How To Find Success Without Losing Yourself

The pursuit of success is blind, irrational and often destructive. However, there is a better alternative that I’d like to share.

image of an old man looking at his reflection in a mirror for article by Larry G. Maguire

Photo by Brusk Dede on Unsplash

The pursuit of success is blind, irrational and often destructive. However, there is a better alternative that I’d like to share.

Consider this piece the antithesis to all other advice you may have read, or will read, on how to find success. The truth is you won’t find it — not ultimately. Regardless, it won’t stop you trying because that’s how we’re built. So work away on your dreams and goals, but keep the following in mind.

We have from the day we are born, and arguably prenatally, an inbuilt drive for expansion, self-expression and self-realisation. It is unavoidable and inherently human. We can say that this need for creative expression is present in all animate things. But rather than a mindless drive for need fulfilment, I see it as a drawing-towards or an attraction to something as yet unformed.

It is not an attraction in a tempting, seductive sense, but rather it is a creative magnetism drawing us into the unknown. It is fractal — a 360-degree outward movement of the self in ever-expanding complexity of concentric circles. And in that mode, we have the potential for continued healthy growth in all avenues of life.

But in this growth of the self, we can often become stuck. We develop a perpetual need for fulfilment of basic egotistical needs. We become addicted to material things and status symbols. It is this phenomenon of human behaviour of which I want you to become vigilant and urge you to avoid.

“The difference between passion and addiction is that between a divine spark and a flame that incinerates.” ― Gabor Maté, Physician

I am an opponent to the pursuit of success because, in that state, there is often the development of a pathological need to find something missing — justification for all kinds of madness results. You may satisfy the material need, but fulfilment will remain elusive, and dissatisfaction will perpetuate.

The object of our desire almost repels us. And so when this lack of fulfilment of material needs becomes dominant in our behaviour, dysfunction and unhappiness is never far behind. It is, for this reason, I suggest we reorient ourselves from chasing things to allowing them to come to us.

It seems almost paradoxical to think that we can get what we want without going after it. But it is this state of being that sets us apart from the dominant and often pathological thought patterns of the rest of humanity.

Everyone else is in competitive mode. They think, “there is not enough for everyone; therefore, I must pursue and fight for what’s mine”. But this creates a dog eat dog world of shortsighted people hell-bent on walking over others to get their share.

Buckminster Fuller, in his autobiography Critical Path, highlighted the folly of what he called the selfish and fearfully contrived “wealth games” that humanity plays. Under a misinformed survival-of-the-fittest ideology, he said that humanity would ultimately destroy itself.

I hope he’s wrong, but given the kill-or-be-killed capitalist model for success that most human beings live under, it may yet come to pass.

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Psychologist Abraham Maslow, famed for his hierarchy of needs pyramid, said that human beings are perpetually wanting animals. I suppose there’s no getting away from this fundamental truth even though we’d like to think of ourselves as rational. In the pursuit of all that is good and righteous, rational thought can bring about all kinds of crazy behaviour. The pursuit of success, therefore, becomes blind.

The paradox of success is that it resists ultimate definition even though we think we know what it looks like. It is also true, I have found that the more we chase success, the more it eludes us. Creating your own definition, deciding what it looks like, can help provide direction. But problems begin when that picture looks like someone else’s already created reality.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs idea was that subsequent to our satisfaction of one human need, a higher level need occupies the consciousness of the individual. Conceptually I don’t have a problem with this; however, it also has a cyclical component that should be considered. Many people, such as obsessional individuals and addicts, find themselves caught in a repetitive pattern of behaviour which is ultimately damaging.

It can also be true of less dysfunctional people — those of us who pursue material success. We might grow materially, but we decline emotionally and psychologically, or at best, remain stationary.

“…when a need is fairly well satisfied, the next prepotent (‘higher’) need emerges, in turn, to dominate the conscious life and to serve as the centre of organization of behaviour, since gratified needs are not active motivators. Thus man is a perpetually wanting animal. — Abraham H. Maslow, A Theory of Human Motivation (1943)

It may be reasonable to suggest that the core experience or feeling that everyone on this planet is seeking is happiness. So why is it so elusive and what’s the solution?

For a start, happiness is not a static, unchanging thing. It is a pulsating moving target, attached to which is its diametrical opposite; unhappiness. Both are two sides of the same coin; they are both sides of the sinewave, both ends of the spectrum. We cannot pick up the stick of human experience without picking up both ends. Therefore to expect one without the other is naive so we must learn to experience both.

The material or experiential route to happiness and fulfilment can come in many forms but has only one state of being. To realise that state of being, we must engage in daily work in which we can become immersed. It’s where ego disappears, and all self-consciousness and concern for outside opinion are removed. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls this state Flow, and it is where success lies.

What eventually comes about experientially from entering this state of being is what I have termed Purposeful Accidentthe subjective experience of optimal results (success) from engaging in activities for their inherent enjoyment rather than the for ulterior motives. It is a purposeful but detached engagement in work without the need for results to turn out a particular way.

There’s no time in this state, no future or past. There is no hangup about fulfilling some idealistic notion of success. There’s no mother or father talking in your head, and there is no vacuum in the self — all needs are met.

As Maslow further states in Toward A Psychology of Being;

“Everything now comes of its own accord, pouring out, without will, effortlessly, purposelessly. He acts now totally without deficiency, not homeostatically or need-reductively, not to avoid pain or displeasure or death, not for the sake of a goal further on in the future, not for any other end than itself…at this level I have called the person godlike.”

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The further paradoxical nature of success pursuits is that we keep ourselves from that which we truly want. And it’s required, because only after we have been fools, can we be wise enough to understand the dynamics of this exchange between the positive half cycle of the curve and the negative.

Material things, staus, applause and reward, are nice, but they must be consequences rather than causes. To reverse them is futile, but only for a while. I believe everyone will eventually realise this and make a wiser choice.

Until then, we perhaps have little choice but to persevere and lose ourselves in the process.

Thank you for taking the time to read my stuff. Every morning you’ll find me sharing a new thought on life, art, work, creativity, the self and the nature of reality on The Reflectionist. I also write on The Creative Mind. If you like what I’m creating, join my email list to receive the weekly Sunday Letters

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