To build something of substance, start building from within
'Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.' Carl Jung
Stuff is happening beneath the surface of our lives. And it’s probably coming out more than we realize.
As I urged in the last newsletter, citing Will Smith’s public cracking moment, we would do well to pay attention to the leaks in our lives (i.e. our behaviors that negatively impact others and ourselves) and take a moment to consider whether we are moving towards “shell success” or “substantial success”. I offered some indicators of the leaks to look out for in the pursuit of success based on my own journey and some individuals I work with.
Pop culture references often run the risk of seeming ephemeral, so in this newsletter I'm turning to something more time-tested to help us continue to reframe our view of success. St. Paul was a significant early leader and writer in the history of the Christian church. In one letter, he writes to a community that was susceptible to the sway of what was popular and deemed successful—a kind of community that we’re all probably familiar with, regardless of our faith background. He warns individuals of what can surface when they unconsciously ride with the tide.
Here is his comprehensive litmus test of “leaks” (paraphrased by Eugene Peterson):
Repetitive, loveless cheap sex
A stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage
Frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness
A brutal temper
An impotence to love or be loved
Divided homes and divided lives
Small-minded and lopsided pursuits
The vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival
Uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions
Ugly parodies of community
Gee. That feels direct. It feels strong.
He doesn’t give a gentle feather approach but his words are more like a sword that can cut to our heart!
There are particular areas in his list that strike at my own core:
The accumulation of emotional garbage - how I project my fear of not looking publicly competent by privately shifting blame onto others.
The paranoid loneliness - how negative I can feel about myself when I’m alone with my thoughts and can therefore be overly dependent on words of affirmation or physical company.
Small minded and lopsided pursuits - how I can either micromanage outcomes without having the compassion to see the bigger picture of someone’s situation or I escape into grandiose world-changing plans to avoid things that I find hard.
So how does the above list strike you?
I’ve found that external diagnostics, whether it’s a clinical medical assessment or a list from an ancient writer, are critical to the journey of personal growth and human flourishing. If something from it makes you uncomfortable, I’d venture out to say that may actually be a good thing to explore. And don’t just take it from me. Any well-established wellbeing group/organization that has a track record of helping transform lives would say the starting point of change is to break through denial. For example, Step 1 of the 12 step Alcoholics Anonymous program starts with the need to commit to honesty.
Or, another way to put it is that real progress can only be measured from a place of reality.
My reality is that I’m still a work in progress in the journey from “shell success” to “substantial success.”
Now St Paul doesn’t stop at simply naming the leaks of “shell success.” He offers indicators of someone living out more substantive success, namely:
An affection for others
An exuberance about life
A sense of compassion in our hearts
An ability to stick with things
Involved in loyal commitments
A belief that a basic holiness permeates all
Not needing to force our way in life
An ability to direct our energies wisely
Wow, that feels substantial. Substantive. Successful.
Now I’ll be honest.
This life doesn’t feel sexy.
It doesn’t feel Instagrammable.
It doesn’t shout to the world “look at me!”
But maybe that’s the point.
Our interior life is not inferior.
In fact, what goes under the surface is what really matters.
And a conscious thought to how our actions impact others.
Substantial interior success is a goal worth going after.
Over To You
What makes it hard for you to see the real state of your interior life?
What are the top 1-3 areas from St Paul’s litmus test of leaks that stick out to you? Why?
What attributes of St Paul’s substantial interior success would you like to take a step towards?
I've love to hear what's on your mind, whether a thought or a question. I read all emails and will respond as appropriate. Message me firstname.lastname@example.org
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I’m with you as you take your next conscious step towards wholeness,
p.s. If you want to take serious action beyond reading, set up a time here and we will have a conversation about options to get you moving on a new trajectory starting now.
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