I have been thinking a lot about internal vs. external success.
I, like most people, have had many successes in my life. However, it has occurred to me that most of those successes have been external.
By external success, I mean an achievement that garners admiration or acknowledgement from external sources but doesn’t necessarily offer the internal fulfilment that we, as humans, crave.
When I was a kid, my entire family was obsessed with sport. I have played squash and tennis since I was three years old and in my primary school years, I took up netball, hockey, rugby, swimming and badminton. In my high school years, I added to my repertoire with water-polo, volleyball and basketball.
As I grew, squash became my main sport but really, netball was my great love. I was good at squash but it wasn’t my dream. It was something I did because it was what my family did. Both of my parents had represented New Zealand at squash (Mum) and tennis (Dad) and I created an expectation for myself that I too would follow suit.
I have had many, many amazing opportunities in my life as a result of the sports I have played. I have travelled around the world, met fantastic people (some of whom I am still in contact with today) and I even met my husband at a squash tournament!
I am grateful for the experiences that sport has given me. However, I consider that my successes were all external. Every trophy I won felt great because it earned me praise from my parents and respect from my peers but it was those external factors that drove me. My motivation didn’t come from within.
Another example is my law degree. It was my Dad’s dying wish that I become a lawyer. I had the reading, research and writing skills to succeed at law and at age 24, I didn’t have any better ideas about what career path I might like to pursue.
My law career was successful (albeit short) and my family was extremely proud of my successes at law school. My peers obviously hold a law degree in high regard, as I’m still often introduced in a professional context as “Sally, the Coach… who [by the way] used to be a lawyer” like it’s some sort of badge of honour!
Of course, the external gratification feels great but it didn’t make me love the daily grind of practicing law, accounting for every six minutes of my time and sending endless bills to my clients.
What I’m more concerned with now is creating internal success for myself. Success that is personal to me and provides the satisfaction and fulfilment I aspire to in life; success that is not driven by external praise or acknowledgement but comes from a place within.
Optimal human performance is achieved by creating internal successes in life. Being driven by and committed to what truly motivates us and what we truly love to do, rather than external motivations like fleeting praise or admiration, which can be taken away at any moment.
Take a look at your life and consider how many of your successes have been external and which ones have truly come from your heart. ~ Sally G x