The Never-Ending Quest for Happiness

I’ve always been an over-achiever. Since birth, the driving force in my life has been to accomplish goals – to crush them, really – and then set new, higher ones to then crush. I’ve always had an insatiable desire to do more, be more, win more, make more. More, more, more.

And for most of my life, I’ve been pretty miserable. My first memories are colored with anxiety about not being perfect. My first grade teacher told my mother that I was going to end up anorexic, because I was such a hard-driving perfectionist. (And then I spent most of my adult life obsessing about whether I was skinny enough to be lovable. Irony.) I’ve suffered from suicidal depression, panic disorder, and most days, I honestly didn’t like myself at all. Many days, I even hated myself.

The drive, and determination, and grinding desire to be perfect in every way at work, at home, as a mom, as a girlfriend or wife or daughter or business owner, was what I thought would someday make me happy. I thought if I just achieved enough, had enough, won enough awards, lost enough weight, got married enough times, I’d finally find the elusive joy that other people seemed to have in their lives.

I was wrong.

The path I was following only served to make me less happy. Moving the goalposts every time I crushed a goal kept moving happiness just outside my reach. I was constantly yearning for peace and joy and confidence, and all I got was a gaping hole inside me that I tried to fill with accomplishment, or accolades, or being what other people wanted me to be. I have a fantastic company that I love running and I kept telling myself that it wasn’t enough. I needed a book deal and speaking engagements and a consulting company. I have a beautiful daughter who loves me without question and I kept telling myself that it wasn’t enough. I needed to do crafts and learn to paint her nails professionally and make meals from scratch every night. Whatever I had, whatever I did, I told myself it wasn’t enough.

And then, all of a sudden (which is how these things tend to happen), after 36 years of struggle, I realized something. I was sitting at a conference in Orlando in May of this year listening to a keynote by Shawn Achor, a Harvard researcher and author of two books and numerous studies on happiness. Sometimes, the universe puts someone in front of you who you really, deeply, profoundly need. Achor talked about how success won’t bring you happiness, but happiness will bring you success. And how whatever you are, that is enough.

I sat in that audience with tears streaming down my face. I was in the process of emerging from the most difficult twelve months of my life, personally and professionally, and it finally clicked for me. I was enough. Just me. How I was at that moment. Enough.

I didn’t need a book deal, or crafting skills, or to lose 40 pounds, or to start another company, or to be a millionaire, or a consulting firm or a lecture series. I didn’t need to be famous or rich or smarter or prettier. I just needed to be me. And to finally, sincerely, be happy with who that is. I could stop running on the treadmill of my life, reaching for that carrot that was just outside my reach and telling myself that the minute I finally grabbed it, I’d be allowed to be happy and content and settled. No, I could do it now.

So as I work through 2017, I have turned my focus, my determination, my grinding desire to be perfect, into a focus on, a determination toward and a grinding desire to be perfectly happy. Just happy. To love the minutes and the hours and the joys that exist in my life every day. To stop looking over the horizon. To focus on what is good RIGHT NOW and what makes my life happy RIGHT NOW. To look around and realize that I have what most people look for their whole lives. A job that I am excited to come to every single day. A beautiful home. A healthy, happy, loving daughter. A healthy body that does everything I ask it to.  Family and friends who love me unconditionally.

And finally, most importantly (and the most difficult to do), I have decided to love myself. Right here, right now, without exception. I wake up every morning and tell myself that I am an amazing, accomplished, bright, funny, beautiful human being who people enjoy being around, and that I don’t need to be or do anything beyond that to be loved. I don’t need to buy things or lose weight or be something I’m not. I’m good. Right here.

And none of this is to say that I’ve stopped setting goals. I still see my trainer, but now we focus on how strong I am instead of how thin I am. I still want to stretch my skills at work, and push myself to do things I’ve never done before, but now it’s from a place of joy rather than a place of desperation. And I know that I will constantly strive to be a better parent, but it’s not so my daughter will love me. She already does that. It’s so that I can continue to see how awesome I am at parenting, on a daily basis.

So now, almost halfway through the year, I can truly say that 2017 is the best year I’ve ever had. I’m not making the most money. I’m not winning the most awards. I’m not the most in-shape. But I’m the happiest, most confident and best version of myself I’ve ever been. And if that’s not success, I’m not sure what is.

 

by Lacy Starling, President & Fearless Leader