In April 1994, a depressed drug addict was alone at home in Seattle, Washington. He wrote a suicide note to the world, his wife, and his baby girl. Then he placed a shotgun to his mouth and pulled the trigger.
He was 27 years old.
Kurt Cobain, the leader of the legendary band Nirvana was dead. Widely regarded as one of the most iconic musicians of all time, he led Nirvana to sell over 75 million records worldwide. But his commercial success never translated to his personal life.
His addiction couldn’t save him. And neither could his success.
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Today’s article is for all the high achievers out there.
See, everyone screws up sometimes.
OK, maybe you’ve been late a few times to work. And you forgot your best friend’s wedding anniversary once. But most of the time — you’re well, perfect. Got it all together. Got the career. Got the big money. Got the well-connected friends. And got the husband and kids.
How did you get so successful?
You’re likely a person with a lot of ambition, drive and discipline. Which is great. Wanting to be successful and improve yourself are wonderful things.
Have you considered before though, that you might be addicted to success? Addicted, as in you need it to survive. Like a drug. And whenever you do get success, it’s never enough.
I write this, because I’ve been addicted to success before too. And it’s terrible.
Because like all addictions, when you don’t get the drug — you get withdrawal symptoms.
So Why Do You Want It So Much?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be successful. In audacious, grandiose ways.
But more than that, I have a fear of failure.
I don’t want to be a loser.
In fact, I’m probably more scared of being a loser than I am excited about becoming a success.
I’m not sure if it’s societal and cultural expectations. Or if it’s the constant social media exposure to how everyone else is doing so well. But the uncomfortable truth is this:
For most of my life, I’ve tied my self-esteem to how well I’ve done in my work, play and relationships. And I don’t think it’s just me.
Which is terribly dangerous. What happens when we want something badly but it eludes us? What happens when we get dumped? What happens when we fail?
We get depressed. And we might kill ourselves.
The Antidote: Worthiness
Here’s the antidote: worthiness.
Vulnerability expert Brené Brown tells us:
“We all need to feel worthy of love and belonging, and our worthiness is on the line when we feel like we are never __________ enough.”
(fill in the blank: thin, beautiful, smart, extraordinary, talented, popular, promoted, admired, accomplished)
In short, worthiness is: I am enough.
I am enough even if I lost everything. Even if I lost my career, my money, my possessions, and *gulp — even my family and friends.
Just to make things clear, I’m not suggesting that any of the above aren’t important. They are. Especially the family and friends. What I’m saying is that your self-worth as an individual is a God-given right. Even if everything else was taken away, you can still have your self-worth.
You really don’t need to chase success to make yourself feel good.
You’re still a child of God.
But Wouldn’t That Make Me A Lazy Slacker Like Everyone Else?
Worthiness doesn’t make you complacent or lazy. Just because there’s no need to chase success, doesn’t mean you’ll just lie down on the beach and wait for government handouts.
Paradoxically, worthiness gives you freedom to pursue things that really matter. And to approach success from a higher place: “I’m not doing this because I need to. I’m doing this because I want to.”
If you’re addicted to the success drug, you shy away from things that have potential for failure. And everything meaningful has potential for failure. You end up playing safe and playing small. Because without worthiness, this is what we think when we fail: “I’m a failure. And a loser.”
On the other hand, if we have worthiness, we can deal with failure much better: “I failed, but this doesn’t mean I’m a loser. I’m learning, and I’ll do better next time.”
It allows us to be kind to ourselves even when we make mistakes: “I made a mistake, but that doesn’t make me a bad person. I’m a good person who made a wrong choice.”
And consider how it helps our relationships with those who matter: “I don’t need you to feel good about myself. But I already feel good — that’s why I’m gonna share this love with you.”
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In the final scene of Iron Man 3, Robert Downey Jr’s character visits the site where his house was destroyed. He had lost practically everything in battles with his enemy: the Mandarin. He proceeds to throw away his “heart” — the device that used to power his Iron Man suit. A symbolic gesture of leaving behind his protective armor forever:
“My armor was never a distraction or a hobby, it was a cocoon, and now I’m a changed man.You can take away my house. And all my tricks and toys. But one thing you can’t take away.
I am Iron Man.”
Likewise, most of us hide and protect ourselves under layers of thick armor. Things that we think will make us feel good. For some of us, it’s drugs — that numb our pain towards the hurtful world. For some of us, it’s social media likes from others — to boost our self-esteem for a little while.
And for some of us, it’s an unquenchable thirst for success.
But these layers of armor don’t really protect us. They just isolate us, preventing us from fully experiencing the beautiful things of the world.
If we would just take them off, we’d realize that there’s no need to hide. That we’ve been trying to feel better from the wrong sources.
And that who we are inside is greater than all the achievements of the world put together.
The original version of this article first appeared at Emmagem.
Much of this post was inspired by Brené’s Brown’s bestselling book: Daring Greatly.