Do you wonder whether you've "achieved" enough in life?
“Am I a failure that I don't have multitudes of employees under my reign? Or am I a failure for failing my soul?” - Quiet Life member Shannon Reichelt
Our next Candlelight Chat is THIS SUNDAY, Feb 11, at 1 pm ET/10 am PT/5 pm UK, with special guest, the brilliant author, former literature professor, and incandescent human, Priscilla Gilman. Priscilla writes about literature, parenting, education, and autism, and she’s an advocate for autistic people and children. Her most recent book is The Critic’s Daughter. But most of all - Priscilla may be the warmest person you’ll ever meet. I think you’ll love her.
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The single greatest lesson I learned from writing QUIET had nothing to do with introversion.
The lesson came while I was still writing the book. The year was 2008. I was halfway done with the manuscript, and shared its premise with a friend. It was about the unlikely power of introverts, I explained: introverts are scientists and artists and leaders and etc., and this is because of their quiet temperaments - not in spite of them. I pointed to my favorite examples of quiet types contributing massively to the world - Dr. Seuss, Rosa Parks, Albert Einstein.
If you’ve been reading my work for a while, you’ve probably heard me say similar.
But my friend cocked her head, thought about it, and said,
“And even if they don’t contribute like that, they should still get to be who they are.”
And that was the moment I realized how much I was equating intrinsic worth with outer achievements.
I still think that achievements matter. I mean, we’re glad, aren’t we, that we had Einstein, Rosa Parks and Dr. Seuss in the world. Some human achievements - from the Sistine Chapel to the Golden Gate Bridge - belong in the same category as redwood trees and wine-dark seas. They’re portals to grace and wonder.
And, on a more basic level, we all need to go out and earn a living.
But this reality - this need to make ends meet - can create a problem of false gods.
Because we must make money to support ourselves and our families (a worthy and legitimate goal), we sometimes confuse the tools that help us achieve this goal (eg., mastering customer service, spreadsheets, management techniques) with the values that feed the soul (higher order goals like self-discovery; the pursuit of beauty and truth; love).
In an ideal world, of course, we can use our tools in accordance with our soul-values; but they’re not the same thing. Which is why so many people experience discordance between the tools they’ve acquired, and the call of their soul.
I thought about all this, when Quiet Life memberposted a marvelous comment to my Kindred Letter on status hierarchies (“Do you love individual people, but feel unsafe in groups?”):
“Am I a failure that I don’t have multitudes of employees under my reign?” Shannon asked. “Or am I a failure for failing my soul?”
Shannon was talking about the conflicting desires that many of us feel between “success,” as typically defined, vs. being “true to ourselves.” Here’s her full comment:
“The first 25 years of my career were spent in the professional service world of CPAs... All the jockeying described in Susan's write here. While I did reach prestige grade it came at the cost of my soul. As my body began poking me it wasn't ok with the stress/price at age 45 it's led to a journey of completely changing my definition of it all. Letting go. Feeling a failure for not keeping up with the Jones' and choosing exactly what you said here, depth, true connection, solitude. People hated my no's and at first it was great pain to dish them out. Am I a failure that I don't have multitudes of employees under my reign? Or am I a failure for failing my soul? The reinventing is harder than one would imagine, but slowly the quiet, sweet, loving little girl of 5 reemerges with her hands full of richer, deeper goals. I just had to jump off the ladder to find her. If anyone out there is stuck in the corporate professional hubbub and feels my pain, I hope this speaks to you! Walking away from the hierarchy takes tremendous courage! But maybe in the process, like Susan has so wonderfully for us, we're creating safe spaces for other species just like us who don't want to fail their souls any longer.”
So today, I want to take on Shannon’s questions. How best to free the “quiet, sweet, loving little girl (or boy) of 5”?
And how to pursue the “richer, deeper goals” of which Shannon speaks?