We’re obsessed with success.
“If you believe in yourself enough
And know what you want
You’re gonna make it happen
(Make it happen)”
Mariah Carey told us so in 1992 with her hit ‘Make it Happen.” Go ahead, take a listen🙂
The 90’s are long gone, and who knows about Mariah, but the sentiment lives on in a BIG way.
But can you really just make it happen?
Like, what if you really really really want to have a baby but you can’t. Or what if you really want to make more money and you really believe in yourself, but the money ain’t flowing. Or what if you really want to be cancer free, but you aren’t? Or what if you really want to be the first female president but its not up to you? Or what if you just really want to put your face on your feet like the girl next to you in baddhu konasana, but that’s a joke.
And what if you even:
“get down on your knees at night
And pray to the Lord
He’s gonna make it happen
Make it happen,”
but it’s still not happening?
I don’t know the answer, but in my obsession with getting rid of crap I don’t need, I recently came across my ‘goal sheet’ from 2004. It really got me thinking that maybe we, the people of our modern day culture, have it all wrong believing we can just willfully force things to happen and expect a happy ending.
This set of goals was far more than scribbles on a page. They had evolved considerably since I started the contemplative and written practice in the late 1980’s when I was 9 or 10 years old. A work of art, I had taken time to color code, print on cardstock and assemble them in a binder. Scanning the pages, I could see that by 2004, they were finally more mine than my parents. I had deviated from the (Glen Bland) method and gone wildly rouge by adding a few new categories like “Life Goals.” Purple, centered, in a slightly cursive font and at the top, my own true desires were sprinkled in and rising. Just as I was then, I am most proud of this section. It marked a deviation. Slight, but notable.
The “life goals’ were vague and grandiose. Have kids. Write a book. Live abroad. They were wildly rouge because there was no date attached, no plan of action to follow and that was the death of a goal in the Glen Bland Method. But these were things I could imagine I wanted. I didn’t want them now of course. No way. Too big. Too scary. But someday, maybe.
I can rattle off this definition without even thinking, nearly 30 years later:
“Success is the progressive realization of predetermined goals, stabalized by balance and purified by belief.”
But is it really?
I’m just not sure.
This is what Glen Bland taught me in the late 1980’s. His book, entitled, Success, the Glen Bland Method, was required reading by Tyler Quynn, my dad. I remember reading it in the back of the suburban on our one of our many cross country trips. Reading, followed by questions about what I had read, followed by years of prescribed weekly goal sheets that had to be turned into Tyler Quynn.
It wasn’t just me. Big brothers Rudy and Willy turned in goal sheets too. Many a Sunday night were spent doing it at the last minute before the week came to a close. No kid really wants to stop playing to go sit down and write out goals. But indeed, it was very effective in guiding us toward worldly success. We all got our black belts within the time frame we set out and Rudy and Willy went on to be distinguished Navy Seals just as they planned. And I learned to ‘control my emotions,’ which was one of my 5 affirmations I would write weekly.
And in my 20’s, when I found myself in debt from my college education and burdened by the feeling of being financially trapped, I sat down and applied the Glen Bland Method to my life. Earn 100K, pay off all debt. I had a calculator and determined exactly how I would do it and sure enough. IT WORKED. I was focused, un-yeilding and fiercely driven. I made it happen and was successful.
But it was also horrible. One of the worst periods of my life. I spent most of my time in the car. I ate tons of fast food while talking on the phone and driving. I experienced crushing stress and regular migraines. I literally ran everywhere. I even went running when I could. I met a few real gems, but more often absorbed rude, demanding clients that treated me like the real estate salesperson they expected me to be. Yoga was my refuge, but I was severely unbalanced.
Not surprisingly, I applied the same willful quality and pressure to my relationship. On that very same couch that I drafted my get-out-of-debt-goals, I insisted that A and I get married. Either that, or consider a breakup. I needed definition, certainly, clarity. What were we doing after all? So we made it happen. We got married. 2 weeks later in fact. The surprise event was fun and exciting and a proud moment, but my willfulness left no space for an inspired engagement or organic romance. But success, yes.
In this very same period, an unexpected window opened. I paused. Nowhere to be found on my goal sheet and definitely not something I had time for if I was to stick to my get-out-of-debt-plan, but overwhelmingly and serendipitously the right step – Sol Yoga opened in January 2005 after barely any preparations or planning. It was the opposite experience of making something happen. Instead, it felt like I was being PUSHED, even propelled to do something. Every piece of the puzzle fell into place without effort. The space, the help, the timing, the rent, the people, the website, the name, everything. I never bothered with a business plan, a business loan, marketing, nothing. People heard and people came. And as more effort was required, time expanded. All I did was keep saying yes and teaching yoga. This felt effortless, joyful, rewarding and happy and its been that way since 2005. Success would never have been a word I would have chosen to describe it. There was nothing pre-determined about it.
So WHAT IS SUCCESS? Who defines it anyway? Besides Glen Bland of course. A little research turns up alot of viewpoints.
It’s obviously more than money and power, as Arianna Huffington discusses the ‘third metric’ which includes ‘well-being’ in her book Thrive. Maya Angelou defines it this way:
“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”
And who knew that Glen Bland and Deepak Chopra have similar versions.
“Success in life could be defined as the continued expansion of happiness and the progressive realization of worthy goals,” Chopra writes in The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success.
But the most well known American success guru, Steven Covey, author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” which was also required reading in the Quynn Household, believes success is defined by the individual.
Great, so according to Covey, its on me to decide.
Until recently, I’ve largely operated under the philosophy, as most of us do, measuring success externally – good job or meaningful work, good relationships and some money to spend. And, like most, believing it is well within my control to make that happen. Think about what you want, envision your life, set your goals, and voila, get results. Using goal setting as a critical aspect – create specific, attainable and time bound goals with a plan of action. Commit to the plan and be held accountable too.
And I’m not the only one out there doing this very thing, ALOT of people are. Personally and professionally – planning, action-stepping, focusing and chasing the goal. And this is the exact definition of the:
a way of life in which people are caught up in a fiercely competitive struggle for wealth or power.
an exhausting, usually competitive routine.
I’ve held onto this belief for so long because it does indeed, yield results. Especially if you are strong, competitive and not adverse to suffering. I believed if things weren’t happening it was because I didn’t plan well enough, or work hard enough.
But as much as Tyler Quynn taught me to believe Glen Bland, he also taught me to never be limited by what someone tells you. A charge I’ve practiced for many years now – yoga has little to do with the body and is actually a path of inquiry. Complimented more recently with a study of A Course in Miracles, a system of debunking perception and revealing truth, and here we go Steven Covey. I’m ready to re-define success (for me).
Here’s my beef. The thing that has given me pause for the past 10 years (I’m an observer and slow thinker).
People are not happy. Outer success and inner contentment are not lining up. I know, so obvious, right? But in a day and age and culture that is cranked up on caffeine and actually VERY productive and VERY successful in the eyes of the world, I don’t know too many happy people. Scores of people flock to yoga to alleviate something. Every other person I talk to in my inner and outer circles are flagging from stress, anxiety or depression and a high percentage of them have a pretty regular relationship with anti-depressants, anxiety or similar drugs. And because everyone is doing it, it’s the norm.
I have known people that have committed suicide because they were not successful enough. They had millions. Just today, my french neighbor pulled in her driveway and got out of her car looking distressed. She sat down on the concrete wall between our homes and confessed that she had a ‘resolution’ to not be stressed this year. As though she could just make it happen. Casually, she chatted. I doubt she even realized but her head was in her hands as she talked.
“Zee job is oh-kay. But I have mooneey. I have my house. I have my children and husband. Zeese are the most important things.”
She shook her head as if to say, ‘if only I could get rid of the stress.’ There is a language barrier and a distance, but a deep understanding of the problem. It is not rare. It is not uncommon. For generations, we have strived for these things – good job, money, then house, then family. Or sometimes, money, family, house.
People may be living longer, or richer, but they are not living more content, meaningful lives. In a Harvard study, back in 2011, National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), the rate of antidepressant use in this country (USA) among teens and adults increased by almost 400% between 1988–1994 and 2005–2008. In an article in 2013, citing an increased use in ‘rich’ countries “Antidepressants are widely oversubscribed to get rid of unhappiness,” said Professor Tim Cantopher, consultant psychiatrist with the Priory Group in the UK. The rates today continue to skyrocket.
I’m not trying to pick on people that use Prozac, and obviously I’m not a researcher, but does this freak anyone out? Either we have a pharmaceutical crisis or we have a mental health crisis, or we have a lack of happiness crisis, but there is definitely a crisis. And one that we are band-aiding at best.
And when I get really clear, which I’ve been doing down here in New Caledonia, I see the same for myself. Success, yes. Ultimate Health, no. Deep contentment and happiness, no. It’s not lining up.
If you assume that almost everything is a function of your unique perception of life, or your mental thoughts around a position, which I happen to believe, then this is all a problem of the mind.
As I sat staring at my goal sheet from 2004, I wondered.
What is this obsessive, pervasive attachment to precisely planned goals and a controlled future? My life plan before me, encased in a binder for fucks sake. Like I might forget what I’m passionate about or how to live. It struck me as kind of weird.
Is this at all related to or effective in producing happiness, the very thing that seems to be the juice of life? Is it possible that it (the ‘make it happen’ philosophy) even diminishes our potential for maximum ‘success?’
I was amused by my own discoveries. That my vague ‘life goals’ from 2004 had manifested. Without even a plan of action or dates. And not at all in any way that I could have imagined. I’ve had 3 kids. I live abroad. I write all the time (though there is no ‘book.’). And that the door that organically opened (Sol Yoga) has continued to propel me forward, filling me with richness and depth and inspiration.
Sometime after 2004, maybe when I packed this brilliant work away, I’ve been flying by the seat of my pants. I rarely know what I’m doing until I’m doing it. I sometimes pretend this is an accident, but it’s all by design. I’ve strengthen my internal guidance system and find planning & scheduling completely un-creative and flat. Dream I can do. Imagine, got that covered. But I need access to intuition in the moment to make my best moves. Where will the wind blow me? Where am I needed? What opportunity will I seize today? Seriously, how do I know what would be good for tomorrow?
I think this is called faith. But I’m not actually sure. Because it’s different than the faith I had growing up. The Episcopal church kind.
It’s a faith that there is another factor at play. A factor that cannot be contained inside the tiny space of our minds. A factor we cannot rationalize without limiting it. Something beyond our control that guides the flow of life. The recognition that OTHER people’s lives, or events intersecting with ours might magnify our potential in ways we literally never imagined in the space of our minds.
It’s like when you are driving around block looking for parking. There are no spaces. You make another loop and someone pulls away just in front of your stop. Couldn’t predict it, couldn’t make it happen any sooner than it did. But look how easy that made your life. (this is how i look for parking by the way – it drives A CRAZY – just driving around having faith something will shift in the perfect time).
So I set about researching this notion that goal setting can actually limit maximizing your true potential. And what I found initially was again, overwhelming support for goals, intentions, accountability, mentor-ship, vision boards, anything that helps you answer the question ‘what do I want for my life?’
But then I started to find a smaller voice and less research that taps into the reason behind this obsession with planning. And it started to get juicy and exciting! Because of course, it supports my position. My position that has developed from years of yoga and meditation brain re-organizing, interaction with thousands of students affected by the pressures of leading successful lives, 20 years of living with someone that is completely driven by living in the moment and happiness and can’t even imagine a ‘goal.’ And of course, my own self study.
And I found this great article filled with research. The following is an excerpt.
British journalist Oliver Burkeman argues in The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking — a fascinating look at how our conventional approaches to happiness and success tend to backfire as our very efforts to grasp after such rewards generate a kind of anti-force that pushes us further away from them. This counterintuitive, counterproductive proclivity is particularly palpable when it comes to plans and goal-setting. Burkeman writes:
“What motivates our investment in goals and planning for the future, much of the time, isn’t any sober recognition of the virtues of preparation and looking ahead. Rather, it’s something much more emotional: how deeply uncomfortable we are made by feelings of uncertainty. Faced with the anxiety of not knowing what the future holds, we invest ever more fiercely in our preferred vision of that future — not because it will help us achieve it, but because it helps rid us of feelings of uncertainty in the present.”
“The solution, however, might not be to further tighten the grip with which we cling to our plans — rather, it’s to let go of plans altogether,” he continues.
Sitting in uncertainty is a very hard practice. But as the article continues,
“Uncertainty is where things happen. It is where the opportunities — for success, for happiness, for really living — are waiting.”
Sha-bang. There it is. When we plan away the uncertainty, we miss the magic.
Running Sol Yoga has always felt a little like magic. Because of course, it was given to me. I didn’t seek it. I just said yes. So I was interested to read this:
“In considering what it might mean to lean into uncertainty and embrace it, Burkeman cites the work of psychologist Saras Sarasvathy, who studied the essential qualities that successful entrepreneurs share. In her extensive interviews with forty-five such people, who all fulfilled the same criteria for “success” — a minimum of fifteen years’ experience in launching businesses and at least one company they had taken public — she found a profound disconnect between the cultural trope of the innovator as a goal-oriented go-getter who brings her concrete vision to market and the reality of what these successful entrepreneurs did have in common. Burkeman writes:
We tend to imagine that the special skill of an entrepreneur lies in having a powerfully original idea and then fighting to turn that vision into reality. But the outlook of Sarasvathy’s interviewees rarely bore this out. Their precise endpoint was often mysterious to them, and their means of proceeding reflected this. Overwhelmingly, they scoffed at the goals-first doctrine of [management theorists Edwin] Locke and [Gary] Latham. Almost none of them suggested creating a detailed business plan or doing comprehensive market research to hone the details of the product they were aiming to release.
Instead, at the heart of the entrepreneurial spirit lies something else entirely:
The most valuable skill of a successful entrepreneur … isn’t “vision” or “passion” or a steadfast insistence on destroying every barrier between yourself and some prize you’re obsessed with. Rather, it’s the ability to adopt an unconventional approach to learning: an improvisational flexibility not merely about which route to take towards some predetermined objective, but also a willingness to change the destination itself. This is a flexibility that might be squelched by rigid focus on any one goal.
Huh. ‘Improvisational flexibility.’ I like that. Sounds like a muscle I could stretch in yoga. And ‘unconventional approach to learning,’ – isn’t that exactly what reading Glen Bland in the back of a cross-countrying-suburban is all about?
I think I remember something else about that time in my life. Another fine soundtrack laced with overly simplified wisdom – Kenny Rodgers, The Gambler (go ahead, listen to this one to too).
“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
Know when to run
Every gambler knows
That the secret to survivin’
Is knowin’ what to throw away
And knowin’ what to keep”
Aren’t we supposed to really learn from our parents. Like, learn from their mistakes and stuff too? Keep the good stuff, improve the lackluster and toss out the old?
On her deathbed, my grandmother asked me what I would do with my life. I had no idea to be honest, so I told her I was thinking about getting my MBA. She quickly told me if I was going to do something great with my life, or have accomplishments, I should do it while my parents are still alive so they can enjoy it.
This is the philosophy that raised my father. Accomplish something. Be somebody. Make people proud.
And my dad made a correction, he did parent us differently. Most importantly he chose my mother who is pure unconditional love embodied. Beyond that, he very openly loved the hell out of us, spend loads of time with us and told us we could absolutely do anything we wanted. Just be the best at it. “If you want to be a trashman, just be the best trashman.” He gave us confidence and conviction and clarity. And he gave us fail safe method for achieving anything we could think of that we ‘wanted.’ He gave us Glen Bland and the courage to just make it happen.
Perhaps this next generation, as it vigorously studies the science of happiness, instead of the science of success, will allow us to make a widespread correction. A correction toward being happy NOW instead of after we succeed. Because according to Shawn Achor, in this powerful talk on Oprah’s Supersoul TV about Happiness,
“If you can find a way to be happy NOW, you get an incredible advantage.
1) your creativity triples 2) productivity improves by 30% 3) your intelligence rises 4) you are 40% more likely to receive a promotion.
When you choose happiness first, you can trump your genes and your environment in just 2 minutes per day.”
So, goal sheet, Ty Quynn, Glen Bland and Kenny Rodgers, a sincere thank you. All those interactions have lead me to this moment. Where I redefine success and connect it directly to happiness. Where I throw away my goal sheet, walk away from predetermining my life, run away from ‘making it happen’ and instead, hold onto faith in uncertainty.
For 2016, I will stop asking myself what I want, and try this Daily Prayer from a Course in Miracles: Where would You have me go? What would You have me do? What would you have me say, and to whom?
‘Success’ can feel amazing and it can feel shallow. When we listen, we all know this.
“Success means we go to sleep at night knowing that our talents and abilities were used in a way that served others.” Marianne Williamson