When Winning at Work Means Losing at Life

A senior executive performed brilliantly by exceeding expectations by over 200%. He receives accolades from the top management, is assured of a handsome pay rise and promotion and is rewarded with an all-expense paid vacation cruise for his family.

During what was supposed to be that relaxing cruise to celebrate his success, the executive cannot keep himself away from work and repeatedly glances at his Tab and often plugs in his laptop. Despite being physically in the midst of nowhere on the high sea, the man is mentally very much glued to his office desk. The result: He returns to work hardly relaxed and barely refreshed. He even cribs that “now he needs a vacation to root out the effects of his vacation.”

Now, take the case of the high-powered CEO who rewards herself with a luxury penthouse in an upscale boulevard. She shows me around and when I mention that she must be proud of her beautiful new home, her first response is a reference to the large mortgage and the monthly interest payout that came with the swanky house. Can she really enjoy the new acquisition?

Instances of success stories where the incumbents wallow in pity instead of savoring their moment of glory are aplenty. The story is the same for all classes of people – politicians, entertainers, sportspersons, artists, professionals etc.

This brings us to the moot question. Why then do successful people fail to enjoy the success and end up getting more stressed? They are clearly intelligent and talented folk who should know better and it is such patterns of behavior that my good friend and leadership coach, John O’Neil has addressed in his seminal book, “The Paradox of Success.”

John writes that the paradox of success has its genesis in the shadow. Everything that demonstrates success – money, fame, power – tends to feed the shadow. The shadow is our hidden self that we don’t like to acknowledge or that we have been discouraged from showing. The shadow generally remains hidden but can occasionally appear in real life, such as when we unintentionally insult someone, lose a job or face a marital crisis.

It is at such times, that one needs to step back and take some time out to ruminate. Ideally taking time to observe and reflect is best done in a retreat. What is a retreat? A retreat can be any amount of time you spend away from your usual productive round of activities, as long as the time is spent in pursuit of learning… more about oneself and one’s surroundings.

While some may recognize the shadow lurking below the success, others may not feel this situation. Still others may rise to a level that they train themselves to ignore the shadow and live for the moment. Even so, they might feel a sense of dissatisfaction souring the taste of their achievements.

A Time for Retreat and Reflection

There is a time in every life
when the very act
of looking back and taking stock
becomes essential
to going forward.

Without the light
that shines out of the darkness
of the past,
we cannot chart
a new path
to the future.
Monastic spirituality
is built around
a life of retreat and reflection.
In every Monastery of the Heart,
there must be regular times
set aside
to go down
into these inner recesses of the soul
once more, alone and centered,
to take another look, a new kind of look,
at ourselves.
Retreat, reflection, Sabbath,
and soul-space
are of the essence
of the monastic spirit—
not for our sake alone
but for the sake of those
who depend on us
to make the promise of creation
new again.

Excerpted from The Monastery of the Heart: An Introduction to a Meaningful Life by Joan Chittister (BlueBridge)

Ask yourself, when was the last time that you retreated into solitude? Retreats can be as short as a few minutes. It can be a session of meditation, a short walk in a peaceful park, enjoying a game of your favorite sport or immersing yourself in music or dance. In effect, a retreat is a refuge from a world in where you lost yourself and a place where you can find yourself.

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