I visualized getting into university, then my dream job and after that my business.
And it worked! I came to believe that a clear vision is the first step to any accomplishment.
Until one day, I realized that some of my goals were keeping me away from the life I wanted.
I remember, I am at the beach with my kids and husband. We’ve been planning this holiday for months, and I have been looking forward to spending quality time with my family. My son is learning to swim and he is squealing with delight. It is beautiful.
But something is wrong. I am not enjoying the moment fully.
I find a quiet place to journal to figure out what’s going on with me.
And then I remember. This morning I saw on social media a fellow expert in my industry celebrating a huge financial milestone. I am happy for them. And for the evidence that huge success in my industry is possible. Still, I can’t help feeling disappointed that MY business is not further ahead.
Why am I feeling like this during a great holiday?
Would more money change my experience?
The beach would not be more beautiful –
My kids’ faces would not be any cuter –
And then it dawns on me.
What I really want is not the money. It is the self-esteem that would come from achieving that milestone as an entrepreneur.
My life has never been the same since that day at the beach.
We often feel good about ourselves only if something else happens first.
It could be wealth, job titles, business growth, ideal weight, social media followers or relationship status.
When we were babies we did not need to do anything to deserve love. Everybody sees babies as worthy. Unfortunately, as we grow up, society often teaches us that our worth is conditional.
And we get trapped pursuing the wrong goals, in an effort to increase our self-esteem and through that our self-worth. We follow ego, instead of joy.||
As an executive coach, I work with leaders to clarify what they want in their life, business or career.
We are all busy and it is hard to find time to pause and reflect on what really matters to us. We get bombarded with messages about what we should want, usually by people who want to sell us something.
Back on the beach I realized I was making a fundamental goal-setting mistake: Pursuing a goal, the growth of my business, out of ego, and not out of joy.
What’s the difference? If you want a promotion because you would love to do the job; it is a joy-driven goal. If you want the promotion to feel good about yourself or to impress others, it is an ego-driven goal.
But, so what, right? What’s wrong with pursuing a goal out of ego?
Here are 3 reasons ego-driven goals don’t work:
First, ego-driven goals can lead to underperformance.
Researchers found that the more students base their self-worth on academic results, the worse they perform on ability diagnostic tests. Their anxiety gets in the way.
It is easier to understand this when you think about dating. Imagine you are single and someone wants to date you because they NEED the validation of having a relationship. They want to prove to themselves and others they are cool.
Now imagine another person who wants to date you because they think it would be fun to spend some time together. They feel good on their own, and would also like to spend time with you.
Who would you choose? I bet you would not go on a date with the needy person.
We become needy when we pursue goals for the sake of validation. And that leads to underperformance in dating, and business alike. But when we do it from a place of joy, we are more relaxed and magnetic. Employers. clients, investors and even potential dating partners are more attracted to us and opportunities start flowing our way.
The second reason ego-driven goals don’t work is their heavy long-term emotional cost.
Seeking to validate your self-worth with external achievements has been linked to depressive symptoms.
You might feel good temporarily when you achieve an ego-driven goal, but the next moment you will replace it with another goal.
We get trapped in a “I will be happy in the future” mindset. Our life slips away in a feeling of “not enough” or “not yet”.
You can recognise an ego-driven goal if you feel shame for not having achieved it already or fear you will never achieve it.
If you think about how your classmates will react when they find out about it at the school reunion, well that’s a good sign it is an ego driven goal.
I have seen clients devastated when they fail in an ego-driven pursuit because they had based their whole self-esteem on succeeding.
All this emotional turmoil is unnecessary. Once we cover our physical needs, we can engage with our work like children engage with play.
When my son builds a volcano in the sand, he is simply doing what feels good. He will tirelessly carry water from the sea, and lose track of time carving the shape just right.
We are naturally creative beings. We love solving problems and overcoming obstacles.
When we feel good within ourselves, we instinctively do work that feels good and does good in the world.
The other reason ego-driven goals don’t work is distraction. They distract us from pursuing what we really want.
When we chase self-worth on the outside, we are like the dog chasing its tail. The dog never reaches its tail because it was part of its body all along. The dog could be pursuing something more fun like food or doggy friends.
We already have worth, like the dog already has a tail.
We can pursue something more fun instead. Like personal growth, amazing experiences or deep relationships.
So, how do you do that?
To start with, you decide how you want to feel. For most of us it is joy, peace, love, wholeness, and inspiration. We want to jump out of bed in the morning excited about the day ahead. We want to feel alive.
The biggest obstacle for most of us to accessing those feelings is not external circumstances but our compulsive thinking and limiting beliefs including the one that says that our worth is conditional.
Use whichever method works for you to clean up your inner clutter: meditation, breathwork, sports, therapy, journaling, coaching or something else.
Behind the emotional rollercoaster of everyday life, there is an inner space of peace and wellbeing. Access that place, even for a few seconds. From that place of peace and wellbeing, listen to your inner wisdom.
Would you like to do something? Is there an action that feels like an expression of your joy, love and creativity?
If so, then go do that. And once you are already doing something you enjoy you can add a goal to it if it feels exciting.
Just like my son building a volcano in the sand can feel an inspiration to make it taller. The goal should not be there to add stress or a feeling of lack, but to add excitement to your joy.
You want to avoid ego-driven goals. As we have established, they lead to underperformance, \\ misery \\ and distraction from what you really want.
How do you eliminate those?
Let’s do it together. Think of something you want, professional and personal. You got it?
Then, ask yourself these three questions:
- How does that goal make me feel? Shame that you have not achieved it already? Sadness that someone else is ahead of you? Fear that you may never achieve it? Or is it excitement?
- Would I still pursue this goal if nobody could ever know I achieved it? That is a great sign of whether you want it for yourself or other people’s opinions.
- Does your goal include the words “the best” in it? Do you want to be the best or do you want to master your craft? The first goal locks you into the misery of comparison while the second allows the joy of constant evolution. Even competitive athletes don’t visualize winning the medal but playing a great game to be successful.
If you want to have goals, have goals that make you feel good. The ones that would still be worth it even if nobody ever knew you achieved them. The ones that do not require others to be worse than you so that you can be “the best,” but lift others up alongside you.
That day on the beach, I realized I did not need to achieve certain goals to feel worthy. My worth, like your worth, is unconditional.
I started following joy.
I wanted to take 12 weeks of holiday a year to travel. I wanted fewer meetings and more time to write. I wanted to share with my community whatever my heart desired.
I started doing all that. And, my business? Started performing better than ever.
Imagine a world where people felt free to pursue the activities that set their souls on fire. Instead of being trapped on a treadmill, forever chasing external achievements to heal their inner insecurity.
Imagine if we did not feel we should be further ahead by now. And we could simply lose track of time doing something we love.
When you already feel worthy, enough, and whole, all there is to do is go out and play. Not out of ego, but out of joy.