Recovering From A Life Of Pursuing Success

By Chris Sell (Guest Blogger)

Do you know who Donald Miller is? If not, you should.

He wrote a book called Blue Like Jazz all about “nonreligious thoughts on Christian Spirituality.” It soared to the top of the New York Times Best Seller list and made waves across the faith and secular communities alike. Not quite sure why I thought of him the other day, but I did. A quick Google search revealed a recent interview he gave to the Daily Beast about his new project titled Storyline.

Storyline is Miller’s new initiative focused on helping people find meaning in their lives. In his interview, Miller explained that he found more and more people were chasing success only to find themselves hapless and discontent. His own life served as a perfect example of someone who had become incredibly successful by many standards — numerous best-selling books, TV appearances, even a movie based upon his Blue Like Jazz book — but remained unhappy with his life.

His interview was refreshing and insightful, but what stood out most was the way in which he described his company’s work today. Miller asserted that Storyline helps people recover from a life of pursuing success by empowering them to tell better stories with their lives.

…recover from a life of pursuing success…

Sounds odd, doesn’t it?

When we think of people in recovery, we tend to think of alcoholics, drug abusers, or folks trying to regain their health after an illness, injury, or tragic life event. Alcoholics Anonymous or other support groups are for those seemingly in recovery. Incredibly successful people like best-selling authors aren’t usually associated with those in need of a life-altering recovery. I’ve heard people say they’re recovering from a bad cold. I haven’t heard people say they’re recovering from being a raging success. Successful people aren’t referred to support groups to aid in their recovery.

But I think Miller’s realization rings true.

Often times success is conceptualized as a pinnacle of achievement that is attainable. If we reach standards a, b, and c, then we’ll be successful. Happiness is an assumed byproduct of the “becoming successful” process. Yet more and more successful people seem to join Miller in a chorus reporting high degrees of dissatisfaction

It turns out finding meaning or purpose for your life is a far better formula for discovering a life filled with peace and happiness.

I’m reminded of a maxim a colleague told me a few years ago while discussing work and happiness. He explained that most people find a vocation for their life’s work while having an avocation on the side; a fortunate few make their avocation their life’s work.

The author of Blue Like Jazz suggests that “meaning is something we experience more than we attain…It’s like finding a nice, easy current in a river that carries you through life.” And to experience that deep sense of meaning in our lives? Miller posits that it comes when we have three things: a project that calls on our passions and serves others in some way; a community, family, or partner to share life with; and a “redemptive perspective on our suffering.” Fame, fortune, and best-selling books seemed to have been left of the list.

Society has taken the liberty of defining success for us by attaching attainable outcomes like money, cars, and other objects of materialism to our imaginations. But I think Mr. Miller has got it right; to be truly successful means to abandon the pursuit of success as it’s traditionally constructed in favor of a life filled with healthy relationships, a community, and a project (aka “job”) that seems so great you don’t consider it a job.

As you wake up today, I hope you can begin thinking (if you haven’t already) about what jobs and careers really stir your soul. Perhaps you can invest more in relationships, because a life shared brings the most joy. Maybe you’ll make your avocation your vocation.

It might just feel like an easy current in a river that carries you to a life filled with purpose and meaning.

Until then, I’ll keep scoping out groups for Successful People Anonymous.

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Christopher Sell is a career educator who’s passionate about creating synergy and connecting people to opportunity. He currently serves as the Internship Developer for the College of Natural Science at Michigan State University (MSU). As an alumnus of Western Michigan University and MSU, he’s fairly committed to leveraging relationships with industry and job seekers to retain and attract young talent in the state of Michigan and contribute to the revitalization of the “Mitten State” that he loves so much.

When he’s not working, you can find Chris spending time with his wonderful wife and amazing daughter. He’s an avid camper, backpacker, and loves running in the great outdoors. You’ll also find him cheering on the Spartans in football and basketball. If you’d like to learn more about Chris, feel free to check out his website at http://www.christophersell.com, connect with him on LinkedIn, follow him on Twitter @ChrisFSell, or read his blog, the Wednesday Wake Up, where he shares his musings on leadership and life and where this post was originally posted.

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