The case of the unhappy high achiever is much more common than you might think. Where individuals who have gained much career success of the conventional type — so called “high achievers” — feel deeply unfulfilled despite all their external achievements.
Very often, the problem is one of deferred happiness. Falsely pinning your happiness to arbitrary external achievements that are all “out there” in the future. Pinnacles and mountaintops, which even when finally reached feel meaningless. Today, I share with you an anecdote from my one-to-one work that is a good illustration of this.
Unhappy high achiever: An anecdote
Alex was confident, intelligent and highly successful in her field. Despite all this, she expressed feeling deeply dissatisfied, even hollow. As if something fundamental was missing from her life. And, this was really starting to affect her self-confidence.
Alex’s habitual pattern was to seek that missing something through the next ‘challenge’. Perhaps a new role? Perhaps a new country? To Alex, the solution seemed always to lie in the next thing. But, now she wasn’t sure what that next thing might be.
What is this success you seek?
So, I invited Alex to imagine that she had found her next challenge and that this brought her all the success in the world that she could possibly dream of. To really get in touch with the internal experience of what mega-success might be like for her.
Alex repeated this process while standing in different locations of the room, with each location representing a different metaphorical place of future success. Finally, I invited her to consider how she felt about her life today and to select a further metaphorical place to represent that.
I am never quite sure how these sessions will turn-out. They are a process of constant experimentation on my part and seem to take on lives of their own according to each individual’s situation and inclination. So, what Alex reported surprised us both. She reported that all the different ‘places of success’ she had stood in felt exactly the same to her – all deeply lacking in something. And, that these future imagined places of mega-success actually felt no-different to her life today. So, was there really any point in chasing them?
Seeing through the illusion
What Alex started to realise was how she always looked to the outside for answers. Expecting that fulfilment would someday come through the next thing, while ignoring something very fundamental – her inner state. How she related to herself, her work and to life itself. What began to emerge was how for much of her life, Alex had been operating from a place of deep insecurity and needing to prove herself through achievement. Something she recognised that she no longer needed to be weighed down by.
If you feel like an unhappy high achiever, ask yourself if you are chasing after something elusive without you even realising it? If you are living a script handed to you by someone else because you never really paused to think about it? Remember that lasting contentment is to be found within — it is inside out, rather than outside in.
Cover Image: Sam-War by Alice Neil,1941
Harsha is a 1:1 coach and independent thinker based in London. He empowers people to find more clarity, confidence and focus in their lives — to cut through the noise, in a world so full of it. Harsha’s new book, Machine Ego: Tragedy of the Modern Mind, is now available in paperback and Kindle through Amazon.