I've written before about avoiding burnout and so many of you reached out with a whopping HECK YES, confirming what I already knew in my gut — that we creatives have a tendency to overdo it when we’re in pursuit of our dreams.
Today, I want to share with you a sort of sequel to that idea, and I want to focus on the PURSUIT part of the equation, or more specifically: why we feel constantly driven by the pursuit of MORE everything.
More money. More readers. More email subscribers. More fame. More mentions. More followers. (Mo' problems?)
This is a question I’ve had just below the surface for over a year now, ever since I reached the point that I would call “financial sustainability” with Made Vibrant.
In my first year of business (2014), the answer to this question (“Why MORE?”) was pretty obvious:
“Ummmm… because I want to earn a living doing this thing that I love and currently I’m living on peanuts and optimism.”
But, as things started to gain momentum, as I honed my vision and my voice, and as the business started taking in monthly revenue that covered my living expenses, I expected this crazy burning desire for growth to subside.
But it didn’t.
I found myself wanting more revenue, more readers, a bigger presence beyond that which I "needed."
Which again begged the ever-curious, ever-present question:
Why are we driven by the pursuit of MORE?
I come across blog posts and Facebook ads and sales pages and — my LEAST favorite — income reports on a daily basis that promise to show me how I can have a “$50,000 Launch Without A Single Email Subscriber” and “Grow A Six-Figure Blog From Scratch” and “Earn $100,000 A Month In Passive Income” and if I’m being totally honest, it makes me sick.
Not like sick out of judgment and disgust (I get it -- people know those headlines work and they’re just taking advantage of an opportunity they see.)
No, I mean sick with GUILT that I’m not working more hours, creatingmore courses, promoting more places, doing more webinars, writing more blog posts, earning more money. More, more, more.
And you know what the inevitable fallout of feeling like you should be doing more is?
Feeling like you should BE more. (i.e. feeling like you’re LESS THAN.)
Am I alone in this? OR have you felt it too?
I have trained myself now to pay attention when those feelings show up and to dive deeper to understand them because I don’t know about you, but I’m just not down for a life where I feel less than.
Which is why I went on a hunt to discover if there was any research on this subject of MORE. (I know you guys, RESEARCH. What can I say, I’m really stepping up my game here.)
What I discovered and actually what I determined (because this ain't no scientific journal; it’s my blog and I’ll form loosely supported opinions if I want to!) is this….
The constant desire to reach for more is reinforced to us both externally (culturally/societally) and internally (psychologically).
Externally speaking, we’re fed tons of cultural cues that indicate bigger is better.
We see it in business (this company has 300 employees and a billion in revenue!); in consumerism (buy this! buy that! a bigger house, a bigger TV!); and in the individualism of the U.S. in general (it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there! climb the ladder to the top!) With all of these messages it’s no wonder that it’s engrained in us to constantly have our eye on a bigger everything.
But, culture is ultimately just an illustration of individual values and desires, so what is present within us as individuals that feeds this obsession?
Turns out, this never-ending growth mentality runs thousands of years deep.
While I won’t drone on to you about all the science of it, the simple answer is thatwe are programmed for dissatisfaction.
Research suggests our insatiable appetites served as an evolutionary survival mechanism. See, back in the day, precious life-giving resources like water and food were in limited supply. To survive, our brains developed hard-wiring that would help drive us to accumulate as much as possible and to stay ever-motivated to be on the lookout for said necessary resources.
In other words: our brains are still operating based on an owner’s manual written in the Stone Age.
And so we find ourselves in this endless loop of excess. Our brains tell us we want more, and our culture/media/corporations feed on that hunger, which only serves to further reinforce this psychology.
This might help explain WHY we’re programmed to constantly want more, but it doesn’t necessarily offer insight as to how we retrain our brains to find contentment in a world where we no longer have to wrestle resources from saber-toothed tigers (thank goodness.)
The truth is: bigger is NOT always better and more does not always mean merrier.
Here’s a radical thought: I don’t WANT a million dollar business. Honestly, I don’t.
I don’t want the expectations, the maintenance, the team size, the stress, ANY of it that comes with a business of that scale.
But, even more radical than that — I don’t want to WANT a million dollar business. (And the six-figure blog posts and webinars and Facebook ads aren’t necessarily helping in that regard.)
That’s why I desperately and passionately want to change the conversation throughout the creative entrepreneur/solopreneur/independent whatever-you-call-yourself world from talking about BIGGER to talking about TRUER.
I want to change the goal from more money, more followers, more page views to truer values, truer messages, truer expressions of the unique gifts we have to share.
And I want it to start with a mental shift in the way we frame this PURSUIT.
For this shift (brace yourselves) I have DIAGRAMS. (Research AND diagrams?! I’m laying it on thick today.)
Heres’ the current model that prevails in terms of the way we think about progress and pursuit: an endless staircase, always ascending (or as Jason pointed out, it’s actually not even a staircase but a StairMaster because we never ever get to the top.)
We might hop from one staircase to another Harry Potter-style, but the goal remains: ever-upward.
Now I have a suggestion for a new model — a CYCLICAL model. In this illustration, the goal is not to progress upward. It’s to progress inward. To evolve and revolve around this invisible sweet spot where we finally connect what we do with who we are to find our truest self.
As I was thinking about this new framework, it actually reminded me a beautiful tradition a read about online a few months ago, the Turkish Whirling Dervishes.
The term “Whirling Dervish” refers to a Turkish tradition that began in the 13th century inspired by the famous poet and spiritual leader Rumi in whichdervishes (members of a Sufi Muslim religious order who have taken vows of poverty and austerity) dance in revolutions around one another as a means of connecting to the divine in a sacred ceremony (or sema).
Beyond the religious nature of this ceremony, there was something so deeply beautiful to me in the metaphor that this dancing ritual provides: a transcendent revolution (literally) where the sole purpose is to connect to the divine.
To me, becoming that which you were meant to be IS connecting to the divine. It’s finding your place in the universe. Your truest self. The most vibrant expression of your spirit as it arrived here.
And so, in more practical terms, this image of dancing in circles helps me detach from the “staircase” mindset of trying to always grow bigger and inspires me to picture a more cyclical mindset of trying to constantly revolve (EVOLVE) toward my truest self.
While I’m evolving on a micro scale (trying things, seeing how they feel, course correcting), like a Whirling Dervish I’m also trying line up with that sweet spot where I connect to my own truest, highest self.
It may seem silly but anything that helps me untether from the exhaustion of that StairMaster is an idea that I welcome!
So this week I challenge you with this simple but CRUCIAL question:
Are you in the pursuit of growing BIGGER or growing TRUER?
Are you climbing a StairMaster or are you a dancing, Whirling Dervish in pursuit of your brightest life, brightest business, brightest SELF?
Because I believe when the puzzle pieces click into the right place, when you are doing the work that lights you up, the work that makes you burn bright… that’s when you’ll find yourself with more than enough resources, serving the people you care deeply about and loving what you get to do each day.
If you made it this far, thank you for reading from the bottom of my heart.