While giving a recent acceptance speech at a BAFTA award ceremony, actress Kate Winslet shared an inspiring message:
Don’t listen to the people who hurt you, shame you, and belittle you. Believe in yourself and follow your dream. She ignored the people who insulted her, and made it to stardom. So can you.
This advice is repeatedly given with the best of intentions. We hear it at awards ceremonies, graduations, and in Facebook posts every day. It is reiterated by inspirational speakers, coaches, and business gurus.
At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, I am going to take issue with this message. First of all, no matter how hard you try, it is not mathematically possible for everyone who wants to be a famous actress to become so. This same unbending math applies to other endeavors such as writing bestselling children’s books and making it in the performing arts.
I am not saying that people should not follow their dreams or their heart’s desires. But I am saying this: Perhaps we should be more specific about the dream or heart’s desire we are seeking, and not confuse healing with achievement.
I once achieved a fair amount of success as a musical performer, but it happened for all the wrong reasons. I worked hard to get there, but my goal was not to provide service to a customer. I was seeking healing. I thought success in showbiz would give me the respect, attention, and validation I desperately needed. But the primary purpose of bass playing, or, for that matter, of authoring, acting, speaking, or any other business endeavor, is not to get your own needs met. They are all situations where you have to work very hard to meet the needs of others. If you are fractured internally, you will struggle to meet the needs of others, and even if you do meet them, you will still be unhappy in your work, and make others unhappy too. Achievement is not healing.
There is a similar problem with a common sort of encouragement for grandiose leadership. If you seek success mainly to get the perks of power and attention, and you define success mainly as being better than everyone else, perhaps you need to rethink why you are seeking success. Maybe you are destined to provide great value to society, but then again, maybe you are just reacting to injuries that are pushing you towards unhealthy levels of grandiosity, disconnection, and workaholism.
Now don’t get me wrong– achievement is a wonderful thing. For me, playing on major stages with superstars was a glorious experience. I loved doing it and I learned a lot. But at the heart of it, the big lesson was this: achievement is not healing. The biggest success in it was really something else altogether: It consisted of being freed from the limiting idea that love is conditional upon performance, and external success was the only path to internal harmony. As it turns out, I had it all backwards.
We often get mixed up about the need for healing vs. the desire for achievement, and let’s face it, many sales pitches for professional training exploit that confusion. Healing is about what you need, and business success is about providing what other people need. There are more direct means of achieving both objectives, and they are both so much easier when done in the right order.