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For over a decade, David Tian, Ph.D., has helped hundreds of thousands of people from over 87 countries find happiness, success, and fulfilment in their social, professional, and love lives. His presentations – whether keynotes, seminars, or workshops – leave clients with insights into their behaviour, psychology, and keys to their empowerment. His training methodologies are the result of over a decade of coaching and education of thousands of students around the world. Join him on the “DTPHD Podcast” as he explores deep questions of meaning, success, truth, love, and the good life. Subscribe now.
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About Stefan Ravalli:
Forever studying masterful humans and the art of service the world over to bring their practices to our (sometimes “service-deficient”) culture, Stefan Ravalli combines all that with his expertise in meditation, mindfulness, and communication/listening to raise the game of service professionals – and anyone looking to upgrade how they connect with others (and themselves). Learning meditation was a game-changer for Stefan. It gave him the inner strength to be his unique self (without the negative self-talk!), connect with others better, and live a healthy happy life. Meditation also makes you realize your potential and gives you the fearlessness to pursue bigger and better things you never thought possible, so Stefan left a leadership role at a high-profile bar/restaurant to India to teach meditation. After doing that for years and deepening his tea ceremony practice, Stefan realized that the art of service was the richest path of self-cultivation available to him. Serving anything anywhere was the best way to apply and accelerate all the upgrades he got from meditation. So he started Serve Conscious to bring these tools and practices to anyone where service is part of their life – to awaken us to the power of service as a means of growth and self-mastery.
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The Achiever’s Curse: Why the Pursuit of Significance is a Dangerous Trap | DTPHD Podcast 33 Shownotes
1:02 What’s the default state of achievers, and why does it matter?
4:45 Two metaphors for how best to view the worth of a human being
8:36 How achievers become worthy of love and connection
10:35 How meditation helps you find your own value
16:44 How growing and striving relate to meeting your need for significance
20:55 When the pursuit of significance becomes unhealthy
25:01 One of the big downsides from being in the Flow state
27:26 Why people put off their happiness
30:44 How to find fulfillment in the present
36:11 Why achievers don’t believe they’re enough
40:33 This is what achievers fear when they reach their goals
45:56 What happens when you let go of striving for significance
49:02 The advantage of finding fulfillment in the present
The Achiever’s Curse: Why the Pursuit of Significance is a Dangerous Trap
DAVID TIAN: Truth, love, and the good. Here we go.
STEFAN RAVALLI: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Tenshin Podcast. I am one of your co-hosts and co-founders, Stefan Ravalli, a meditation and mindfulness teacher, also a mindful service teacher and content creator as well, and I am joined today by my good friend, and co-host, and co-founder, David Tian. How are you, David?
DAVID TIAN: Hey, great, what’s up. Good to be here with you again, and good to introduce Tenshin to our video crowd, and excited to get going.
STEFAN RAVALLI: Me as well.
DAVID TIAN: This is a topic I’ve been working on for about 2 or 3 years intently. So, producing content around it, but it seems like through just more probing that the lesson’s not getting across or they don’t quite understand the principle, so I want to dedicate this whole discussion with Stefan on it, and also pick Stefan’s brain because I don’t think I’ve had the discussion with Stefan. So, maybe he’s got some new ways of approaching it.
Here’s the topic: the idea of being enough or worthy, that that is what is keeping achievers from finding fulfillment and happiness on a consistent basis, and just is basically their default state. And instead, being achievers from a young age probably, having that growth and striving as priorities of ways of becoming significant or feeling significant as their default mode. And when things are going well, in other words, they see progress in their growth or in their striving, or the results are coming in, they are generally happy. When there’s some kind of stagnation, or they meet an obstacle, or there’s any kind of backwards progress, they lose their passion in life and they start to thrash and struggle.
And then especially in their romantic, or intimate, or love relationships. I’m thinking specifically about family relationships. This is the quintessential or the classic achiever who spends all day at the office and all week at the office, and then wonders why his kids hate him or his kids aren’t connected to him. And then maybe as he’s getting to retirement, realizing that he doesn’t really even know his kids very well.
And the same of course with his wife, that he sees her more as a psychic or an accessory, and not in any kind of literal sense of the trophy wife. That’s too easy to dismantle and dismiss, but that they actually see the wife… And many of them are looking for when you ask them what you want in a partner as a part of his list, and very high up on his list, is a woman that will help him in his career and challenge him to grow. These are very achiever metrics for looking for a wife.
And they’re wondering why, “Why don’t I feel love and connection in my life?” And maybe it’s because they’re prioritizing these other things as achievers, growth, and striving, and achieving, as the basis for not just happiness, but also love, letting love into their lives seems foreign to them. They’re not even sure how that happens without earning it.
And so, in all these different areas of life that I help people in, including dating, relationships, there is, in the background, this assumption that you have to go and earn it. And I had this assumption until, I guess, maybe five, six, seven years ago. And even in the old dating products, I used to coach in and record, almost a decade ago now. And some of them that are still being sold now by other companies that I created over a decade ago, would say that you do need to earn your confidence as a kind of competency view of confidence.
That you’re confident when you know what the fuck you’re doing, so learn to do it well and you will feel confident, that you don’t need to do any kind of trickery of the mind to feel confident. And I was just solidly an achiever, as you can imagine and can see. It was quite a lot of work to come to the realization at a deep level in my unconscious mind that just sitting with who I am now, even though obviously there is no finite Improvement… So, it’s not like we’re getting scored out of a hundred. Are you a 100 out of 100 human being? Or something like that.
There’s always room for improvement no matter how high you go. And despite that, I am okay, or enough, or worthy of love just in who I am now. And even more… Let me just give two examples real quick, two analogies or metaphors real quick, and then pass it over to you, Stefan. It is the analogy of the baby. When a baby is first born, it doesn’t need to do anything to be worthy of love.
And we naturally feel love for a defenseless, innocent baby that’s just a newborn. And it’s an amazing thing that as we get bigger as human beings, we take on these beliefs that we now have to go and earn it, and somehow then we… Our worth as human beings actually decreases over time the bigger we get, which can’t possibly be true. And if it’s true, then someone needs to defend you of that because it doesn’t seem to be just obvious on the surface of it.
So there’s, once you encounter a baby, a newborn, and your heart melts, and you just feel love for it immediately and don’t demand or expect or need anything from it for you to feel this love for it, that is one of the turning points – especially a man who is weighted down, but weighed down by toxic masculinity. That’s usually one of the big turning points, the newborn and sensing that.
And then the second is, if we think about human beings who are developmentally-delayed or handicapped, and I hope that, in your life, you have someone that you love who is in that situation. I have an autistic nephew who’s actually brilliant, almost a savant, maybe a savant. But we didn’t know that until he was about 14. He was just non-verbal.
And I’ve taken care of, through social services in Ontario… I was paid to… Basically, I didn’t do much. I just basically babysitted and made sure he didn’t hurt himself. An older man who is autistic, and non-verbal, and we had a Ouija board kind of thing where I held his hand and pointed through a letterboard to communicate. But he needed help with a lot of things, physically.
And just thinking, “Okay, he’s got zero achievements here.” It’s a big deal when he can dress himself, and all kinds of other things. Does that make him less worthy or less okay as a human being worthy of love and connection? Is he less worthy of love and connection? Is he less worthy of our attention and our care?
And I hope the answer to that is no. I might run into like an achievement nazi or something. But I think on the surface, again, we would say, no, he’s just as worthy and has that intrinsic worth as a human being.
And I like to use this brilliant story, Flowers for Algernon. You should read it. If I summarize it, I’m spoiling it for you. And it was a book given to me by my wife. And it took a while for me to have that lesson sink in, but fiction in story is such a powerful way to do it.
And it was another example right there. Most people don’t actually take away that lesson of human worth from reading that book, and instead, it’s about some other kind of tech innovation or something like that. But that’s a really great illustration as well of, “Where do we draw the line? At which point is that person, who cannot achieve or does not have achievement, less worthy as a human being, of love and connection.
And then the counter-argument often is, in the back of their mind, they won’t say it out loud. But the more I probe, I find the counter-argument is, “Yes, it’s true that we’re worthy of love and connection but we’re not worthy of whatever worldly metric that they want.” Like money, or a promotion after a job, or in athletics, winning the trophy. That’s all true.
But then what happens is the achiever links being worthy of love and connection to being worthy of some other outward thing, external thing. So, in order for him to feel that love and connection to allow that to happen, he’s got to get all these other accolades in and locked in to allow himself to feel that worth and being enough as a human being.
And as soon as he makes that link in his unconscious mind or consciously, he’s now undermining his own self-worth. and then they wonder why their relationships don’t succeed. And either they’re on the grandiose narcissism side where they just take everybody for granted, and they’re just plowing forward on their career, and they don’t make room for that love and connection that’s there all the time, whenever they want it, but they have to dial into it and not be focused on achieving in the future.
Or they become needy and codependent because they’re lacking in intrinsic or belief that they’re intrinsically-worthy, and they become insecure. They have this core insecurity that sabotage through the neediness, and sabotage their attractiveness and their dating. Either way, it just destroys their personal life.
And this ends up being the fundamental issue that I keep running up against in working with clients. They have intellectual assent to, “Yes, I understand intellectually that I’m enough.” But then they run their lives in a different direction.
Stefan Ravalli: I love this territory to explore, since it’s stuff that I think even someone who might seem contented and do a lot of practices that help them feel more calm, and at peace, and you know, settled in themselves will experience. Because this is the line that you can always be walking throughout your life.
And I’ll explain what I mean by this. So, when I started meditating, I began to become a lot more connected with my, I guess you can say, just innate value. And that’s what I found in people that I taught as well. They’re just suddenly realizing that who they are is… I don’t want to say perfect, because that’s kind of a trap that people fall into with a lot of spiritual language and why a lot of people avoid it.
Because I think people like to just say, “You’re so perfect. You’re just like the universe’s absolutely pristine creation.” And then they say, “Okay, well, this is potentially something the ego can hijack and say, like, I’m… You know, I’m just so great. I don’t need to, at all, manage myself and at all work on the stuff that’s creating problematic dynamics in my life. I don’t need to be at all considerate to others or anything.”
That is a trap and one that I don’t bother entertaining, because I think there’s a more honest way of going about all of this. There’s a realization that happens when you start meditating, that whatever you are is simply… It’s just right. It’s whatever it needs to be. You’re whatever you need to be, and you are, to the world, whatever you need to be to the world.
It’s not going to look perfect and it’s not going to feel perfect exactly. Although, there is a place that you can contact and begin to sort of integrate with your daily life, that has a sense of peace and acceptance with things as they are, and life as it unfolds.
But this is only one-half of the coin, one side of the coin here. And the other side is this part of us that is sort of driven to always grow and improve and always refine ourselves. And that part can’t be sacrificed to simply revel in our perfection, so to speak. And I think that’s why a lot of people maybe avoid Eastern ideas because they think, “Oh, it’s like an escape hatch out of life and all of its challenges.”
And I think a lot of the times, people will really quickly say, after they start meditating, that they just want to just get away from it all, and go on a retreat, or go up to the mountains, or just live at some cabin somewhere and life will be better there. I think we’ve talked about this. It’s their need to remove themselves from challenges, and their need to remove themselves…
Because they realize that they’ve had an unsustainable relationship with their life because they’ve been striving and pursuing the wrong metrics for valuing themselves. And they’re like, “I need to shut this off and find something else that actually is a lot more enriching and sustainable.” So, they think, “Okay, well I just got to go and become a monk or something.”
But I will tell you that when you do that, you will then begin living this peaceful life and you will feel agitated because most people aren’t designed to be monks, because most people have this drive to also be out there in the world, bringing your value to the world, seeing your value in action, and feeling like you’re a part of a community that values you.
And also, that you’re experiencing, I guess you could say, more aggressive and dynamic challenges than the ones that you might experience in a sort of simple, monastic life, right? So, basically, when you’re seeking to escape that, that’s healthy. Sometimes, we need to pull back.
Dr. David Tian: Yeah. In Asian traditions and in Asian history, there is rhetoric about non-doing and perfectionism. The Buddha nature is already in you and just need to realize it, et cetera. But the truth is, just the practice, is that’s just rhetoric. Practitioners understand that it’s just rhetoric. And what’s happening is, there’s actually a clear hierarchy in the monasteries.
And of course, you’re in the monastery to get better at something. You get better at meditating, better at being a monk, better at the rituals, better at reciting the [inaudible] or whatever the religious thing to do is, you’re better at it. And then you have experienced monks who are experienced at something. It’s not just being human, but it’s… Well, they might say it like that as a rhetoric, but they’re better at something.
And all through Chinese philosophy, Confucianism, Daoism, there’s also a kind of skill, the skill of life, or flow, or wu wei and being better at being one with the Dao. And it’s something that, as you study ancient Chinese philosophy, you discover that it’s about self-cultivation. So, you’re cultivating something.
Whether the idea is that you’re growing a seed into a plant, which by the way the metaphor there is, you are the seed, and people are seeds growing into plants… Or it’s that you’re an unformed lump of clay, and through cultivation, you form yourself into a useful vessel made of clay.
And no matter what the idea is, that you’re growing in some direction. And then they also have theories to explain why certain seeds don’t grow. They don’t have the right water, or the right conditions, or sunlight, et cetera. Or maybe the wrong ruler, maybe the wrong tender.
And so, baked into all religious practices is some kind of getting-better-at assumption, otherwise there’d be no point to doing any of it. And I suppose one of the differences on the other side of the equation… So, we started off with being enough and being worthy on one side of things, and then the other, growing and striving.
But even out the growing and striving as you’re talking, I realized that we do have this difference between growing versus striving. Those are very different things. So, one of the problems is the reason why a guy would come back from work being burnt out during the day and seeing his wife and kids as furniture in the house and takes for granted, because they’re there to serve him.
As furniture is, we sit on it; we use it to put things on, et cetera, instead of seeing them as intrinsically worthy, and having that love and connection with them as the thing that makes the whole enterprise of life worth living. It’s because, when he’s at work, he’s striving. Often, it’s becomes he comes back enervated. He’s drained, and the work itself was not fulfilling.
Whereas growing, in many cases, makes it so that when you’re enjoying what you do, and you love doing it, you lost track of time doing it, and it has some greater meaning for you… So, even while you’re doing it, you see how that day’s work fits into this bigger picture that’s a deeper meaning. So, it’s greater purpose for you.
When you’re done with that task, three to four whatever hours that you’re in flow, and you come out of it, you’re not hating on everything, you know. So, I know plenty of Asian Americans who… And Asian culture, generally, is a very, relatively speaking, hardworking culture throughout all of the different philosophies. There’s never been a philosophy – well, I suppose ancient Daoism had a rhetoric around being lazy, but it’s a hardworking philosophy.
There’s a meritocratic society as well for over a thousand years, picking their politicians or government officials through very intensive examinations across the entire kingdom, Imperial exam system. And this is what’s created this sort of like, “Woah, I’ve got to work really hard in order to earn my place in society.”
Whether I have that place in society is going to tell me my worth as a human being and whether I deserve respect, or even have rights as a human being. Even the idea of human rights is a relatively recent thing, that you have worth just in who you are, instead of you being halfway between a human being and chattel; somewhere in there is the rights of the slave.
So, these Asians all around the world are choosing careers that will hopefully give them a steady paycheck. It’s not that they’re enjoying the work. It’s not like – somebody who becomes a professional musician generally loves music, because it’s not a very stable career choice. And especially if it’s the kind of music you’re passionate about; maybe not just teaching little kids how to play basic piano. But you’re really into the music for its own sake.
And after playing three to four hours, you’re drained in a good way, and now you’ve met a need, at a deep level, of connecting with yourself, of connecting through art with some other thing, nature, the universe, whatever. And now, you’re ready, overflowing and ready for more. And then there are those who strive in the neurotic way, in a way that they’re trying to meet their need for significance that can never be fully in any kind of lasting way met through that activity.
So, growing and striving, just growth on its own can be pleasant, energizing, and it can give you that – it’s a different need that’s being met there, growth, versus striving to meet the need for significance. So, when we come back from a time of striving to try to meet our need for significance, to feel like we’re enough if we put in enough hours in the job, or if we create this billion-dollar business.
Only then will we be able to feel like we’re enough and can contribute and be present with our children, with our spouses, and actually experience what life is all about. So, just pointing out the growth versus striving difference there.
Stefan Ravalli: So, what’s the difference, right? What’s the thing that makes it unhealthy? Well, let’s answer this question. Does every person that plays music love it? No. Because there can reach a point in a musician’s career where they don’t love music anymore. And what has happened at that point? What makes them no longer love music?
Because the thing that gives them the payoff, the thing that gives them that hit of dopamine that we become so addicted to in our striving nature is not within the practice of playing music itself. It’s something from the outside. It’s not his internal experience of playing music and the refinement of his craft, his or her craft.
It’s this sort of validation that comes from the outside. So, album sales or the cheer of the crowd, or how many nude women are breaking down your tour bus door. And there’s some sort of system of abstract measurement that will take the joy away and just simply bring the calculating mind into it. And the calculating mind will never be satisfied when it’s quantifying results based on some measurement system.
It’s simply the joy of your involvement and your refining of yourself. And this can be – we’re going to refine this further, though, because this can also get carried away a bit. But basically, anyone that’s doing something because of the joy of doing it is going to get satisfaction.
But that doesn’t have to be necessarily something as romantic as playing music. You can be like an actuary. You can be doing something…
Dr. David Tian: Oh yeah, coding is a great example. So, it’s like flow. You can find flow in almost any activity, including killing people. So, you can imagine an immoral flow, or in the Dao studies, we talk about the assassin, the perfect assassin. He is killing people, but he is in flow while doing it and he loves doing it. So, you can actually become… This description of growing at some skill can apply to any skill that involves some kind of challenge if you have the…
So, flow is a scientific concept, and it’s very similar to the wu wei of the ancient Chinese philosophers, yeah. So, it could be applied to anything. I picked [inaudible] because it was just on my mind, but coding is probably one of the closest to my audience, or playing video games. You can now become a millionaire playing video games, which wasn’t the case when I was a kid.
So, that’s one where you’re just like – you’re losing yourself in it, you lose track of time, there’s a challenge, you have the resources to meet that challenge, and you’re getting immediate feedback on your performance. If those conditions are met, well, you’ll be able to get into flow.
And that’s just one aspect, by the way, of growing. So, you could just grow even if you’re not in flow, but you’re actually just growing like kids do, just in their bodies as they go through life, they get bigger and bigger. And sometimes, it’s fun, get new clothes. Sometimes, it’s not fun because now you can’t control this awkward, lanky body anymore, and you’re going to have to learn to do that.
But that growth is natural. That’s not striving. It’s not like working really hard, like somebody’s stretching out their bones. I know people want to be taller and they just spend a lot of time hanging… I don’t know if that actually works or not, but it didn’t seem like it. So, that’s the difference, right? Growing versus striving.
And so, Mengzi in this second generation of Confucian philosophers in 300 BC, 4th century BC, had an analogy of striving being with the seeds, and the sprouts and all that, of trying to pull the sprouts. And you just end up pulling them right out of the ground, right? Because you’re pulling so hard and it’s like the analogy of somebody trying to pull the grass to make it grow faster. That’s striving, versus all of the proper conditions for the growth of grass.
STEFAN RAVALLI: Yeah, and the thing is, another trap of flow states is that everyone’s now seeking them. And so now, it’s just become yet another thing to seek. So people are thinking, “I’m not in a flow state right now. I must not be living life properly. I must not be growing properly.”
But in fact, those really clunky periods where there’s all this internal conflict and self-doubt is an important period of facing an obstacle we have within ourselves and that has to be addressed and overcome.
DAVID TIAN: That’s just perfect, yeah. Right now, I think people are going through a period of gestation. It’s hard for them to strive. They’re not able to go to the office and not able to go to their normal ways of getting their achievement fix. Well, for most professions, not all.
And right now, there are people who are going through a lot of health scares or people that they love in the ICU or something. I’m in that case too and just sort of waiting to see what’s going to happen and just hoping for the best, and also realizing that this is a period, sort of like the chrysalis of the caterpillar, that the trust is that there will be something greater that will come of it even if it’s not obvious at first. And that is part of growth.
So, I’m sure when – if you can imagine the mind of a caterpillar – when it enters its cocoon, it’s not in flow like, “Yeah, this is really…” It’s hard to imagine the mind of a caterpillar, but imagine you are a caterpillar, that you’re not, “Yeah, this is the shit, man. I now have to lie here and think I’m going to die in this cocoon.”
But it’s this dark tunnel, and that’s what it’s like experientially for real, true transformation when it’s happening. That if you were to struggle against it and resist and say, “No, this can’t happen.” And you just go deeper into that abyss, you’re not going to get through the other end of the tunnel if you keep fighting the other day running backwards rather than through it, and that “stoic image of the obstacle is the way” is another great way of explaining it.
And it might feel like, to you, that that’s striving. But the point of life is that right now, here and now is the beautiful thing. So many people are putting off their happiness for some faraway goal, and part of even going through that chrysalis is: I’m not good enough as I am. I’m waiting until I become a butterfly. I’m going to put off my happiness until this freaking darkness is over so that I can now experience soaring as a butterfly.
And of course, being a butterfly and being able to fly is going to be more pleasurable, enjoyable than being stuck in the cocoon. But even that time in the cocoon is part of the point of life. And this is one of those things that if you can understand it, you can now understand why you’re enough just the way you are with all your brokenness, with all your inabilities, with all your mistakes and perceived weaknesses and failures.
And that that itself is the point of life. The point of life is not to become perfect. Or even if you’re in a monastery on some mountain, the point of life isn’t to become the master meditator, and only then will I find enlightenment. Fuck that. Enlightenment is here right now if you are able to see it, that right here in the dirt, in the darkness, in the grind, in the shit that’s happening to you is the flower that, if you were to receive it, would give you the aroma of life [inaudible 00:28:50].
STEFAN RAVALLI: Yeah, and I think people that have located their self-worth in anywhere outside of themselves and all of these external achievements, a really good practice for them, if they’re not getting it, would be to just say, “Okay, fine.”
So, having all of this stuff, is there anything special in the stuff that’s going to make your life better? And no way would they be able to locate the actual specialness of the stuff, okay? Money is only good and has value in so far as there’s a story of what it can be translated to around it. It can get me this, it can get me that, it can make this girl like me, it can get me that.
It’s all just this mutually-agreed upon story that we’re looking for in all of this stuff we gather, right? I want a nice house so that when people come over, they say, “Ooh, what a nice house!” and then I feel good. So, let’s go beyond all of the stuff now and just think about, “Okay, so how’s the stuff going to make you feel?”
What’s the state the stuff is going to give you? And when people start to dig into that, they imagine, “Okay, I’m in my ideal life. I have everything I need, everything I could possibly imagine making it everything I needed to be. How do I feel?”
And they’ll usually come up with some simple language. I feel just really inspired. I feel really pleasant. I feel just really connected. And because now, it’s a period when this agitated sense of, “I just need more to feel a little better” is gone. So now, they’re just left with, “I feel this.”
And then you say, “Okay, fine.” So, why can’t you have that right now? It’s just a feeling. It’s something that can be generated in a snap of a finger. It’s not located in any of the things. The things are just this sort of way of stimulating the feeling, but they can actually access that feeling right now and cut out the middleman of all of this striving.
And then once you realize that, you can then pursue things that help generate the feeling that aren’t going to knock you around in this endless game of just clawing, “Okay, I want to be inspired. What can I do to be inspired? Do I need to break $6 million in revenue in my enterprise, or can I actually experience inspiration by making someone smile?”
And in fact, once you look at that, it’s like, “Wow, the simplest little connection I can make with someone can actually give me so much more than any of the actual achievements I’ve even experienced in life up until that point.” Now, another layer to this is also now, what you’re doing is you’re just simply living a life of service, which is what fulfilled people do.
So this fulfilled state you want to be, what are you going to do when you’re in that state? Anyone that’s in the state of fulfillment, they’re now thinking, “What can I do for others?” That’s what they’re thinking then. Because I have everything I need.
So, what can I do to lift up everyone around me? Because that’ll be the most enriching life-giving experience I can have. How can I share my fulfillment? That’s all any fulfilled person will ever say. They’re not like, “How can I get more fulfillment?” They already have it all. They’re already perfectly abundant inside.
So, think about that and then think, “Okay, so as a fulfilled person, all I want to do is make someone smile. That’ll give me more than $10 million in revenue.” So then, seek that and then observe the interaction in making someone smile. Observe your role in it. Observe the power you have to elevate someone, and observe the feeling it gives you.
And the more you’re just kind of aware of the simple hits you can give yourself, by just not being anything special, like not being this superhuman that you imagine yourself being, by being your simplest self, your simplest – as you shut out of the womb and naturally grew out of the grass, like not being pulled out, but naturally grew in this very natural way that we sort of blossom as people.
To become what you are now, that can just simply be present, listen to someone, ask the right questions, maybe say a kind word and watch the wonderful effect you can have on someone and say, “Wow, this is an amazing ability I have.” And this is a much more effective and sustainable way to notice your innate value that just sort of naturally blossoms out of you in a much more easier, open flow than just sort of how driving we are normally going to sentence our self to and looking to score all these points.
Score those points, by the way. That’s fine too. But when that hijacks the sense of self-worth, then that is when you’re going to not only run into trouble and unnecessary suffering, but actually lose contact with a really valuable resource that will have such a more profound value and utility for you than your ability to achieve all these things with all your skills.
I’m going to leave it there and see what you have to say about that.
DAVID TIAN: Yeah, that’s stimulated a three-step way that I was thinking of getting out of this problem here. So, if there’s, first of all, the sign that they’re not satisfied, that they’re not fulfilled, is that they’re thinking specific – primarily about what they can get for themselves rather than what they can contribute to others.
And this is the nice way of showing somebody who likes to think highly of themselves and think they’re very advanced psychologically or in maturity. But they’re still not focused on contribution, not contributing to the kids at home or to their wife.
But primarily, maybe they’re ticking off or checking that box of contribution because they donated to some cause, 10% of their proceeds or whatever, right? So, this is a nice corporate move to swage your conscience when it really wasn’t part of contribution, it was just part of a corporate policy.
If that gets their attention, then that’s great and we can move on. But even if it doesn’t, here’s another one, what do you want to feel at the end of your striving? So, that’s part of what you were getting at. Hopefully, if you achieve this faraway goal, then you will be overjoyed. You’re going to celebrate, “Yes, I made it! I am great and I’m now awesome! I can show mom and dad. They’ll be proud of me! They’ll be proud of myself!”
And of course, you’ll have other financial benefits or whatever, so that feels nice.
STEFAN RAVALLI: And you’ll feel that forever. That feeling will never go away, just so you know.
DAVID TIAN: Right, so that’ll last, right? Anyway, so one way that achievers get around or don’t have to confront the realization that they don’t believe they’re enough, is because ‘enough’ and ‘worthy’ sounds so low and easy to attain versus ‘great’, and ‘a billionaire’, and ‘awesome’, and ‘gold medalist’, or some super high thing.
And they’ll settle for silver or bronze, but they really want to get gold. What they don’t realize is that when we, and psychologists are using the terminology of ‘enough’ or ‘worthy’, in achiever language, that means that you’re great, that you’re awesome, that you’ve made it, that you’re ‘the man’ and that you’re successful. It ends up being ‘only when I’m successful can I feel good about myself.’
Or for a lot of the guys that are attracted to my dating material, ‘Only when I’m successful am I enough to date.’ I just saw that one on Facebook today on the comments of one of my posts. ‘I got to be enough. I got to work so hard just to be enough to date or good enough to date, to be worthy of it. I got to work so hard.’ And I was like, “Woah, where is this coming from?”
And this whole mindset and approach will sabotage your dating success, the idea that you’re not good enough just in who you are as a human being, because you’ve got to do all the striving to get this feeling.
And the point that you made is, you can get that feeling right now. And most people don’t know how to do that. So, the harsh truth is, most people have not read stoic philosophy, have not studied Buddhism, have not studied emotions or even just basic psychology so they don’t know what actually causes emotions.
They feel all kinds of emotions but they don’t know why. And because they don’t know why or what the triggers are, they have no way of controlling them and they don’t know how to control their physiology, their bodies, of deeper breathing, of looking in certain directions, of standing up straighter, of opening up.
They have never done yoga or any kind of movement practice. They have never felt that or they’ve never consciously made that connection between having a really great workout and feeling good at the end. Or even just sitting in meditation. Most people have not done that. So, they’re not yet aware of how powerful just changing your physiology can be.
They haven’t walked on fire, for instance if you’ve done a Tony Robbins event, Unleash The Power Within, you would’ve experienced it that way, in a very powerful way. That is a dangerous thing because it will actually just give you more achiever energy, “I like this because I can use this to get more of what that striving – if I strive harder.”
Anyway, the thing is it doesn’t work, this control over your physical body. And then of course, your language that you use to describe your reality, to parse your reality, and what you focus on mentally that will then lead to these thoughts, them leading to – because of interpretations in a certain way – lead to emotions.
And all of those factors are controllable, but they are a skill and you can get better at them. And returning to the most fundamental point we’re making… So, that three-step thing was realizing that you’re striving for this feeling at the end of it, not the actual physical thing you get, like a trophy, or cash, money, or whatever, but it’s the feeling that you want.
You can get that feeling actually if you just develop certain skills and control over the factors that lead to those feelings. And finally, the fact that you’re not driven by contribution is a sign that you’re still striving and trying to prove to yourself.
Because often the belief is or the assumption is, “When I’m enough, then I will give.” When I’ve made enough money, then I’ll be able to give because right now, I don’t got enough for me based on whatever your goal that you’re striving for is. I haven’t reached that goal yet. When I get that, then I will contribute.
Again, this is a sign that you’re not filled up yet, that your cup has not yet runneth over, that you’re still looking to fill that need that you’re enough, that you’re good enough, or that you’re awesome, or great, or whatever it is in your terminology you need to say, “Yeah, this is when I can be good enough to rest now.”
And part of the practical implication of this is, many people who are striving for that achieving, striving to get that feeling that they’re awesome. The achiever thinks ‘awesome’ is the thing they’re striving for, but we keep saying ‘enough’. And once they realize they are good enough, their fear is if they think they’re good enough, they’re going to become lazy and not do anything. You just sit at home and watch TV and eat Ben and Jerry’s ice cream all day.
STEFAN RAVALLI: I just want to say something about this. There’s been an advent in self-compassion, which sounds, again, kind of fluffy but studies that have looked into the effect of actually forgiving ourselves for not being this incredible person we’ve imagined ourselves being.
And by the way, if you think that you’re always pressuring yourself and you’re like a uniquely-striving person, you are not. Everyone is constantly destroying themselves inside for not meeting some requirements or expectations they’ve set for themselves.
But research has shown that people that actually have compassion for themselves when they’re not perfect, when they stumble, when they make mistakes… And actually, when they in fact embrace themselves when they make mistakes and aren’t perfect, because they know that’s when they’re learning the most, actually achieve more and actually are more successful in life.
Firstly, because they’re more ready to experience the pain and difficult of making mistakes because they know they’re going to be fine with it. And in fact, the harder you are on yourself, the more you’re probably going to end up subconsciously avoiding challenges because you actually can’t emotionally take it, because you’re actually going to be so hard on yourself, and you know that you will, that you’ll actually be more likely to avoid major challenges.
And actually, the more self-worth you have, the more you’ll put yourself in front of any challenge because you know that even if you blunder it completely, you know your innate value anyway, and this was just yet another external event that doesn’t have to have any influence on your sense of yourself and who you are, and that there’s going to be many more opportunities anyway to export your value to the world.
And so, there’s really far less approach anxiety when it comes to big challenges the more self-compassion you have. And the science is in on that, if that’s what you need to actually start giving yourself a break.
DAVID TIAN: I want to tell the achievers that it shouldn’t matter. I know plenty of people who are very successful, and they’re neurotic, and they’re restless. And when they’re not working, when they’re sitting with their family or alone or whatever on their downtime, that they’re not experiencing the goodness of life.
And they’re wondering why, because they’ve worked so hard at their job, so hard, so much harder, than everyone else because it feels like hard work, because it’s not enjoyable. And maybe they had a talent when they were younger, like the example with music, and they had to professionalize it, and then that brings all of this other stuff that’s not enjoyable, they just enjoyed the music.
Or they just played so much and it’s so one-dimensional that they didn’t get to have all kinds of other creative outlets. And so, they started hating this one thing that we’re forced to do, but then they had no choice because they didn’t develop anything else, they feel, so they just keep doing it more and more and more and they hate it. But they can get really good at it that way.
In fact, I know a lot of really rich people who are miserable. So, even if the empirical evidence is not there for that claim, the claim we’re making is not that you’ll be more successful if you believe you’re enough because that would just encourage your striving more.
So you’re like, “Oh, there’s a new way to strive! I just believe I’m enough and now I’ll finally get that.” And then the whole thing will allude you because for you to even begin the whole project with that, desire will sabotage the whole thing.
And so, the one practical thing I would leave is: We’re still focusing on, “What do you want to feel at the end of it?” So, many people think success. Success isn’t a feeling per se, it’s a metric, it’s some kind of external thing. So, it’s money, or you won the race, you broke the tape before anyone else as you cross the finish line. But what do you hope to feel at the end of it?
Because you’re not just a robot. And by the way, if it just comes down to success, you will be replaced by an android. Just watched the whole season of Picard on Amazon, it was awesome. They brought back Data, and Data is like, “Gonna beat you on everything!” Right? All these synthetics, these AI robots. They’ll even maybe even figure out how to program what seems like emotions. That’s the whole point of AI has some conscious.
And they will kick your ass in everything. They’re smarter than you. They’ll do computation faster you, projections faster than you. They’ll be able to run faster than you, the whole thing. Stronger than you, and then what? What good are you as a human being? Well now, we’re just competing in the minor leagues, right? So now, you have to settle for the minor leagues.
But what you’ll discover is once you let go of all the striving, especially as an adult, you’ll discover that there are things that you really do enjoy that you’re not allowing yourself to indulge, so to speak. And that’s the achiever’s view, that is an indulgence, that this is just fun stuff but it has no real pay-off in the striving that I need in order to feel like I’m awesome – which in other words means I’m enough.
And when you finally believe that you’re enough, you’ll discover – and I’ve seen this over and over – that these very successful, very rich guys who hated their day jobs but did it to earn a paycheck were just fucking good at it, but they burnt out on it – finally discover that they really enjoy basket weaving. It could be anything, right?
And so, we know a guy who – an example of a mutual friend who was trying to do a tech startup for years and years. The thing freaking failed and his heart was never really into it. In his mid-20’s, he was trying to learn coding, just to start coding. Well, they were hiring coders, but he was trying to.
So anyway, and then his passion was this whole other thing, it was in the culinary field. And when he finally embraced that, “I’ll just freaking do this. Even if I’m in a freaking basement, and the traditional Asian community that I grew up in doesn’t respect this profession. But I am really good at it and I love it.”
And maybe it’s not going to make me millions, but I love it. And he embraced that and went all in. Guess what? He enjoyed his life. He enjoyed the activity. He was really passionate about it. He innovated, it was just coming to him naturally because this is what he loved to do.
And then later, he was able to monetize it or capitalize on it more. And this is the amazing thing about living in the 21st century. There are so many ways to monetize your passions, and this is one of Gary Vaynerchuk’s really cool messages from the beginning. If you’re into smurfs, smurf it up. Make a Smurf blog. And when they have the Smurfs movie, they’ll contact you and pay $100,000 to sponsor you.
And that was, in fact, what happened, right? And so, you can actually make a decent living. You probably won’t be a billionaire, but you can make a decent living doing a thing you really enjoy – but that’s down the road. First, you have to become really good at it. And improving in something that you love doing doesn’t feel like striving anymore.
Maybe once in a while, once a month, when you have to do it anyway, but most of the time, that’s just natural growth because we love doing it. The more we do it, the better you get at it – because you love it, you’re constantly searching for new sources, and it gives you energy, and you bring this energy to your relationships, and now you’re open.
So, now you’re enjoying life because no one enjoys being around someone who hates their life, and is just like working really hard, and resents the whole thing, and just can’t wait until I can finally cash out on this freaking company I hate [inaudible 00:48:42] versus the person who’s making maybe $70,000 a year instead of $70 million a year, but at that $70,000 is loving life, enjoying every aspect of it, and when his kids come up and meet him, he’s like got a big smile on his face and is able to be present with his kids because he feels like he’s enough. That’s part of the practical payoff.
If it’s the feelings that you’re after, you can get those feelings right now, and even more, the days, those hours each day that you spend on that activity that you’re striving in, if you were to just put that into something that you really enjoy because you believe you’re enough, you don’t have to go and become a doctor because mom and dad won’t love you unless you do.
But you can do this other thing. Maybe it’s playing guitar or whatever it is. And the more you do it, the better you get at it. Maybe you still won’t get better at it, but the liberating thing is, you will enjoy your life. And I also had this question repeatedly asked in the past few months. I don’t know if it has to do with the coronavirus or not, but this impending doom. We’re going to die. Everyone’s going to lose their jobs. We’re going to go through depression. We’re going to live out on the screen and all of this.
That’s a deep concept of, “What if you were going to die tomorrow or 5 years from now?” Some people who are really worried about climate change think the Earth is going to end in like 20 years. I have no idea the science on that, but okay, let’s assume that. So, that’s good for you. To think I could die in 20 years, life could end in 20 years or 5 years or tomorrow. What would you do with your now?
Because if you’re striving so far and putting off, delaying your gratification, enjoyment of life until the end, and then your end comes much sooner than you thought, how tragic would that be? But you can actually discover right now, in the here and now, in the present, all of the enjoyment that you’ve been putting off.
STEFAN RAVALLI: I want to leave us with something. I’m really into tea ceremony, it’s a practice that makes me simply just enjoy the simplicity of being me in the moment, sharing tea with others. That’s my mindful service crucible. It’s really powerful. The slogan on that is ichi-go ichi-e, which is one encounter, one opportunity.
Where did that come from? It came from Ii Naosuke who was a shogun official from 19th century feudal Japan who knew at any moment he was going to get accident. He knew he was going to die. And so, what became really important to him? The really simple things, the really simple pleasures of connecting with people, and he had total reverence for it.
And the tea ceremony is a practice of discovering your total reverence for the small miracles of just simply being a human being in this moment, able to share with another. That’s all I’ll say on that.
DAVID TIAN: Yeah, awesome. Let’s wrap it up there as a great ending. Thanks so much for watching and listening, and glad we got to dive deeper into this topic. Thanks so much, Stefan. Where can they find more about you?
STEFAN RAVALLI: I’m on the Serve Conscious Education Project that I founded to teach people how to take whatever service role they’re in and make it their crucible for self-development, www.serveconscious.com. Lots of free content and free education tools, and also one-on-one consultation on how to serve better and general meditation mindfulness in your life. And you, David?
DAVID TIAN: Yeah, very cool. And you can find me at davidtianphd.com. I’ve got another couple podcasts, one of them is the DTPHD Podcast, you can find on our website, and another one on masculinity issues called Man Up: Masculinity for the Intelligent Man. You can find out more about that on our website at davidtianphd.com.
And this is part of the Tenshin Mindfulness project, and you can discover more about Tenshin Mindfulness at tenshinmindfulness.com. Thanks so much, Stefan. That was awesome and we’ll wrap it up here. Thanks so much for listening and watching.
STEFAN RAVALLI: My pleasure. Thank you guys. Thank you, David.
DAVID TIAN: Hey, it’s David again. Before you go, a couple last things. First, all the show notes and links to resources can be found at davidtianphd.com/dtphdpodcast. Or you can just go to davidtianphd.com and find it through the top navigation menu. Second, if you’d like to interact with me and other like-minded fans of this podcast personally, then join our private DTPHD Podcast Facebook group.
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