Have you ever found yourself saying, "I'll be happy when...____."
Or: "I'll take care of myself when ____."
One I hear a lot: "I'll do the photo shoot when_____."
And then you fill in the blank with losing ten pounds, getting the new job, the raise, the car or the lover?
Or maybe you've been like me, and you fill in the blank with something even less definable: "I'll finally be happy when I feel like a success."
Essentially I was saying that as soon as I achieved something relatively undefined, I would feel like enough. Hmmmmm...
See the problem is, I've had a very hard time defining the word Success for myself.
Once upon a time, in a former life, I was traveling all over the world helping coordinate ground transportation for international conferences that brought high-level dignitaries together to talk about high-level issues. I had to know who to address as Professor, as Mr. President, and as His Royal Highness.
Most days I would be in the office at 5am, making enough coffee to last 12+ hours.
My job was important. I thought I should feel successful. Instead, on the best of days, I felt like this:
Me, circa 2005-ish.I guess I was taking self-portraits even back then.
Eventually my boss announced in front of the team that I was going to be promoted. Though surprised, I knew I should also be feeling happy or flattered or...successful. I should have felt something other than dread, right?
Years later I found myself reliving a similar story. As a corporate financial and operations analyst I was making more money than I had ever dreamed possible, was flying all over the country for meetings and site reviews, and yet I still felt like a miserable failure.
One day I was walking the halls to my office and asked myself, "When will I finally feel like a success?"
Despite all of the external trappings of success, I didn't feel like enough.
The problem wasn't just with the jobs, because feeling like I wasn't good enough spilled over into my photography as well.
The first time I had a photograph published on the cover of a magazine I told myself that it wasn't really success. My photograph wasn't really good enough, the magazine wasn't widely distributed enough and therefore I didn't deserve to feel good about it:
Vain Magazine - Fall 2010My first Magazine Cover!
Instead of taking time to be grateful for what I had achieved, I kept a breakneck pace trying to feel something more.
I began to ask myself "What does Success feel like? What does Enough feel like?"
For an amazing journey into those questions, check out Danielle LaPorte's book The Desire Map. Her entire thesis revolves around the point that we are chasing the feelings around the goal, not the external goal itself.
It was through asking those questions over and over than I began to uncover the feelings that I wanted to immerse myself in. It became clear that, for me, it wasn't so much about Success as it was about feeling Freedom, Connectedness and Seen.
Feeling like Enough was more about being grounded in a sense of internal Ease and celebrating Abundance.
It became clear that I had been going at things completely backwards, chasing the next effervescent mile-marker of success without stopping to enjoy and celebrate all of the abundant goodness in my Now.
I also realized that I had dressed my idea of success up in a suit, given her a lot of spreadsheets and deadlines told her that her soulful art wasn't important. I made her too shy to share that art.
And forget about the self-portraits; those couldn't see the light of day!
"Just Go" An early self-portrait from 2007. Fine Art Photography by Jen Kiaba. Click to Purchase Print. It came down to the realization that, essentially, I abandoned my inner-most self in the quest to achieve an arbitrary measure of external value. There I was living the life Thoreau described so aptly as quiet desperation (though it was getting louder), and if I kept going in that direction I would indeed die with the song still inside of me.
The journey back from that dark place is an ongoing one and requires daily attention. Most of us don't simply wake up one day, feeling like enough or successful.
It began with learning to value little things.
I learned to stop during my workday to make myself a cup of tea and disconnect from emails and not answer the phone. Ease.
I began to seek out community in like-minded artists and women who wanted to make a difference in the world with their creative efforts. Connected.
Soon I began to take self-portraits again, and enter them into photo competitions. Seen.
Then I took a terrifying leap of faith and quit my job to support myself with my writing and photography. Freedom. (And a little bit of a "holy shit" sky-diving free-fall!)
And then the only way to calm the fear of "what do I do now?" was to take time every day to acknowledge the amazing things that I had in life. I became grateful for every dollar in my bank account, every amazing client I got to work with, and every art sale I had. I began to see things to be grateful for everywhere. Abundance.
These are now daily practices, and everyday I try to ask myself what I can do to help me feel how I want to feel.
Yes, there are still scary days where I doubt myself. Some days fear takes the drivers seat longer than it should and I doubt my overall worth. But they're fewer and further between.
So if you're stuck in that hamster wheel of devaluing yourself, while you work towards a vague idea of success, I challenge you to stop and ask yourself how you really want to feel. (And seriously, check out Danielle's books.)
I really believe that once we redefining our goals to achieve a sense of internal fulfillment and free ourselves from the external mile markers of success, we begin to heal and move more deeply into self-love.
So now I want to know: what does success, enough, or even happiness really feel like to you? In the comments below, I would love to know.
Or maybe you've discovered how you want to feel, and have made some sky-diving free-fall changes of your own? What has that lead you to create in your life? Tell me about it!
And ultimately, cheers to you and how you want to feel and the amazing things you will create!
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