our family of origin, we were subjected to the opinion of our caregivers. How our mothers and fathers perceived ‘success’, is the foundation of how we view success today.
So what is so bad about that? After all, much of what our caregivers taught us, has been instrumental in helping us live productive, responsible lives. Problems arise when we adopt personal assumptions of caregivers as our own without thorough scrutiny. A divergence between the taught definition of success, and our intrinsic felt definition of success, may be profound, and can cause major personal confusion. For example, while we intrinsically feel the need to express ourselves artistically, our mothers looked up to career success, so we elected to climb the corporate ladder instead. Or, while we love caring for people, our father looked up to pro-athletes, so we pursued a professional major league career. While we are passionate about skiing, our family had a history of PhD’s in nanotechnology, so we became researchers in the pharmaceutical industry.
90,000 Hours Working
While corporate success and sports careers are typically seen as laudable life quests, if they do not fit the ambition embedded deep within ourselves, we set ourselves up for a lifetime of torment. The average American will spend 90,000 hours in his/her lifetime working. If our work is ill-matched with the innate personal desires of the essence of our being, we risk experiencing long-term high volume of dissonance, causing us to become miserable, bitter creatures by the time we hit middle age, or retirement.
Luckily there is an antidote to mental confuse and misery: existential authenticity. Authenticity is a concept in psychology as well as existentialist philosophy. In existentialism, - a theory emphasizing the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will-, authenticity refers to the degree to which one is true to one's own personality, despite external pressures.
So how do we achieve ‘existential ‘authenticity’? According to French philosopher Sartre, human beings are able to define their own values and determine meaning for their life. The call for authenticity also resonates with the Oracle of Delphi, the high priestess of the ancient Greek Temple of Apollo, who instructed: “Know thyself”. Also on topic, Danish philosopher Kierkegaard, proposes that each individual—not family of origin, society or religion—is solely responsible for giving meaning to life and living it passionately and sincerely, or "authentically". And lastly, if we consult non-human wisdom for guidance, in the form of a horse, surprisingly, we find similar sentiments there.
Thinking Like Horses
What do horses have to do with authenticy? The secret lies in a horse being a non-verbal creature. Much of the manipulation and indoctrination in humans is executed through verbal language. Because horses rely on NON-verbal language, they are protected from interference with their self determined notion of their character. A horse does not think about thinking; instead it just ‘is’. It respects the rise and the fall of the day and what it brings. A horse allows the body and the mind to respond non-judgmentally to the pull of emotions that work to keep the mental and physical essence of the horse safe. The horse has no ability to be anything but authentic, and in devoid of masquerade, lies the tremendous freedom of being.
Becoming Who You Truly Are
If we want to take advantage of these secrets to successful living, we must first figure out who we are. What are we really like, if we drop those masks, that we so carefully constructed over a lifetime of living up to someone else’s standards? By clarifying core values, deciphering deep felt yearning, and allowing the world to see the frayed edges of our soul, we begin our journey toward self-directed, self-determined, heartfelt success. From there, we develop a steady home-base allowing us to pursue and achieve, as well as to lead and inspire, authentically, without any doubt or regret, for a lifetime to come.
“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” - C.G. Jung.