I sit down and take my seat at the conference room table. Looking around me, I see faces every bit as eager as my own. This is it. Finally, I’ve made it. I’ve arrived. This moment, this beginning, is what every ounce of effort that’s preceded it has been leading to.
Hanging onto every word the senior partner speaks, I feel my heart pounding in my chest. He lays out the opportunities that lie before us. He paints a picture of a land flowing with milk and honey, where the world is at our feet and nothing stands in our way.
Like Pavlov’s dog at the sound of a bell, I realise I am salivating at the prospect.
His words suddenly change pace and his tone sharpens. It jars slightly, and snaps me out of my reverie and brings me back into the room, and back into our ‘graduate induction morning’. As commanded by that sharper tone, I glance down at the booklet on the table and, as instructed, say out loud, and in unison with each of my fellow inductees, ‘Consistently Exceeding Expectations’.
As I spoke those words, as I took them on board not as a mantra, an encouragement, or simply a strapline, but as an instruction, everything changed. From that moment forward, my life would never be the same. Those three, seemingly innocuous, words launched me onto a trajectory that would lead to devastation, restoration, and transformation. But, at the time I spoke them out loud, I had no idea what lay ahead.
The period of devastation unfolded slowly, masquerading as sheer exhilaration and adrenaline for a time. Apparent success followed apparent success. Promotion followed promotion. Pay-rise followed pay-rise. I was on the fast track to stardom and nothing could impede my progress. Goal after goal was hit right out of the park, and yet none of it – the money, the praise, the achievement of goal after goal, could satisfy the longing in my soul. The longing for something more – something that would make me feel whole. Something that would end this chase for the promised land and bring me peace in the here and now.
And, when Devastation came, it did so like a thief in the night. Like Dickens’ Ghost of Christmas Past, unannounced, unwelcome and uninvited, it removed all that I clung to for security in a single moment that will live with me until I breathe my last.
The thing is, though, while it was most definitely unwelcome, it was not uninvited nor did it arrive unannounced. Devastation had been warning me of its looming presence for some time, but I chose to ignore it. And, in choosing to ignore it and, instead, continue on my trajectory to stardom, I sent Devastation a hand-written invitation to come on in and upend my life. An invitation it wholeheartedly accepted.
Each goal I set that meant nothing to me, each goal I pursued without recourse to my values, my passions or my strengths, each goal I smashed out of the park with no lasting sense of accomplishment: each one served only to reinforce that invitation to Devastation. To make it all the more compelling, all the more inevitable. And, as I began to realise that, in-spite of all the trappings of success, my attempts to ‘consistently exceed expectations’ were in vain, the land flowing with milk and honey slipped further from my grasp.
As Devastation wreaked its havoc, destroying my career, my sense of self, my hope, all of who I had become, it cleared a path for something new. In the midst of all that annihilation, unbeknown to me, a new invitation was being penned – an invitation to Restoration.
As Devastation departed, as suddenly as it had arrived, Restoration entered and, just like Dickens’ Ghost of Christmas Present, led me on a voyage across the oceans of what my life had become. I saw that I could never consistently exceed expectations, for with each expectation exceeded, the bar was simply raised. It was a never-ending struggle I could never win. I saw the futility of each goal I had set to tackle that unwinnable struggle.
Restoration revealed to me the person I truly was – the parts of life and the world that truly mattered to me, the pursuits and experiences that truly made my heart sing, and the strengths that I had pushed into the shadows and hidden from view. I saw the disconnect between all that truly mattered to me and all that I had proclaimed as important.
With a gentle arm on my shoulder, Restoration guided my view to the horizon, and beckoned forward its companion. The Ghost of Christmas Future, if you will. As Restoration bade me farewell, Transformation took my arm, no invitation necessary, and led me to the mountaintop. And, surveying a vista where my life was everything it was meant to be – where I was all of who I am meant to be, Transformation extended me an invitation: an invitation into the adventure of becoming the person I was always meant to be – my best self.
And, with Transformation as my travelling companion, I have been on that adventure ever since. It is an adventure where the struggle does not need to be won, merely embraced. Where the pursuit is not endless, but eternal. Where my sense of self is ever-expanding, my hope knows no limits and the goals I set align with who I am, the goals I achieve leave me fulfilled, and no longer does the longing in my soul torment me, it nourishes me as it lead me to new discoveries about who I truly am.
But do you know what? As hard as that period of my life with Devastation running riot was, without it – without that wake-up call, without the rug being pulled out from under my world – I’d still be chasing those unwinnable victories – those 10 Million Miles that Ryan, in the movie ‘Up in the Air’ was so set on acquiring (take a couple of minutes to watch the clip now, and you’ll see what I mean).
As I read those three, seemingly innocuous, words, my life changed forever.
Don’t waste time in an unwinnable struggle, following paths that don’t lead to places you are meant to go. Shut the door on Devastation, eliminate the need for Restoration and, instead, welcome Transformation as your travelling companion.