When Success Becomes Meaningless, It’s Time to Drop Out

Middle-aged, overweight, borderline diabetic, at risk of a heart attack, socially removed, man in a noose (tie) that makes six figures and barely remembers his child’s name, and we call that a success.

Find something wrong with this picture? Me too.

But since we often define our success by the collective voice, we accept that’s the price we must pay. Perhaps somewhere in the back of our skulls that little piece of conscience we have left quietly tells us it’s wrong. But for some odd reason, we rarely listen.

If that’s success, I don’t want it.

I’d like to tell you something you probably won’t hear very often, but will completely make all the difference in your life. 

If you never define what success means to you, you’ll never find contentment. If you’re not completely clear about what brings you joy, you’ll never find success. You’ll be chasing something that, in the end, really doesn’t matter. Success is meaningless if you can’t measure when, where and how you’ll feel fulfilled.

But defining what success means to you isn’t enough. Even if you’re really clear and honest about what makes you happy, it’s still easy to become swayed. That’s because it’s one thing to define, but it’s an entirely different thing to accept.

And accepting that your path is the only one that matters — that you no longer care about the mainstream view of success — takes guts. Not to mention scary as hell.

It takes courage to swim upstream and fight the current of conformity. It’s uncomfortable going against the grain and embracing your inner renegade.

If defining is only half the equation, accepting your path requires…

Dropping Out.

I’ll be the first to admit that dropping out isn’t easy. The law of averages and majority rules creates a lot of resistance. Simply put, it’s not easy being the minority. (Institutionalization and domestication doesn’t help much either.)

Not to mention, breaking habits instilled since birth is insanely difficult hard. Completely rerouting limiting circuitry takes time, sweat and a mental breakdown persistence.

All of these tiny self-defeating beliefs are like thorns in your authentic life. One or two might give you an annoying itch. More than that and your movement is compromised.

The fact is, most of the heart squelching distress in your life is caused by resisting what is. Trying to force yourself to do things you don’t really want to do. We think these commitments are obligations and necessities, but they’re really not. The intelligence of the herd is often not very intelligent (imagine that) and “collective wisdom” is often a big, fat collective assumption.

So if doing what works (what’s supposed to work, anyway) isn’t working, it’s time to hang up your hat.

It’s time to drop out from:

  • Caring more about how productive you are over how much you enjoy your day (ridiculous, but I struggle with this too).
  • Living by an anxiety machine a clock and a schedule.
  • Caring what other people think and basing your worth on outer acceptance.
  • Living from the outside in. Chasing money, status and ego-driven desires.
  • Seemingly required panels, boards, credentials, and expectations that come from society, your career, or yourself.

This list could go on and I’ve already clearly outlined much of what’s worth giving up here. What’s clear is that caring about stuff like this suffocates your dreams and drowns out the voice of your heart. Too much rigidity gets in the way of the beautiful and chaotic path of your heart.

Instead, maybe it’s time to:

  • Learn to listen to the call of your heart more than the call of clever marketers.
  • Get really clear about what success means to you and stop caring about what other people think.
  • Find joy and purpose not just in the achievement of your desires, but in the movement towards what makes you come alive.
  • Be incredibly disorganized and flaky. If obsession with perfection is taking up more time than the working on your dreams, it’s time to re-prioritize.
  • Move through life deliberately.

The point of removing all of what’s not working isn’t to create a vacuum. Engagement in noise-removal is about creating the space for your dreams to grow and take root in the world. Dropping out simply means pulling all the unauthentic weeds in your life.

So what you’ve got to do is…

Create a “To-Stop” List.

We spend ridiculous amounts of time contemplating what we should add to our lives. We search for the quintessential pair of jeans, the most lucrative business ventures and the perfect partner. But rarely do we take stock of what’s not working. We forget that just as it’s important to add, it’s equally important to subtract.

Since this is such an unusual exercise, here are a few questions to spark your mind:

  • What’s not working for you right now?
  • If there were no consequences (imagined or real) what would you stop doing?
  • What excuses do you regularly make that keep you from pursuing your dreams?
  • Do you require permission to be happy? Do you think doing things slowly or doing things you love is not practical? Is it working for you?

Once your list is looking complete, pick one limitation to work on. Don’t try to tackle everything at once, it doesn’t work. Believe me, I’ve tried. As much as I despise these self-limiting agreements, it takes time to break them. But realize that that’s all they are – agreements. You can choose to stop agreeing with them at any time.

You’ve just got to pull them out one at a time. If you try to grab too many, you’ll break them and won’t take out the root. Before long the weeds spring back up and all your efforts will be in vain.

It may take time before they’re completely broken and the weeds stop coming back, but that’s okay. The water that is too clean has no fish.

What all of this really comes down to is living deliberately. Going with yourself and the call of your heart. It takes removing the noise to hear that call.

After all, what would you do with a hot piece of coal in your hand? You’d drop it of course.

And that’s exactly what we must do with limitations.

We’ve got to drop out.

It may cause a psychotic episode be difficult, but I will tell you this: The price is worth the promise.

When your dreams are reclaimed, you won’t have any regrets.

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