Sometimes, actually, often times, we are our greatest enemy to our own success.
I remember my time as a hall director fondly. I viewed my hall as a microcosm of the university. Every piece of what students encountered touched our work, from financial aid to admissions. I used this philosophy to guide my relationships, my focus on the big picture, and how I chose to maximize my role with 400 students in the middle of downtown Milwaukee. I looked back with pride for a long time at my work there until I realized there was part of the story I often glazed over. And within that was a critical lesson.
During the first year in my role, my job was my greatest escape from a suffering marriage. When I came into the position, that relationship was already on life support. And as it turns out, having an office one floor away from your apartment is an excellent place to hide out when you don’t want to deal with what’s really happening in life. I thought I was thriving but really I was caught in a cycle of avoidance.
We often wait. We wait for someone else to tell us what to do. We wait for a supervisor to give us guidance. We wait for change. We wait for problems to solve themselves. That’s any of us on the days we are likely least proud of. I was using my job, and finding success in it no less, as I waited for a painful and difficult marriage to end. And then one day it did.
And I went back to work.
It became my crutch, something reliable, something I could be proud of regardless of what was happening everywhere else. It was constant and rewarding. But the fact was that, I closed myself off from the real hard work of living for the more safe work of doing my job. It was time to break that cycle.
I began placing workouts on my calendar for the end of the work day. I joined Meet Up groups ranging from brunching ladies to tennis. I traveled. I learned how to cook new things. I let myself open up to the world outside my office and found it paid dividends. I knew what a well and harmonious life could look like but finally did the real work to claim that for myself.
If you are reading this and what you come away with is another message about balance, you’re missing the point. When work is our outlet, we have to question ourselves. Am I hiding? If so, why? What am I escaping? What is not being fulfilled? When we answer these questions we begin to get closer to our truth versus hiding from the realities of our lives. Failure is a tricky thing because it can often be first disguised as success.
There are times when our work requires exceptional time and attention. But these are times. The critical step is to distinguish between what is necessary and what we choose. And further, to identify what we choose and why. Yes, sometimes we simply really enjoy our work. Or we start a new job that requires extra time and attention. But I would counter that many times we are in a cycle of avoidance.
I look back on my career and often do not see the failures stick out to me. I see lessons, times I learned to do things differently. Failure is most often not seen in the outcome but in the process. Moreover, our personal failures can teach us just as much about how to navigate our work as our professional experiences. I hope you may have an opportunity to look at your choices and claim what you need in life to experience wholeness at work and at home. And when you trip, because we all do, I hope it will propel you forward. But that will only happen if you give yourself the time and space to reflect not just on the outcomes, but on the process.