Achievement vs. Authenticity: A Battle
If Pixar’s Inside Out featured my mind last year, you’d see two competing desires battling it out: achievement and authenticity. I love and am deeply motivated by achievement. Give me a checklist, a goal, or a competition and it’s ON. If self discipline were an Olympic sport, I’d be a contender. On the other hand, I have a deep desire for authenticity. These two competing desires are caught in a dance that sometimes leans more towards achievement and sometimes leans more towards authenticity.
But I reached a point last year where these competing desires had me in a deadlock.
I was stuck. Like gum to a shoe. To other people’s expectations, instead of my own. I was climbing a ladder I didn’t want to be on, and following a script written by someone else.
Despite listening and following the ‘rules’ to achieve more (get up earlier, hustle harder, drink a green juice, read 4 Hour Workweek, find a mentor, work late nights), I hadn’t found my own compass for what I wanted to achieve. I’ve done 90 hour work weeks…for employers that I didn’t really believe in. Spent more money than I care to admit on leadership development programs…Stayed in relationships that weren’t healthy…because everyone else I knew was in a relationship, too. Run more marathons than anyone’s knees should be put through…just because I’m fast, and liked the feeling of achievement. Studied for months for the GMAT/business school…until I realized that there’s nothing I’d like less than to spend two years of my life studying accounting and old business case studies.
If 90 work weeks and night accounting courses are your jam, ride it like you stole it. But if not? Abandon ship! Find your own path.
And that’s exactly why I got a life coach.Yes, a life coach. I was tired of following a path that wasn’t mine. I’ve made a real shift this year in how I identify which achievements are worth pursuing, and that’s in large part thanks to working with a coach. I think it’s far too easy to fall into a trap of chasing achievement over choosing authenticity, and my work with Kris, my coach, helped me identify what I actually wanted to pursue.
Ultimately, I decided to work with Kris to find clarity. Kris is an amazing human that I met through work a few years ago. Last year, Kris came back to Sydney after quite a journey that saw her go from a fast-paced executive producer role in agency world to become a personal trainer, life coach, and writer. We started talking about agency life, working ourselves to the bone, and false narratives about success. Stars and timing aligned so that I was able to work with Kris as she finished training to be a life coach. I committed to turning off my ‘expectations and achievments’ filter and exploring my goals in a safe space in the hope that I’d find a new kind of compass for making decisions.
This experience challenged and changed me so much that I want more people to be talking about, and considering coaching. Here’s a little more about how it worked.
How it Worked
I won’t give you a day-by-day play-by-play, but the basic rhythm of working with Kris looked something like this:
Prework: Question Everything
My first step was to do a pretty intensive questionnaire that Kris emailed me when I first started thinking about working with her. This probably took me about 3 hours of journaling — but it was so worthwhile. Honestly, just doing the questionnaire and talking through it is a really useful exercise.
Step 1: Discovery
Kris and I talked through the questions that I filled out in depth. She asked me questions, clarified some of what I shared, and did an incredible job of summing up what I was looking for in a really succinct way. We talked about themes that came up across all of the questions that I answered. It’s pretty special to talk to people who listen — really listen — and help reflect what you’re saying back to yourself — even if you might not realise what you’re saying.
Step 2: Setting Big, Juicy GOALS
Two weeks later, we had a goal setting session. This was only an hour long session, but it was a tough one — in a good way. Mostly, it was tough because I knew I wanted to set some goals but for some reason I couldn’t get clear on what they were. There were a lot of unsaid expectations I had for myself that needed to be examined. We talked about why I had those expectations, and whether they sat in line with my values. I walked away from this call with two goals that summed up the crux of how I wanted to be — in language that made me really excited to take action towards my goals on a daily basis.
Step 3: Values
Our second official session was about articulating my values. This was one of my favourite exercises in working with Kris. I find myself going back to them often — especially when I’m trying to make a decision. I can’t recommend enough getting clear on your values — not in a fuzzy sense, but in a laser focused kind of way, as in, “These are the 5 values.” Putting words around things you know you value intuitively, helped me act out of those values.
Step 4: Action items and accountability
Once I articulated my goals and got clear on my values, we had the structure that set the tone for our remaining 6 biweekly calls together. Every session, we started by checking in on how I was feeling about each of my two goals, and talking through how I’d gone on my ‘homework’ — which might be anything from journaling, to attending an event, to writing or drawing something (one of my goals centered around exploring my creativity). Honestly, having some actions and accountability with someone who’s clear on why you’re pursuing a goal is such a gift. I made more progress in a few weeks than I’ve made over the last few years combined. Some weeks were harder than others, but having the space to reflect with Kris on why I found some exercises harder than others was really important for me to get comfortable with my goals, and adjust ocurse where needed.
Over the 3 months we worked together, I saw myself take actions that would have been too scary without the support of a coach.
In summary, this is one of the best things I’ve ever done for my personal and professional development. The things I saw myself doing as a result of my goal setting felt significant and symbolic of a deeper, mindset change. I saw myself let go of other people’s expecations, becuase I had now defined and put my expectations for myself into my own words. My relationships became richer. I also learned that action is a great antidote for anxiety. I spent far less time attending professional development or networking events during this experiment. I rode my bike more. I saw friends more often. I wrote more. I hosted more drinks and parties. I spent time with people who inspired me. I’m learned I’m happiest when I’m creating, connecting with people, and seeking out new experiences. It was really eye-opening to realise that what really matters is how I feel while I’m pursuing my goals, and not how great I’ll feel once I’ve completed them. The real battle is to define what your goals are based on you and your experience — not anyone else’s.
I wholeheartedly believe that we can make the world a better place when we embrace the world’s problems, people, and potential with an open heart. And no two hearts are the same. Hearts are individual. I love that our hearts and souls are so complex. I love that we need each other to figure them out. I love that no matter how many scares and scars our brave little hearts bear, they keep coming back for more.
The point is, you get to say what makes your heart beat faster, stronger, louder for. No one else. You. Sometimes that requires a little help to find that voice. But it’s your voice. And it’s worth listening to.
If any of this resonates with you, can I encourage you to take the plunge and explore what’s authentic to you without the expecations of achievement? I highly recommend you find someone like Kris to work with. Like anything in life, going it alone is far less interesting (and sustainable) than finding someone to walk alongside you.
Do it. It will free you from fear. It will release you from a tangle of expectations that are not even yours. Expectations that aren’t ours make our chest heavy our breath short, and our sleep fitful. They make us narrow minded and small hearted. Be brave. Be real. Practice action over anxiety. Find what your heart beats for and get moving.