“There are many aspects to success; material wealth is only one component…But success also includes good health, energy and enthusiasm for life, fulfilling relationships, creative freedom, emotional and psychological stability, a sense of well-being, and peace of mind.”
I hear a lot of financial success stories. But as much as I enjoy them, I often find myself wishing I’d hear more emotional success stories. I ask myself questions like, Can we be financially and emotionally successful at the same time, or they mutually exclusive? We all love those rags to riches stories, where people make it out of poverty and find a way up the ladder of financial bliss. We especially love them when the people faced harsh circumstances, not only growing up without financial means, but also suffering abuse, neglect, bullying etc. When they finally find a way to be successful in one part of their lives, we feel like we can celebrate their victory with them. But whenever I hear these kinds of success stories, I can’t help but wonder: Does the financial security and fulfillment of reaching childhood career goals make all the bad stuff go away? When someone reaches the pinnacle of success by becoming a famous movie producer, CEO, doctor, partner at a law firm, or professional athlete, does all the emotional pain just disappear?
We look up to people at the top of their careers, assuming they have it all and have transcended the despair of their youth once and for all. However, if we look closer, we may see that financial success doesn’t always go hand in hand with emotional success. When we meet our career goals and dreams, we tend to believe the problems that might have originally pushed us to succeed will no longer bother us. However, I tend to be skeptical that emotional and financial success are one and the same. I’d personally rather hear the stories of people who find a way to manage themselves with poise during difficult times and live a rich emotional life piled high with personal fulfillment, successful relationships, and a well developed sense of self. That might sound cheesy, but if I had to choose, I’d rather be emotionally sound than alone and miserable inside my beachfront property. But maybe we don’t have to choose one or the other. Maybe we can be emotionally and financially successful, smiling with our friends and family while overlooking the beach and sipping overpriced champagne.
My main point is that as a culture, we believe that reaching our career goals will make us happy, stress-free, problem free, and free of the past. But there are countless examples of professionally successful people who’ve destroyed their lives, relationships, and families. Financial success didn’t cure their loneliness, anxiety, drug problems, anger issues, flashbacks, etc. It didn’t help any of them learn to better manage their emotions and most difficult relationships. I see emotional success as a type of intrinsic maturity—a way to navigate through life with a strong sense of self, agency, and competency. This can all be accomplished before financial success, or on the way up the financial ladder. Even if we reach all our career and financial goals, we won’t automatically be emotionally successful.
Let me paint a clearer picture of what emotionally successful person tend to look like. They’re mature people who understand that among the good things in life, there are also tough times in life, but those experiences don’t stop them or hold them back. These people are generally happy with their lives and satisfied with themselves and their decisions. If someone does something negative or says something unkind, they don’t allow their words to break them or ruin their day. They have solid friendships and family relationships that are mutually fulfilling. They enjoy activities that raise them up instead of those that are self-destructive. When they experience negative emotions, they manage them effectively and are able to function in their daily lives despite feeling down. They don’t blame others for their personal issues and realize that their worth comes from within, not from other people, things, or circumstances outside themselves. Overall, they are good partners, function well in relationships, effectively regulate their emotions, and take responsibility for themselves. Sounds pretty good to be emotionally successful, right?
So, you may be wondering, “How do I become emotionally successful?” Well, some people turn to therapy, life coaches, yoga, meditation, trainings, seminars, or self-help materials. Every bit of information helps us grow, allowing us to better understand our actions and ourselves. Depending on our families of origin, we inherited specific ways of handling situations and managing our emotions under certain circumstances. Basically, our families deal us each a certain hand, and it’s up to us to determine how we want to play it. If we aren’t happy with our cards, there’s a way to change them and work on developing ourselves so that we, too, can be emotionally successful and behave in ways that better fit with our values and goals. Below are some ways to help you along your emotionally successful journey.
1. Gain Objectivity – It’s important to get objective about your emotional process. As I mentioned before, we all have automatic ways of dealing with situations, based on our families of origin. Instead of automatically reacting to situations, it’s better to gain objectivity by becoming an observer of yourself and your actions. Remembering that the past does not cause your problems in the present; it’s the recreation of the problem in the present—which might have been shaped by the past—that’s creating problems now. Emotionally successful people learn to become attuned to themselves and gain objectivity about their emotional process so they can choose better responses to their current situations.
2. Build a Strong Sense of Self – Building a strong sense of self will help you be less distressed, less reactive to other people’s expectations, and less needy for attention or approval from others. It’s all about creating autonomy within your network of relationships, bringing self-awareness to those relationships and learning how to express your self.
3. Become Adaptive to Change – How people respond to the people and circumstances in their lives is determined by how well they adapt to change. Psychological or physical symptoms reflect the challenges a person faces with adaptation. Emotionally successful people can sustain healthy contact with others, even under stress. They effectively utilize their life energy by allocating it in productive ways. They work on managing their inherited, instinctive stress responses, such as the instinct to yell, withdrawal, drink, gamble, or become physically violent. Adaptive people are able to bounce back after experiencing adversity by looking at themselves and their responses.
4. Learn Self-Regulation – This is a very important aspect of becoming emotionally successful. There’s no way around it: sometimes you’ll feel bad in your life. Knowing how to best soothe yourself when the pain comes is the best way to handle it. Soothing yourself includes self-regulating and managing your emotions on your own, without needing other people or things (like alcohol, food, shopping, etc.) to calm you down. When you’re able to self-regulate, you don’t adjust your internal functioning for others and, instead, can focus on yourself and your needs.
5. Build Boundaries – This is another component of knowing who you are, what you feel, and what your likes and dislikes are. You’re emotionally successful when you have positive relationships that include a balance of give and take, and when the people in your life respond well to your boundaries. If a boundary is crossed, the emotionally successful person is able to communicate effectively about it.
6. Grow Yourself Up – What I mean by this is learning to observe yourself in your relationships and appreciate that problems don’t reside within individuals, but within relationships. When we can be more real about how we relate to others and work on changing ourselves—not because we’re at fault, but because we recognize that we’re responsible for our actions—we can honestly say we’ve grown ourselves.
7. Manage Your Fear – Fear creates things that don’t exist. It’s a huge generator of emotions and can create overwhelming anxiety in our lives. It’s okay to be fearful; we all experience it. It’s how you manage the fear that determines your level of emotional success.
8. Develop an Internal Sense of Worthiness – Having an inherent sense of self worth is an important aspect of being emotionally successful. When you’re emotionally successful, you—not other people, material things, or external circumstances— confirm your worth. Emotionally successful people know they have a unique purpose. They don’t allow their circumstances or other people to tell them they’re unworthy. Knowing you’re good enough just as you are naturally improves your sense of security.
There are numerous ways to enhance your emotional success and maturity, but most of the big opportunities to grow happen within our significant relationships. I once thought my only goals were to accomplish professional success and achieve financial security. I’m not saying those things aren’t important, but limiting my goals to those two narrowed my focus and created a huge blind spot in my life. Now more than ever, developing awareness of our emotional maturity is an important aspect of fulfillment in our lives and relationships. We’re living in a time when our opportunities to grow are endless, and becoming who we want to be—without facing major repercussions—is completely possible. If we want better lives it’s important for us to remember that it’s all in our hands, and working towards the goal of becoming emotionally independent is priceless. What is it that you think makes someone emotionally mature and/or successful? What things have helped you grow and mature yourself? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Article edited by Dr. Denise Fournier