“She is the most famous person who cares the least about fame that I know. I remember thinking one day—it was a total epiphany for me—that she would be just as happy being a fourth grade teacher with a little house, a porch swing and three oak trees, because she would be working to be the best teacher for those students and that would be her mission."
Sherry Salata, Oprah's Producer for over 17 years, talking about Oprah
Does being successful mean you aren't actualized? Is it even possible to be actualized and successful?
When students are doing their course selections each year, I talk to them about my Psychology courses. I am passionate about why I think they would love my course and how it will impact their lives. I have no qualms about sharing my deep enthusiasm for what I offer. I'm essentially telling them why they should spend time with me.
When I started my coaching practice, I felt the same way about it that I did my Psychology classes - I loved it, I knew it was valuable, it was changing people's lives, it felt like what I had been born to do - but to ask people to pay for it? That was hard.
In "selling" my classes I was asking for students' attention and their time. Things no less valuable than money. More valuable, in fact. Why was I okay with students spending their time on this thing I believed was so valuable, but I was not okay with people spending their money on a similar thing?
The common refrain out there is that I had to "heal my relationship with money." That deep down I didn't like money and therefore I needed to work on that until I liked money. Huh? That assertion did not resonate with me one bit.
Instead, I had a different realization that was a huge shift for me.
Carol Dweck and Alfie Kohn are two researchers who have highlighted the problems of praising and rewarding children. They found that when children receive certain types of praise or rewards it is detrimental to their growth. Imagine a child immersed in drawing for example - deep in a state of actualization, they are creating with no thought or concern as to how their finished drawing will be received. It is emerging from that place of actualization. Then they finish, and a parent or a teacher comes along and starts praising the work, telling them how good they are and how beautiful the drawing is. In our culture we believe this kind of acknowledgement is positive, that it is building the child's self-esteem. We are wrong. That praise takes away from the child the initiative that moved them to draw as part of their own growth process and now frames it as something that was done to please the adult. Each time this happens the child becomes more aware of the reaction to her creations and less able to enter into doing it unselfconciously.
Money, fame, acclaim and other things we associate with "success" are the adult versions of praise and reward.
When we are selling our work or putting it out there, these things can become a stumbling block to doing it from a place of growing into ourselves. It can feel like it is sullying our work - robbing it of it of it's creative, authentic genesis. We resist the idea of taking money because we don't want the thoughts of how our work is going to be received to interfere with our creative process. Take this feeling as a good sign! You do not want to give up moving from actualization. Instead of beating ourselves up for having these reservations we should be honouring our emergent spirit that wants to maintain it's independence. Excellent!
In Carol Dweck's work she found there was one type of praise that was supportive of a growth mindset - a simple acknowledgement of the work a student had done that focussed on the process, not the product. Things like, "You worked hard on that." or, "You looked like you were having fun doing that."
Just being aware of this praise/reward dynamic disempowers it. If we can recognize and then release our ideas about money/acclaim/success as a reward for a product and instead see it as part of the process of sharing our work with the world, it becomes supportive of our growth.
Recently I had this show up in a big way when I was contemplating making the video of my talk about love public. Giving that talk was such a deep growth experience and felt so important to me that I was very reluctant to share it more widely for fear that I would become too focussed on how it was being received and that would cloud over the beauty of what the experience was for me. It took much contemplation, many conversations with friends and a whole lot of courage to trust that I could put it out there and not lose what it meant for me. When I knew I could put it out there and not be obsessed with the repsonse, I saw that putting it out there was honouring the actualization characteristics of creativity, authenticity, vitality, self-esteem, playfulness, and integration. I put it out there in the spirit of a gift - that it may be liked or not, but I was offering it with an open heart. I also knew that the potential of it making a difference to even one person who watched it made worth the risk. And I am happy to say, it was. Putting it out there did not detract from my growth, but enriched it.
Being reluctant to put our work out there is an understandable and even helpful impulse. It gives us the cue to get clear with ourselves. It affirms that what we are doing is important to us. And moving into the place where we can put it out there with a spirit of generosity, not needing it to be received in any particular way - can be an important piece of going further along our path of actualization.
Any money/acclaim/success that comes about is just a byproduct of our process of growing more and more into who we are.
It is not the reason we do it.