Empty victories are those times when you battled hard to solve, resolve or achieve something that in the end really doesn’t deliver on its promise. How many times are you prepared to flog yourself to achieve an outcome, only to discover that at the final hurdle you are the only one remaining?
This blog has been written for those of you who recognised your life or career, however successful, is littered with what I call empty victories. Being successful or even affluent does not prevent or protect you from the emptiness of feeling unfulfilled.
I would like to introduce our discussions and topic with this quote from John Maxwell.
“Anyone can steer the ship, but it takes a leader to chart the course”John C Maxwell
This is not just a simple quote, but a very clever quote, fitting for us and our title of conversation today.
I may not be a mind reader, as much as I would love the superpower; however, my experience tells me that we have all found ourselves at a time when we feel like we have lost the purpose to it all. You know, you get to the end of something and wonder what the effort was for, and does anyone really care, that’s when you expose the empty victories. Why had the outcome seemed so important at the outset?
Only to realise the World had moved on, taking the enthusiasm with it, whilst you were busy. I liken it to the force of the sea and the energy of the waves hitting the shore. Then the tide turns and takes the pebbles and sand back out with it. It’s as if it is stealing your dreams as well as your energy. Leaving you to hold ‘the wet flannel’ so to speak. Or let’s get dramatic … the actor who finishes a ‘dark scene’, full of emotion. He waits for the applause and when it doesn’t come looks beyond the footlights onto the empty auditorium.
Empty victory in practice
I want to tell you a short story if I may, about a client of mine. I will call Brian for the sake of confidentiality, and I have altered other characteristics too. Brian came to see me almost a year ago after he had found himself struggling with his motivation, enthusiasm, and feeling the loss of clarity in his life and position. Yes, I do believe that the events of 2020 had created frustrations for Brian, initially, and then like a snowball effect the questions just got bigger. Open questions, such as ‘what is it was all about?
Brian told me he had always pushed himself hard to achieve. That he had achieved most things he had set out to do. Interestingly Brian also reported ‘I can’t say I’ve done anything remarkable’ a classic sign of ’empty victories’. This was like a gift to me. What value did Brian see he was adding let alone offering?
Brian now found himself (and I mean found himself) at the CEO level of a web design company he had started in his garden shed. You might have thought he would have been pleased with his illustrious and successful career thus far? Brian was now sitting in a brick-and-mortar office with air conditioning and a whole team around him. But instead, he explained he felt lost and uncertain about how he had achieved it. He spoke openly about feeling like an imposter in his role and company. Brian made comments such as ‘right place right time’ and ‘it was all a matter of luck really?
Fearing, one day someone would tap him on the shoulder and ask what he thought he was doing there? Brian said he liked his job well enough but felt ‘empty’ and unfulfilled.
Interestingly after working together Brian over several weeks, he concluded he had followed ‘other’s dreams’ and ‘fulfilled other’s expectations of him’. At this point I must make it clear Brian was adamant he had been happy to do so up until now and would probably do it all again if he had the chance. Brian recognised he had sought ‘external validation’ for his efforts, from an early age. Now, however at this point in his career he felt a sense of loss, emptiness, and invisibility.
Empty victories for the rest of us.
You see for so many of us we ‘follow’ our way into leadership positions, picking up the slack when others step away. How many people do you know who have had promotions they didn’t apply for? Or spent years in ‘Acting-up’ roles. You may have chased the title because it’s the next ‘natural step’ or did you feel you ‘owed it’ or needed to ‘meet the expectations of others around you’.
Perhaps your family values or career advice was to follow family tradition into a trade, or you were naturally gifted, and followed the path of least resistance. Maybe it was the title and pay grade which filled the gap and carved your path to prove yourself to ‘someone’. Perhaps you ‘fell’ into a role and never questioned ‘is there more’?
Brian certainly felt he had ‘cheated’ his way into his success. Maybe you have a responsibility to hold onto the security and certainty of a role? Perhaps there was a ‘blind belief’ that if you reached a certain point in your mission, you would be able to have an impact on something like I did. I can remember being told by a valued colleague not to ‘fall on your own sword Liz’ at the time I don’t think in all honesty I understood the meaning of this warning. I did however come close to a ‘fatal wounding’ when I had a heart attack in my early 40’s through overworking, putting in excessive hours with high levels of stress, and low levels of support. Salt in the wounds … they pulled the project whilst I was on sick leave! Empty victories?
Whatever the history that has led you to this point, there is a common theme for us all. The missing element of conscious self-leadership? It doesn’t matter how successful you have been if you have forgotten to include yourself in the grand plan. Personal success is only a fraction of what it could be with natural conscious leadership. In other words, it is not over … you may only have just really started your success story.
If this resonates with you then I have amazingly good news for you! It’s not too late to find yourself or your identity and a meaning. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
If you are finding that a crossroads or a junction has appeared in your path, do not flip a coin, and push on with what is familiar but pause to study the map. These junctions come up for a reason and it is our responsibility to take opportunities when they arise and make conscious choices.
There are 2 ways to live our lives. One is from memories, and one is from inspiration … They are the only 2 things you need to choose from. This is not a call for you to throw the baby out with the bath water, nor jump out of any frying pans, but perhaps turn down the heat and let some water out of the bath and just consider yourself in your next move.
You are likely to prove to be the biggest obstacle or block in any plan you come up with. But when you consciously engage with your natural leadership you will recognise this and will look inward for not just the answer but the solution.
Life is too short for these empty victories and being left unfulfilled, and the thought of looking back over decades and wondering ‘what if’ or ‘why didn’t I’? According to an article in The Independent, the average Briton thinks about quitting their job 16 times a year. Now if this is you then perhaps you might consider throwing caution to the wind and JQI (just quit it) it is an option but I am not advocating that in every situation, because if you apply self-leadership you will guide yourself to where you naturally need to be, for you.
So, what is this self-leadership?
I try so hard to be succinct when I am explaining the intangible, so it doesn’t get lost in translation!
Here are my two suggestions for starters. I encourage you to take them away and study them at your leisure. Each will take you into the realms of emotional intelligence and will require you to soul search, but boy oh boy when you really ‘open up’ to knowing yourself and creating change, you can reach transformational results.
Suggestion 1) We can find meaning in everything.
This is not a scavenger hunt! Now that’s brutal but oh so true. We will not find fulfilment by chasing success let-a-lone competing for success? I’ve seen and experienced the trappings of this too many times over my career. It is almost verging on ‘uncouth’ how humans will step on each other to leverage where they are going.
We can all do any job required of us happily, if … we spend time working out how we experience our values are first. How? Let’s start with an old-fashioned turn of phrase and little used, but everyone understands the term, ‘pride’. Pride will often lead you towards a ‘value’ you hold. You know those things that we do which give us pleasure and we step back from and feel GOOD. When we talk about sense it is an inner experience that only you know exists in the moment. It is always present when we are doing or completing things which align with our values often on a deep level and leave us feeling fulfilled. So here we go …
- Always start with the end in mind and with which ‘specific’ chosen context. What do I mean about context? Start with on area of life you want to have or experience this sense of fulfilment, work, business, pleasure. (how you do one thing in life you are likely to repeat in other areas)
What does fulfilment mean to you?
Grab a journal, a piece of paper an old envelope and start to write any words that come up, whilst you ponder this last question. Write as if you already have what you are seeking.
- ‘my word is valuable’,
- ‘My word is my bond and I am completely dependable’,
- ‘Everything I am offering must give great value’,
- ‘I thrive on being of service’,
- ‘Its important to me to feel needed’.
Notice the emotions and feelings which comes up as you write.
Learn how you are communicating with yourself. So often we already have what we are looking for. Increase your self-awareness by listening openly, without challenge or criticism to what your responses were to the feelings you noticed in the first suggestion.
Begin with when you can last identify an ’empty victory’, when you felt unfulfilled (as your recognise it) and what age do you think you were.
How do you know or recognise this as fulfilment, now? You are looking to match up your responses above to ones you have experienced in the past.
When you notice true fulfilment, where do you notice it the most? E.g. chest, heart, head, stomach.
The magic in these instructions for those of you who are still reading is the unspoken language of our inner being. It is just like understanding the language of love, this is the love of ourselves.
Self-leadership is knowing how to recognise empty victories and search for these ‘landmarks’, seeking them in every experience. This process will tell you, you are on track. When you lose sight of them, is when you are lost and empty victories take over. Get these two working together you will lead yourself on any adventure.
We are the ones we spend the most time with. The one person we cannot run away from. The one we cannot lie to and the one who will never desert us. Learn about your potential for excellence.
I want to thank you for taking the time to read these words and if you would like to share your thoughts and comments with me please do. I always appreciate receiving emails and having the opportunity to connect. firstname.lastname@example.org or why not pop over to my website www.theguruco.co.uk and book a clarity call with me.
Quotes for Posts
IQ, education or title necessarily leads to success, however leadership
“One day at a time = success over time” John C Maxwell
“The only place where success comes before work is in the Dictionary” Vidal Sassoon