I was talking with my good friend Erik Proulx last month about the various projects we are working on. Erik is the creator of Lemonade, a documentary about laid off ad agency employees who remade their lives. He is working on a follow up film called Lemonade: Detroit about the disarming resilience of a city that can no longer rely on a single industry for its livelihood, and the entrepreneurial strengths of those who are reinventing themselves and their communities.
We share an unhealthy love for our iPhones. And occasionally spend hours lost in an Internet haze, instead of working on important projects. Our undeleted gmail message counts sometimes approach the GDP of small countries.
We are also parents of young children.
As we talked, both of us were bemoaning our productivity. And noting our peers (like our dear buddy Jonathan Fields) who seem to have no problem cranking out tens of thousands of words a month, while meditating every morning, feeding their kids handmade pasta while helping with homework, making money in their sleep and undoubtedly performing back flips in bed.
We were feeling like slackers.
Then I stepped back and looked at what Erik had done in the past few months.
- He had created a movement of independent film producers who were donating money to fund the creation of Lemonade: Detroit
- He had filmed and edited all the footage for the short film, using Detroit-based talent
- He had been featured in a whole array of press about the project
- He had taken on a love and vision of Detroit so strong that it was moving people to tears
- He had continued to take on consulting gigs to contribute his share to the household of his smart, lovely and hilarious wife Kathryn and their two children
- He had, to the best of my knowledge, made a lot of people laugh and feel better by connecting with them on social media
- He had loved and cherished his kids
I had been quite busy myself:
- Creating new products, co-teaching amazing people at Lift Off and Career Invention and totally changing my business model
- Working on ideas for two new books
- Taking care of my kids while my husband was away most weeks building his business
- Continuing to coach, speak and get press about Escape from Cubicle Nation
- Writing articles and blurbs for a bunch of books
- Starting training martial arts again, after a long hiatus
And it struck me that we both had a serious case of success dysmorphia. No matter how much we accomplished, when we looked at ourselves through the mirror of our peers and colleagues, we felt awkward, less-than and not quite to par.
When you view your success through someone else’s mirror:
- There is always something bigger.
Oprah was not content with a massively successful show, she needed a network.
- You could always make more money.
Carlos Slim, the world’s richest man and hopefully a distant relative, wants to increase his wealth.
- There is always someone with a hotter body.
Demi Moore spent years obsessing over her figure
- There is always someone who sells more books.
Not content with creating a movement with Four Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss smashed sales on his second book Four Hour Body
- There is always someone who is a more attentive parent.
Rachael Ackelin totally overhauled her design business while raising and homeschooling four kids.
Time for a new mirror.
We need to find new ways to define and celebrate our success.
Otherwise, we will wake up at the end of our life, and find that we were so busy chasing someone else’s vision that we forgot to truly live.
Erik, Jonathan, Gretchen, Oprah, Carlos, Tim, Demi, Rachel — I love and celebrate you all. More power to you for pushing yourselves to grow, produce and contribute.
Your success is perfect in my eyes.
And so, now, is mine.