Robert Holden was late to meet some friends outside a record shop one Saturday afternoon when he was 16. Rushing down the high street of his hometown in England, something caught his eye: It was a homeless man lying face down on the sidewalk.
“We all pretended not to see him,” explains Holden in his book Authentic Success, “But something made me stop.” The man was wearing a ragged coat, he reeked of alcohol and had a pair of smashed glasses next to him. “His face was a mass of cuts and bruises. He was barely conscious. He smiled at me. ‘Hello, Dad.’ I said.”
His father, Alex Holden, had been a well-respected executive with various multi-national corporations and had raised his family on three different continents. He owned a lovely country home and had a family who loved him. He was successful by virtually anyone’s standards.
The doctors diagnosed alcoholism, but the more time Robert spent with him and his vagrant friends, he came to a very different conclusion: “my dad was not ill; he was lost. Somewhere along the road to success, he had got lost…of what is real…he had also lost sight of himself. And then the meaningless and valuelessness set in. Slowly killing him.”
Holden’s life as a teen was literally gut-wrenching: “The pain I felt was beyond words. I woke up every day for ten years with a sharp, stabbing ache in my belly. I was having a mid-life crisis in a teenager’s body.” Perhaps not surprisingly, Holden was deeply motivated to understand what happened to his father and, in time, to help others avoid making the same mistakes. Here are some of the things that ate away at his father that affect us all and some suggestions on what you can do to address them:
1. We are permanently busy (which is often a major obstacle to success in work, relationships, and life).
“The major challenges we face today require not more effort, but more wisdom.”
Faster in life and business does not always mean better. Constantly feeling short of time has so many negative consequences: “True success should not have to cost you your joy, your health, or your relationships. On the contrary, true success is about enjoying these things.”
Busyness can become an addiction. It conveniently helps us avoid facing something about our life we don’t want to face – a relationship, yourself, your purpose, shame, guilt, or even success. And workaholism is one of its socially acceptable forms.
*Put space in your calendar – let life in: ‘When the student is relaxed, the breakthrough appears.’ Don’t try too hard all the time. You don’t always need to prove something.
*Answer this: Despite my permanent busyness, what important part of my life is being neglected?
If I were less busy and had no fear, what ache in my heart would I do something about?
2. We are flying through life as almost complete strangers to ourselves
We are so busy that we have little idea what being true to ourselves even means because we don’t make time to reflect.
Solution: *Journal. Raise your self-awareness. “The better you know yourself – what you value, what inspires you, what you are made of – the more effectively you will live, work and relate to others.” Tune into your own inner wisdom and develop a vision for your life.
*Increase your awareness of your self-talk and catch what you say that holds you back.
3. The insanity of consumerism adds no meaning or lasting happiness to life
You can never get enough of what you don’t really need in the first place. Happiness is not an ‘it’ you can buy. It is inside you waiting to be unwrapped.
*To build inner happiness, connect beyond the immediate stressors of your life and to the world beyond time and space through meditation or prayer. Find peace inside.
4. Many of our communities are broken
Holden’s father was perhaps the first generation of executives and managers to be stationed in multiple countries. Many people in these roles travel away from home for multiple nights per week disconnecting them from loved ones. Our long work weeks also make us too tired to socialize so instead we watch reality TV and, over time, lose connections with friends and neighbors.
5. Our culture of individualism leaves many feeling lonely
This is exacerbated by social media and a highly competitive business environment which often discourages collaboration.
6. A life of shallow conversations
Our long hours, soundbite world, and constant distraction from technology leave us too tired to have conversations of any substance most of the time. This too leads to feeling empty and alone on the inside because we’re rarely connecting on any meaningful level with others. We are not expressing ourselves.
Solution: *Make the time to become a better communicator – avoid feeling ‘always too busy’ to make the effort.
7. The pace of change leaves most people feeling ever less in control of their own lives
Solution: *The best way to handle change is through continuous learning (so well done for reading this!): The only way to handle this is to regularly improve your own skills and knowledge. We also need to have more faith in ourselves.
8. ‘Up’ isn’t the only way to success
There are many inspiring reasons to grow but it is not always the wisest step. It can add stress you don’t want. It can take you away from what you value most. It can become purposeless. You can risk missing out on life along the way.
9. We have neglected love in our definitions of success
Love has been separated from work yet love inspires success. “Love is what evolves leaders into great men and women.”
10. We suffer from ‘Destination Addiction’
We are always in a big hurry to get somewhere and as a result, we never enjoy the present moment we are living in. Nor do we ever get ‘there’. There is always another destination. There is no purpose. The achievements will supposedly give us time for joy, relationships, and health in the future, but we get permanently impatient and addicted to always needing to get somewhere else. We never get ‘there’. Life passes us by.
Solution: *If you’re going to chase ‘more’ in life, chase more happiness, more meaning, and more love: “We do not become happy because we are successful; we become successful because we are happy” – because we are pursuing what inspires us.
*Believe in grace – where the world conspires to help you in unpredictable ways. Find a way to believe that everything will work out in the end. “Success is easier when we trust in our inner wisdom and accept God’s helping hand.” Many spiritual texts subscribe to the ancient proverb: ‘When the student is ready, the teacher appears.’ On a deeper level, it means the teacher is waiting to be noticed and is here already. We just weren’t ready. “True success is something we feel when we allow the grace of God to inspire our endeavors.”
Remember, it was a culmination of many things that estranged and overwhelmed Robert Holden’s father such that he took to the bottle. Next week I will talk about two other elements to this: defining true success and true failure. Being clear about both can help you thrive despite the pace and frequent change in life.
There was no happy ending; Alex Holden died when his son was 25. All of us are guilty of self-medicating to avoid facing our own challenges at times. Holden concludes that rather than slowly die on the inside (as his father did), intelligent success is to keep saying yes to what moves your heart and develop your potential around what inspires you. More next week…
To your true success!
Founder & President
Matt Anderson International
1177 Oak Ridge Drive, Glencoe, IL 60022, USA
Phone: +001 (312) 622-3121