For most of my life, I believed that my value in the world was based on what I accomplished. I measured myself by my academic performance, sports performance, social network, job title, income, the car I drove… you get the picture.
I don’t know where this came from exactly – probably some part family and some part culture – but it was a strong force in my life. It drove me to compete for valedictorian in high school, go to Princeton and Stanford, and get promoted to a director position at Apple. Many people would say that drive served me well.
My dad was driven in his professional life, and he suggested that like him, I was driven. That’s true, and yet part of me wasn’t. Part of me wanted to slow down, enjoy life, be creative, sing, laugh, relax. The slower part of me was small and soft spoken, but it was starting to raise its voice.
My internal conflict was in full force when, in 2010, I made one of the hardest decisions of my life. I stepped off the path of advancement and took a voluntary demotion at Apple. I had reached a place where I couldn’t do well at both work and home, and I chose to prioritize family. I didn’t make the transition gracefully. The internal conflict was raging.
The conflict went on for years. I loved the free time, balance, family time, and control of my schedule. But part of me was fighting, embarrassed, even ashamed at the lack of accomplishment. I was no longer on the “fast track”. I wasn’t in the sexy high-profile jobs I had been in. I wasn’t living up to my potential. I didn’t want to talk about work with people I met.
It wasn’t until recently that I could articulate this, let alone understand it. Many years of therapy helped me understand the paradigm I had lived from for so many years of my life. How I had equated performance with my value as a person. How I looked externally to determine my self esteem. How sensitive I was to how others saw me.
Therapy helped me understand it, but coaching helped me change it. I changed it by listening to the part of me that wanted more from life: more freedom, more balance, more joy, more laughter, more love, more fulfillment. I had learned my whole life to push & drive harder to reach higher levels of accomplishment. That was the muscle I flexed when I was in any challenging situation — buckle down and work harder. My coach and mentor helped me learn to listen to the deeper part of me that was longing for more in life. I learned about grace, about ease and flow, about a holistic happiness that comes from living a life of my own design, aligned with my values and purpose.
It took years for me to learn that greatness starts within. I know I’ve seen that on a t-shirt somewhere, but knowing it and living by it are two different things. I don’t have to do great things to be great. I have to be great in order to do great things. I have to find my own internal greatness. Honor it, nurture it, listen to it, and have the courage to follow it. And when I do, I do great things.
The beauty of this work is that anyone can do it. We all have a voice for growth, for greatness. Ghandi said it’s as loud as our willingness to listen to it. How willing are you?