Healing Our Obsession With Doing: True Success Is An Inner Game

As a black woman, I write about experiences through the lens of a black woman, but I believe many of the points made here have no boundaries and are truly part of the human experience of many high-achieving women navigating the path to reconnect to your BEing, your true authentic self. So if you identify as a high-achiever, this is for you.

Days of Our Lives: A Parable of Real Life

There’s a tv show I used to love watching when I was a kid – the soap opera Days of Our Lives. I know, totally kid appropriate. But my sister and I would watch this show religiously, tuned in daily for one hour to stay on top of the intertwined lives, love stories and suspenseful adventures of the residents in a town called Salem. 

Their lives were never short of drama and my sister and I were locked in. Life was life’ing, even for characters on a made up tv show. Even they couldn’t dodge life’s untimely way of disrupting their best laid plans. From love triangles, mistaken identities, mental illness, murders, medical emergencies, and more, these characters’ lives stayed in a pattern of chaos & crisis that was never-ending.

I guess that’s why the show is still running after 58 years. If the characters were to actually take a deeper look into their difficult experiences, they could use them to make meaningful changes and significantly improve their lives (and toxic behaviors). 

But without any more drama infused story lines to keep me and sis and other Days enthusiasts engaged, that could mean the end of one of the longest scripted television programs in the world, airing nearly every weekday since November 8, 1965 (but I will save that conversation for another day).

In a way, our lives parallel those of the fictional characters on Days of Our Lives. As high-achieving women we start out having our own version of our best laid plans loaded into our GPS, with a north star of “success”. We’re excited to start “adulting” (aka leaving our parental home, completing our formal education, beginning employment, cohabitation and parenthood).

 That is, until, new characters named Change, Challenge and Life Transitions unexpectedly (and quite frequently) appear on our path along our way to meet with success. Somehow the day-time tv “drama” seems to also find us in our real lives as well.

Without invitation, these new characters hop in the ride with us on the road to success. And just like that annoying passenger seat driver we’ve all experienced, they somehow seem to just take over – take over the music (what we hear), and the air temperature control (what we feel), they litter and leave behind rubbish (what we hold onto), they give unwelcome driving advice (what we believe), and they make us take wrong turns & miss our exit (bad decisions & toxic behaviors).

Instead of the smooth ride that we were hoping for, Change, Challenge & Life Transitions make our ride confusing, frustrating and downright terrifying. They cause us to tighten our grip on the steering wheel to try to keep as much control as possible, so we can stay on the path we planned.

Unbeknownst to us, sometimes the change, challenges and life transitions we experience during adulthood are for our own benefit. Life is always trying to redirect us and teach us lessons that can only come through our experiences. 

And while navigating these pivotal moments can often be hard and painful, they are usually what pushes us towards our greatest personal breakthroughs and learning who we truly are and why we are here.

High-Achieving Black Women Are Consumed By Ambition

As high achieving black women, our identities are often defined by our careers. We spend our lives preparing for life intellectually through higher education and advanced degrees. 

Once in the job, we invest more time in business and executive leadership programs and professional skills training. We read a plethora of books in our respective fields to try and crack the code when it comes to leading in business settings and organizations and being a “girl boss”.

The Identity Crisis

But when it comes to matters of a deeper level – our innermost existence, thoughts and emotions that also need our guidance and leadership, high-achieving black women struggle and fall short. 

Our identities have become so enmeshed with the roles we play in our outer world and chasing socio-cultural ideals of “success” that by our 30’s somehow we’ve managed to gain an entire wall of achievements and accolades but have completely lost our sense of self and can’t quite remember who we were before we became a “boss”, mother, wife, [insert every other superwoman role we play].

Without a true sense of who we are, it’s nearly impossible to achieve the levels of happiness, peace and fulfillment we all desire for our lives.

According to Dr. Joe Dispenza, “95% of who we are by the time we’re 35 years old, is a memorized set of behaviors, emotional reactions, unconscious habits, hardwired attitudes, beliefs and perceptions that function like a computer program.

Breaking Free From The Script

In other words, we’re literally out here living life like high functioning robots on autopilot.

Take me for example. 

By 35, the entire life I had built according to what I was supposed to do had been shaken up by a series of traumatic life experiences I had gone through in the preceding years – I had failed the NY bar exam, my dad passed away, I’d gotten divorced and was dissatisfied with my chosen career path. 

While these things didn’t all happen simultaneously, by the end of 2019 I was feeling their impact in an unfamiliar way. It felt like I was waking up from a deep slumber. 

Nothing about my life felt comfortable anymore, I was overtaken by all kinds of emotions I unknowingly had been suppressing and the computer program my life was operating on wasn’t equipped to help me manage any of it.

The Journey To Authenticity

I was stuck and for the first time in my life, there was not a roadmap or anyone to tell me what I was supposed to do. I felt like an imposter in my own life, but not in the “fake it till you make it” sense of feeling inexperienced or incompetent professionally. But because I felt like an imposter to myself. I was allowing myself to show up everyday as somebody I didn’t feel I was.

If I could sum up how I felt in one word, it would be shame. 

I was ashamed of the fact I didn’t have my heart in practicing law and wanted to change my career. I was ashamed of being in my 30’s and not really having it as together as I portrayed. 

I was ashamed that I could walk into a company everyday and advocate for business terms, policies, and change, but couldn’t advocate for the deepest parts of myself. I was ashamed by the fact that if I were to remove my cape of professional accolades, achievements, job titles, the wife I was to somebody, the house I was able to buy for myself and the luxury car I drove, I didn’t have an identity.

My professional and life goals had absorbed so much of my attention it became overwhelming to a point that nothing about my life felt enjoyable anymore. At 37, I was left feeling depleted, lost and directionless.

As high achievers, our obsession with DOing and being consumed by our own ambition is precisely what robs us of actualizing ourselves and what is truly possible for our lives.

Ironically, the most difficult job I’ve had to date has not had anything to do with my degrees, job titles or experience on my resume. 

It was the inner work and healing I had to do to accept myself and start being honest about what I wanted for a change. The hardest thing in the world is the process of learning to fully accept who you are as you are. That you don’t have to perform to prove your worth to yourself or to anyone else.

The existential crisis I went through at the end of 2019 is the reason I am able to talk about this more openly today. Through my own vulnerability within my friend and social circle, I learned there are other high-achieving black women like me fighting the war on their worthiness and trying to regain their sense of self.

Breaking out of the matrix-styled world of living to reclaim your true self isn’t easy, but definitely possible with focus and effort to heal your obsession with DOing and reconnect with the BEing dimension of yourself. The recognition of your own BEing is the source of all joy.

From a spiritual perspective, I think the unexpected pandemic of 2020 that turned our lives upside down had a very important function – to wake us up from our programming and constant DO’ing and move us towards a state of deeper intelligence.

As high-achieving Black women, we spend so much of our lives trying to become intellectually full in order to master our outer worlds that we end up spiritually empty because we haven’t developed the spiritual or mental muscles necessary to understand and lead ourselves in a way that is meaningful and can move us towards a more fulfilling life.

Using Life Experiences To Find Direction

Unanticipated experiences like the pandemic, bad breakups and career dissatisfaction can all serve as a catalyst for our healing, can teach us and can also change us.

Lessons in Disguise

Our experiences have the capacity to lead us to making some of the most transformative changes in how we live our lives and provide us with great wisdom that our parents likely never could have taught us, because true wisdom often comes by way of personal experience.

When it’s happening, we don’t realize this, but the growing pains we go through are our teachers – the handbook we never received on our first day of adulting. 

It is through the pain that often accompanies major life changes, transitions and adversity that we discover our true strength; that we learn how to get over, go around and get through the things that are happening so we can extract the important lesson the experience is meant to teach us. It’s part of the process of becoming who we were born to be.

In an interview with Oprah, Glennon Doyle once said:

Pain is a traveling professor and it goes and knocks on everyone’s door. The smartest people I know are the people who say, come in and don’t leave until you have taught me what I need to know.

Embracing Adversity

We have a responsibility to ourselves to learn from our experiences, especially the most painful ones. 

To use them to study ourselves with the same voracity and determination we would give to our bars, our boards, and the licenses we go all-in for to achieve success professionally. The same way we commit to mastering our understanding of key principles and ideas to gain access to some of the most esteemed professions in the world is the same way we must commit to mastering our understanding of ourselves in order to access the happiness and fulfillment that stems from within us.

A life of ease is not the pathway to stepping into the fullness of who we are. But that doesn’t mean the journey there has to be hard either. We have life experience on our side.

The Wisdom In Adversity

Our adversity is not our enemy and shows up often during adulthood just when we need it to help guide us back to ourselves. Change is hard. But without a nudge from adversity, we would all be at risk of staying the same and never becoming self-actualized.

Your evolution is made possible through every bit of pain, struggle and adversity you experienced in your past or may be experiencing right now. Self-responsibility and focus on your spiritual development, inner-work and healing is how your path towards self liberation is made clear.

True Success: An Inner Game

True success is an inner game. It’s a spiritual journey of rediscovering who you are and being honest with yourself about what you want. 

This will lead you to a personal understanding of how unique you are in this world. This is how you find your way and find your freedom. Because when you find yourself, that’s when the possibilities for your life become limitless and you become unstoppable.

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