I’ve completed three degrees (including a Ph.D.), published research in highly regarded academic journals, provided therapy and coaching to literally thousands of clients (and hopefully even helped some of them), started 2 successful businesses, appeared on 2 TV shows, written 8 books, recorded 2 audiobooks, co-hosted a podcast series and made significant contributions to many fantastic charities doing important work. I’ve been the recipient of several awards and my work has been recognised nationally and even internationally. And that’s just my professional life.
Yet I still feel like a failure
Almost every day I feel I could have achieved so much more, and I could have. Maybe even should have. Because I’ve only used a small fraction of the talents I possess and the opportunities I’ve had.
For much of my life, this has caused me incredible distress and disappointment, and it continues to even to this day. But for some of my life, I’ve been able to realise that this is how it is for almost everyone; even the apparently successful and famous.
You see, as part of my work as a therapist and coach, mentor and even my work as a researcher and writer, I’ve had the opportunity to peek behind the facade of many seemingly happy and successful and even famous people. And if you were with me as I looked behind the Wizard of Oz type curtain most of us hide behind, then you too would almost certainly see that their lives are filled with just as many failings and disappointments, missed opportunities and missed shots, as average folk like you and me.
My point is, success is just a subjective (and mostly shallow) judgement of one particular aspect of a person’s life. The same can be said for happiness or even wellbeing.
I feel this as much as anyone
I’m best known, for example, as being “Dr. Happy”, Chief Happiness Officer of The Happiness Institute. Yet, although I’m certainly happy at times, and I know a lot about the science of happiness (or more correctly, Positive Psychology), I’ve also experienced depression all my adult life. Unfortunately, I continue to experience very dark thoughts and at times, crippling moods on a pretty regular basis. So, am I Dr. Happy or Dr. Miserable? Well, I’m both; and as a result, despite those apparent achievements listed earlier, I’ve not lived my life nearly as fully as I would have liked.
I can’t and won’t mention names, but, I could also tell you about the professional football player, who won competitions with his team and represented his country and who was considered the best in his position at one point in time but who also played most of his career with severe doubts about his abilities. I could tell you about the high-profile TV personality who experienced significant bouts of “imposter syndrome” and who regularly felt anxious and worried about her future prospects. I could tell you about the CEO who was wealthy and well respected and generally considered one of the best in his area of business but whose personal and marital life was terribly troubled.
Were any of these people living their best lives?
Not at all. They might have been doing well, apparently anyway, in one area, but as is often the case, other life domains were far from perfect or fulfilled. In ways that share similarities with all these examples I’ve just briefly described, I’ve done much better than I ever could have imagined in certain parts of my life, but I’ve also suffered more than I ever would have imagined in other parts. Accordingly, I’ve barely lived a happy and successful life I often wish for.
But maybe that’s it
Maybe life is never fully lived; never completely successful or healthy or happy. Maybe we can only ever really live a fraction of our lives, or maybe we can only successfully live in a fraction of the areas in which we exist.
And maybe, the sooner we accept and embrace this, the better.