To continue with the exploration of success and motivation, I’ve asked a therapist to share some thoughts on this topic. Today’s guest post is from my author friend and client Rita Shulte. Rita is a therapist who has some great insights about success and finding joy in our vocations. I asked her to write something for Writing for Life that would encourage and help writers to thrive in their writing journey.
As writers we all want to be a success. We want to have our words touch people’s hearts; we want to somehow be immortalized through our work, and at the end of the day we want to sell books. That seems pretty normal—but percolating under the unconscious surface, could there be deeper reasons that being a success is so important to us? And, is the drive to “make it” stealing our joy?
Stealing Our Joy?
Each one of us has attached meaning to what being a “success” is. To some, it may mean becoming well-known; to others it may mean finding value and worth through the praise and admiration of others, and maybe to some it’s about making money. Is that so terrible? It is if you’re placing your significance on it.
How can we tell if our search for significance is riding on our achievements? Can we really discover what drives our need to be a success? Yes, by understanding what success means to us and discovering how it fulfills our needs.
Needs are essential to life. Without them, we won’t function in the way God has designed us to function. In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow developed a hierarchy of needs that included physiological needs for food, air and water, as well as psychological needs like love, belonging, and self-actualization. Feeling a loss of any need creates tension. This tension creates a drive state to motivate us to meet the need.
Once our basic physiological needs are met, we are driven to meet higher level needs of love and belonging. Self-actualization is obtained when our full potential is realized. Higher level needs create the music of the heart. I call them “soulical” needs. Listed below are the five that I teach my clients along with their definitions.
• Love—unconditional caring from another
• Acceptance—feeling full and complete as I am
• Value/worth—what gives me meaning and purpose in life
• Security—freedom from harm; safety
• Adequacy—the need to know I’m competent
Our needs drive us to action, and the objects of their fulfillment (a book contract, notoriety, money) act as incentives to make us feel good about ourselves. If we value success it’s because success meets some, or all of the above mentioned needs. That’s why rejection is such a bitter pill to swallow. It causes us a loss of one, or all of our needs. We become discouraged because the message rejection gives us is that we aren’t cutting it, we’re failures, or we’re not good enough.
How What We Believe Steals Our Joy
The drive to meet our needs is fueled by our beliefs. Our beliefs about success and rejection create that state of tension for us. We are motivated to be successful because there is a payoff for us. We may believe if we’re a success, we’ll have value/ worth, be accepted, have financial security, and feel adequate. The tension, or drive state that’s fueled by our beliefs, propels us to act in ways that will get our needs met. We may become workaholics, be obsessive, try harder, worry and fret. If we don’t succeed, it’s easy to see how we can become discouraged, lose our joy, or drive ourselves to despair if our goal is blocked.
If I believe I’ll be a failure if I don’t get something published, the loss of my needs becomes secondary to what I’m believing about myself, God and the world around me. Believing I am a failure takes my feelings (disappointment) and makes them into facts (beliefs). The problem is the belief (I’m a failure) makes my significance dependent on my performance, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. Patterns of negative self-defeating thinking open the doorway to feelings of disappointment and discouragement, which ultimately steal my joy. What’s the solution? Glad you asked.
Disappointment or Discouragement?
Disappointment is an emotional response to a blocked goal, a hurt; or perceived loss of some kind. It’s normal to be disappointed when we wanted something to happen and it didn’t—or, if we didn’t want something to happen and it did. But what about discouragement, how does that impact us at the heart level? If left unchecked, discouragement can lead us to despair. It:
• Creates feelings of anger or depression
• Makes us feel a loss of confidence
• Gives us a sense of inadequacy
• Causes us to focus on the obstacles
• Tempts us to believes lies about ourselves, God and others
Our beliefs provide clues as to why we struggle with discouragement. So we need to notice what we’re telling ourselves that’s causing our joy to be stolen. Here are some examples—see if any fit for you:
• I’m a failure if I don’t get something published
• I’m not good enough
• I’m inadequate
• I have to sell more books to be a success
• If I don’t make a best seller list I’m not a good writer
• I won’t be happy unless I’m a success
If you said yes to any of the above, you’re forgetting an important truth— all your needs are already met in Christ (2 Peter 1:3, Philippians 4:19). What you need is to change your perspective.
Looking through a Different Lens
Solomon was a wise man. In the book of Ecclesiastes he poses a powerful question, “What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?” Some people read this book and think it’s depressing and filled with ancient philosophies. I would argue that it’s extremely relevant for today because it examines what people believed, and how those beliefs impacted how they viewed life.
Solomon was a searcher. His searching mind examined life to see what was behind people’s motives. He received fame and became greater than all who went before him. He obsessed about success and every worldly pursuit. His conclusion: “Vanity of vanities.” This word means “emptiness, futility, or meaninglessness.” Solomon decided there was only momentary pleasure for all his toil, and each time he repeated it, he got less enjoyment from it.
Solomon counted the cost for success and concluded that nothing would satisfy. No amount of fame, fortune or pleasure. We too must ask ourselves if all the “chasing after the wind” will ultimately satisfy our souls. The point of Ecclesiastes is that God intends for us to have joy, but real joy comes from the hand of God and begins with accepting that He is in charge no matter what circumstances or disappointments we face. When we understand that, we can view rejection through a different lens, one that assures us that God is still up to something even though we’ve been let down.
When we look through the lens of possibilities we can change or modify our beliefs about success and failure. Here are a few discouragement busters to consider:
• Focus on the bigger picture
• Watch for negative self talk
• Place your faith in God not in your circumstances
• Cultivate gratefulness
What disappointments are you facing today? What beliefs are robbing you of the joy that is already yours in Christ? Begin today to cultivate an attitude of gratefulness by refusing to let the drive for success steal your joy. Thank God that he has gifted you as a storyteller—then sit back and enjoy the journey!
Rita Schulte is a psychotherapist in the Northern Virginia DC area. She is passionate about matters of the heart, so in addition to writing a book on how the losses of life impact our hearts, she started a podcast show called Heartline www.siftedaswheat.com/category/podcasts/ where she talks to some of the leading Christian counselors and authors in the country about the cutting-edge issues affecting the hearts and lives of everyone out there. They air on 90.5 FM in NC. She also does a one-minute devotional spot called “Consider This heard” on 90.9FM in Lynchburg, VA. She also enjoys blogging on a site where you’ll hear from her and her podcast guests. Check out her website for counseling helps on a variety of topics.