Dealing with empty success syndrome

I’m guessing that most of us want to feel passionate about what we do for a career and be able to say that, in some small way, what we do contributes to the greater good.

African-American author, theologian and civil rights leader Harold Whitman said: ‘Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.’

There’s no doubt that we all come alive when we’re doing what ticks all the boxes. However, after experiencing some less-than-successful business ventures over the years I’ve finally begun to realise that I have been asking the wrong question. Instead of trying to understand what I’m supposed to be doing with my life, I have learned the need to recognise who I’m supposed to be. As a consequence of grasping this, I have begun to recognise what I should do with my life and, more importantly, how to achieve it.

What did Jesus do?

During Jesus’ time on earth, his ministry didn’t appear to be that successful. Despite his miracles, many people continued to doubt him. His 12 followers argued among themselves, were slow on the uptake and included one who would eventually betray him to a most shameful death on a cross. Despite this, Jesus always worked from a place of sonship, declaring that he only did what he saw his father do (John 5:19). Everything he did flowed directly out of this relationship with his heavenly dad.

Today we are invited to hang out all the time, like Jesus did, in the presence of the father. Once we remain there and grow closer to him day by day, he will begin to tell us what we should be doing. Start by committing five minutes of each day on your own with some quietness and a Bible verse, then persevere and see what happens.

Hollow success

Perhaps you have already had a successful career but are still looking for happiness. If so, you could be suffering from empty success syndrome. Maybe you feel something is missing from your life but don’t know what it is. If so, which category do you fall into?

  • The unfulfilled dreamer. You never gave time to those dreams, but now you’re looking back and wondering.
  • The discouraged dreamer. Despite fulfilling your dreams, you’re still feeling empty.
  • The ambitious dreamer. You’ve achieved your dreams and you’re now thinking, what next?

One way to tackle empty success syndrome is to throw yourself into your work or a new job in the hope that you might discover something at the bottom of the cup along with the bits of soggy biscuit. You could also put what you’re feeling down to a mid-life crisis or blame it on your partner or family. However, none of these options will give you the solution.

The solution won’t lie in self-help strategies, either. Instead, look to Jesus for your answer and the example he gave us of getting into our heavenly father’s presence. Once there, you will discover you are a beloved child of God. When you know you’re loved unconditionally, you will repeat Jesus’ words: ‘I only do what I hear the father telling me to do’. Get to recognise that inner quiet voice as well as learning to listen to the father speaking through the people you meet.

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Charles Humphries runs Want2get on?, a unique career coaching service that offers one-on-one support for those who want to apply their Christian faith to their job situations in a practical way. Follow Charles on Twitter @CHumphreys1

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