How Today’s Optimization Madness Makes Us Miserable
How do you respond to all these “become tremendously successful by following these three simple steps” messages which are on the rise again around this time of the year? Personally, I’m getting pretty tired of them.
In fact, with almost 90 years of Napoleon Hill, Stephen Covey, Tony Robbins and all the other gurus, the world should be flooded with rich and happy people by now, shouldn’t it? No doubt, there is great and useful advice out there, and obviously as an executive coach I am involved with the self-improvement industry myself. And I love helping people live better lives, I really do. But I also see that for most people achieving exceptional success is not as easy as many want to make you believe it is. In reality, the Optimization Madness that came as a side-effect of great self-help and motivational advice has a devastating impact: a lot of otherwise well-educated people are terribly unhappy these days.
Being rich, sexy and professionally successful has never been easier. You should be rich, sexy and successful at work, too. In fact, if you don’t achieve this in no time, there is only one person to blame: you!
Such messages are out there all the time, are they not? It can easily put you and me under tremendous pressure. The question though is if running after these ideals (and eventually getting there) will make you a truly happier person.
How many really rich people have you met? I’ve met some. I’m not sure though how many of these really rich people are really happy. It seems that many rich people define their personal value by their money in the bank account. When you meet them, the first thing they’ll tell you is how much money they have made recently, or what massive business deals they have just closed. They believe you won’t accept them for anything else but their money. How sad is that?
Do you go to a gym? I exercise regularly and often look in awe at these super fit, amazing looking gym rats. Then I’m shocked to hear about their high levels of dissatisfaction with their bodies and performances, even though when everyone else envies them. To themselves, they are never good enough. Think about it next time you wish you’d look like your favorite fashion model.
Today I saw Facebook post “I want to show you my six pack”. Well, I respect that accomplishment, of course. But does a six pack make you a better, happier person?
Finally there is the group of “successful” business people. Of course, in my line of work I have come across some amazing leaders. They are self-confident, humble, and at peace with themselves. (Keep up the great work, folks!) However, a majority of ambitious careerists seem to be desperately driven by their fear of being nothing without the title on their business card. And in many corporate executives you find a highly despicable trait: ruthlessness. To them, EBIT, cash flow, and ROI matter more than anything else. I respect that a business must make money. But once leaders put money before people, something is seriously wrong.
So if you find all these carrots put in front of you are not worth chasing, what can make you happy then?
The longer I work in the area of leadership development (and thus self-improvement), the more indications I see that the happiest people on this planet are those who are simply happy with what they’ve got. That’s not a new discovery, obviously. And it is not that simple either, because there’s a serious dilemma: being too happy today may prevent you from preparing for remaining happy tomorrow. Some degree of ambition is quite helpful to ensure you can still pay your bills in the future (which I’m sure would otherwise make you quite unhappy). In addition, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s outstanding work on Flow indicates that setting goals and pursuing them contributes to happiness and finding meaning in life.
It almost sounds like just being happy with what you’ve got might not suffice to keep you happy in the long run.
How can you apply this for your New Year Resolutions and Goals for Next Year?
There is probably no one-size-fits-all solution, and honestly I have no idea what will work for you specifically. But generally, the secret apparently lies in finding the right balance between pursuing a goal without becoming overly attached to the outcome. In other words, setting goals and remaining happy along the journey.
It is this is the time of the year again where you might want to reflect and look back on how this year went, and to look forward and make some plans for the next year. Perhaps a good place for you to start is to have a closer look at your core values, what defines you as a person, and what really matters to you in your life (not what matters to “society” or the optimization industry). Then plan some actions, and execute them in a healthy manner. If you’d like some help, I’ll be happy to support you.
I would love to hear from you: what are your challenges in finding a healthy balance? What’s your secret to remaining ambitious without becoming attached to the outcome? Please share in the comment section.
Gerrit Pelzer is a Leadership Advisor & Executive Coach who helps leaders create better results through people. If you would like a personal consultation on how you can set ambitious but “healthy” goals for yourself and your organization please contact him now:
phone: +66-2 107 2025