When was the last time you felt happy and successful? What are the indicators for you that you’ve arrived there?
The latest module of a parenting course I’m on suggests that every parent’s wish for their child to be happy and successful is often what creates children reliant on outside recognition to judge whether they’re worthy.
That when we focus too heavily on indicators such as grades, accolades, social standing etc to guide our child towards our own predetermined definition of happiness and success (and away from our mostly-irrational fear that our child may become homeless one day if they can’t remember to hang their clothes up now), our well-intentioned direction may never allow our child to experience the less positive aspects of life to an effective degree. It suggests that children who are guided too quickly to stay too close to the defined path may struggle to learn any depth of balanced self-management; relying instead on feedback from external sources to determine their worth as opposed to developing a deep-seated belief in themselves and their own capabilities.
As an adult, I can certainly attest to the fact that my strengths, lessons and perseverance didn’t come from being continually happy and successful. Rather the opposite. Fortitude comes from trial and error. From dusting oneself off after failure and deciding to try again. Identifying happiness and success is only possible if you have the contrast of something else to compare them to.
Our lessons in life come from incremental realisations and gains. Our strengths are built from overcoming difficulty and occasionally hurt. As far as I can see, neither happiness nor success is a destination anyone arrives at and stays at indefinitely. Happiness and success are born of small improvements on a daily basis – improvements we’re willing to identify and acknowledge as belonging to us, as something we have achieved.
The lessons our children have to learn are the same ones we’ve had to. We cannot shield them from or ease those lessons if we wish them to become effective adults. That said, I question how often we remember to rechallenge ourselves as effective adults as to what happiness and success are for us. I’ve already indicated that I don’t believe they are destinations you arrive at and stay at for very long. What I want for my child is that he learns to effectively self-manage – to tell when he is balanced and when he is over-balancing or off-balance, and use those signals to address his needs and recreate balance.
I’m hoping that if he learns to do this using his own internal compass at a young age, he’ll be able to guide himself towards what happiness and success are for him, avoiding some of the longer expeditions many of us have been on to determine the same things for ourselves. I know that self-management looks like one thing for me and another for someone else. I know that my strengths and weaknesses are not the same as his. Each of us is on a unique journey to determine what self-management and balance look like for ourselves. I’m not sure it’s a journey that ever ends.
Most of us have developed some degree of self-management over the years, certainly if we’ve gained any growth or momentum in our careers. Perhaps you’ve specifically read, studied or sought out information on subjects such as time management and prioritisation of tasks. Perhaps you’ve studied or experimented with what your body, mind and spirit need to be healthy. Perhaps you’ve just developed your own techniques and coping mechanisms. Most people, including those in managerial leadership roles, have never had training targeted at strategic thinking, decision-making, stress management, or Big Picture Outlook.
As we reach each new level of our lives, we are expected to take on more responsibility, manage ourselves and others more effectively, and expand our thinking and perspective to see a broader set of actions, consequences and future probabilities. Often, when we reach these new levels, there is no one waiting there to fill the gap by offering us training to bolster our skills. We step up and into new roles, projects, experiences, relationships and teams without pausing to ask ourselves whether we lack the necessary skills. Often we do so without realising what we need until we reach a pressure point or receive feedback that tells us we’re not achieving what’s required.
In the same way that I’d like my nearly-16-year-old son to recognise these points in his life where he needs to “level up” and rebalance himself, self-managing himself to find new skills, advice or information; we all owe it to ourselves to consistently ask whether we need something different or new to achieve what we’re currently aiming at, rather than assuming we’ll just handle it if we persevere.
Often, we shut down the internal compass that tells us when we’re uncomfortable, ill-prepared, or heading in the wrong direction. We ignore the signs that our body, mind or spirit is out of balance and we keep going regardless, instead of pausing to self-manage and ask ourselves what we need. Often what we need is relatively easy to obtain.
Perhaps it’s as simple as needing a time-management course, or a new organisational app. Perhaps we need to address a particular person to sort out an issue we’ve been side-lining, or apply ourselves to the things that weigh on our minds at 3am. Perhaps we need a break, or some more activity, or to gather the right people together to obtain clarity. Whatever it is, when we become unbalanced, we experience discomfort.
That discomfort is an indication that we need to self-manage and rebalance. Our internal compass is telling us that we have a need and that focusing on that need sooner rather than later is our best way back to balance. Are we always going to get it right? No. Are we always going to pay attention? I wish that were the case.
Most of us push on until our discomfort becomes a more obvious issue that triggers external feedback from those around us. We find other ways of coping with an imbalance in our lives because we’ve been taught that achievement and success look a certain way, and that if we haven’t ticked all those boxes then we haven’t arrived.
I don’t know what happiness and success look like for you, but I suspect you do if you’ll listen to your internal compass. Rather than chasing external indications governed by other people’s definitions of happiness and success, I’d like my son to know what his own definitions are. I’d like him to be able to tell when he’s off-balance and what’s needed to self-manage himself back on course. As I write, I can hear my own Mother saying “Do as I say, not as I do!”. What I wish for him is not always what I’ve managed to do for myself.
When was the last time you listened to your internal compass? When was the last time you allowed your discomfort to indicate that you’re off-balance, and questioned what it was you needed to rebalance? When was the last time you encountered a change in your team, your requirements, your role or what you’re aiming at – and did you acknowledge that you may need to learn something new to address that change? Whose definition of happiness and success are you aiming at, and what is yours?
by Christen Killick
April 4th, 2022