Many of us struggle to balance the demands of the world with the desires of our own heart. We live with family members we feel emotionally distanced from; we feel disengaged from our job but fearful about trying out a new path; we feel the pressure to conform to others’ expectations even though they do not make sense to us or seem downright wrong. The waters of life are often muddy, and our spirit strains to be in full bloom.
Some of us deal with these dilemmas by splitting life into two parallel tracks, seeking to live authentically in our personal sphere while chasing earthly glory on the outside. When we do this, we never fully occupy either space. That’s how I was operating in my teens and twenties.
Others divide life into two phases. Phase one is the here-and-now pursuit of outer accomplishment in which we strive to earn a lot of money, achieve success at work, outshine our peers, and find security and validation. Phase two is the “sometime in the future” pursuit of inner success—becoming the people we want to be. I have witnessed this approach in some of my MBA students. In their quest for relevance and rewards, they see no option but to go after the most coveted and highly paid careers, even when they care little for the organization they will work for, the customer they will serve, or the product they will be making or marketing. They promise themselves that once their outer hungers have been fed, they will feed their inner yearnings and become their true selves.
But too often the compromises struck in phase one become a way of life, and the years speed by without the person ever finding time to explore and express those deeper yearnings.
It may seem that inner and outer success are doomed to be in conflict, that we must choose between them. The more we focus on getting other people’s approval and pursuing success based on their rules, the less we feel true to ourselves; the more we pursue our own agenda and freely express ourselves, the less open we are to striking compromises to gain other people’s support, and the less worldly success we enjoy.
But inner and outer success do not have to compete with each other, once we learn to search for success in the right place.
True Source of Inner Success
In what situations, in work and elsewhere, do you feel true to yourself, so that what you think, feel, say, and do are in perfect harmony? When do you not feel this way? What limits you in those situations?
It is tempting to believe that being true to yourself involves simply flipping an on/off switch. In fact, it is more of a journey. Because within us are many false selves – desires, addictions, habits, impulses that we wish to indulge in at a given moment, only to realize later that they took us down the wrong paths.
The path to inner success lies in discovering your true self and manifesting it in your every thought, feeling, word, and action. This requires you to become an inner warrior, to vanquish the many false selves that are holding your true self hostage. When you allow one of your false selves to seduce you, it may not bother you in the moment—in fact, it might actually feel good to gratify an impulsive desire, feeling, or thought—but one day you will wake up to regret that you did not live a life true to the truest part of you.
So, what is your true self? I offer that it is your Inner Core—the space of highest potential within you, your best self. When you operate from your Core, you are free from ego, attachments, blinding beliefs, limiting habits, and insecurities. You are at peace with yourself. It reflects the purest part of who you are and your noblest intentions. If you’re like most of us, you sometimes operate from your Core, sometimes drift away from it, and sometimes (sigh) veer far, far away. And yet that part of who you are is always there for you to come back to and connect more deeply with.
Getting to Outer Success
Whichever behavior you try to master from the outside, there will always be some situations in life that will require you to behave in just the opposite way. Yes, you should be decisive – but sometimes, you should be patient. You should be agreeable – but sometimes, assertive. And so on.
Success isn’t won by acquiring some magical set of outer qualities. We need to turn within – to our Core.
Your Inner Core brings the clarity of mind you need to analyze issues objectively and make enlightened choices. It frees you from habitual modes of thought and from confining personality traits and attachments, so your choices can be guided not by ego or insecurity but by your commitment to your purpose and values. It creates a space between the triggers you experience—the disappointing email, the challenging question from a colleague at a meeting—and your response to those triggers, empowering you to act with intention rather than instinct. It grounds you on the inside and then empowers you to act in the most impactful way on the outside. You bring out your best when your behavior is the outer expression of your five Core Energies: Purpose, being committed to an uplifting cause; Wisdom, being calmly receptive to the truth in all matters; Growth, being curious and open to new learnings; Love, being connected with the people around you; and Self-Realization, being centered in your joyful and tranquil spirit within.
Core Energies are infectious, so when you activate them in yourself, others around you will get stirred as well. That is why when people were in Gandhi’s presence, they felt very calm. In Mother Teresa’s presence, very compassionate. In Steve Jobs’ presence, very creative. In Churchill’s presence, very courageous. In Nelson Mandela’s presence, very conciliatory. Inner mastery engenders outer impact.
The more you strive to operate from your Core in this way, the more authentic you will feel on the inside, and the more impact you will have on the outside.