No one gets to tell you what “success” is and isn’t for you.

I just watched a reasonably well known teacher in the personal growth field effortfully attempt to shame his audience if they value rest, recreation, and friendship. In this guy’s world, “fun” is a dirty word— he feels that every waking moment, including the weekends, should be devoted to “making an impact” (i.e, working). He excoriates his audience members who “say” they want success in business, but then “take the weekends off” and “hit the snooze button.”

(I’m not exaggerating or taking him out of context, by the way. This guy says things like this all the time— usually in thinly veiled attempts to make his audience feel bad for not being dedicated to their goals…a problem that, obviously, his coaching products and services can fix for them.)

We hear variants of this message a lot in our culture. We’re told that we don’t have to slavishly grind away at a job we hate. We can be entrepreneurs! We can be world-changers!! We can have it all if we “grow a spine” and take the risks necessary to succeed!!!

(Again, I’m not exaggerating— the words “grow a spine” were explicitly uttered in a recent post about how everyone should quit their jobs and chase their dreams.)

I’m all for dreaming. I’m all for audacious goal-setting. Grand, sweeping visions of life can inspire us; can propel us forward; can make our worlds a more colorful and interesting place to live as we march determinedly toward our goals.

The thing is— we also live in a real world.

A world in which we have commitments.

A world in which bills need to be paid.

A world where in which not everybody has the resources on hand to take a leap into the unknown.

Here’s the secret that many personal growth teachers, especially with products and services to sell, don’t want you to focus on: it doesn’t have to be either/or.

We can create our dream life, or at least a life closely approximating our dream life, even as we live our real lives and fulfill our day-to-day responsibilities.

For that matter: not everybody’s “dream life” means giving up those day to day responsibilities.

Some people kind of like those day to day responsibilities.

For that matter, some people even like having a job.

There’s no shame in liking what you do, day to day, even if you’re not an entrepreneur, CEO, world leader, or billionaire.

There’s no shame in liking weekends off. There’s no shame in liking to take care of your family members. There’s no shame in taking pleasure and pride in doing your job, whatever it is, to the best of your ability, and in doing so contributing to the quality of life of others.

Why are there so many people out there who are so keen to tell us what “success”is and isn’t?

Why are there so many people out there who are intent on evoking feelings of inadequacy and shame if we choose a life that doesn’t fit their definition of “successful?”

Sometimes people go this route as a result of a psychological defense called “projective identification.” What this means is that they have some sort of anxiety or fear going on in their own lives, but they don’t feel equipped to emotionally handle it themselves; so instead of handling it, they “project” this feeling onto others, and then behave toward those others in such a way that their “projection” seems justified. In this case, someone might have a staggering amount of insecurity about their own life path, but they can’t quite handle that; so they “project” those feelings onto others (“THEY must be unhappy with their life path!”), They then attempt to affirm their projection by inducing guilt and shame in others regarding their life choices (“Don’t you want MORE out of your life than slaving away at a JOB?!? And if not, WHY NOT?!?”).

Sometimes people attempt to induce shame in others vis a vis their life choices and priorities because the have something to sell. In this case, some personal growth teachers cannot sell you their services unless you feel bad enough about your current circumstances to want to make a change. It’s not to their advantage if people feel okay, let alone good or great, about their life choices— so they attempt to make you feel lousy about them.

And then, of course, sometimes people just like to put other people down. It’s a bummer— but those people are out there.

The important thing for you to realize is: YOU get to decide what makes for a good life.

YOU get to decide how your time is best spent.

YOU get to decide what “success” means for you.

YOU get to decide whether living a loud, visible, public life, or a quiet, inconspicuous life is best for you.

YOU get to decide what your needs and wants are vis a vis having and keeping a job.

And the good news is: you can absolutely trust YOURSELF to make decisions about what YOU want, what YOU need, and what’s worth spending YOUR time and resources on.

Don’t let anybody tell ya different.


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For information about how you can minimize your chances of being harmed and exploited in seeking personal growth, check out the nonprofit organization SEEK Safely

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