Is striving holding you back (Part 2)?

How to recognize over-striving and move toward effortless ease


How do you know if striving might be holding you back? Here are three telltale signs:


You feel that if you aren’t constantly busy or taking on more, you are failing or even lazy.


A pattern that I see play out with people who default to striving is that the instinct to keep doing more is on autopilot. More productivity, more responsibility, more span of control, more direct reports. The dizzying speed and complexity of their lives becomes hard to keep up with. They become exhausted, antsy, overworked. Their self-worth is tied to the busy-ness of the day and the number of balls they have in the air. They equate taking on more with advancement; not doing so feels like stagnation.


You keep up your pace – but your satisfaction falls.

People prone to striving can fall into a difficult pattern that with each successive goal they become even more driven towards the next one, yet the sense of fulfillment wanes as they move into a different phase of life. They simply keep moving the goal post, and it never ends. Striving becomes like a dopamine hit – where the pleasure is short lived and leaves them craving more. Because they attach their self-worth to reaching the goal, they keep running to the next one – gripped not by a healthy excitement but by fear. They are afraid of losing their edge – the edge that enabled their success to-date - leaving them feeling unsettled and anxious.


You find yourself out of alignment with your own value system.


Do you ever find yourself sneaking away from family movie night to check your email - again? Is this accompanied by a sense of guilt? Or perhaps your focus on work and achievement is so reflexive – the need to push, prove yourself, be productive, seek validation – that you aren’t even sure what you are striving for? This may be the time to investigate if what you are striving for really will lead to greater fulfillment, or if you are doing it simply because you are more comfortable in the pursuit of striving, no matter what. As a result, you may find yourself misaligned with the person you actually strive to be. You become your own biggest obstacle.


Here are three simple questions to help you shift out of striving and take your leadership to the next level:


1. What constitutes a fulfilled life? You are already known for the accomplishments of your career and the capacity you bring to your role. So at this point in your career, a singular focus on productivity and achievement is unfulfilling. Shift your focus instead to consider the aspects of your life and work that energize you, that are infused with meaning and joy. Perhaps you gain fulfillment from helping colleagues navigate difficult life moments. Or creating opportunities for under-represented minorities to advance in their careers. Once you are clear on what you really want more of, ask yourself – am I going after things that really matter?

2. Think about a specific leader you most admire. What qualities most stand out to you? How would you describe their energy, their presence? What are they doing to communicate those qualities? Are they getting caught up in outpacing others or are they elevating themselves to more strategic conversations, engaging with and bringing others along? As you think about the qualities that most stand out to you in that person, consider how they might also become true for you. How could you cultivate them?


3. In the absence of striving, what do growth and advancement look like? Letting go of a strategy that has consistently led to success can feel risky. We fear letting go of the very thing that has made us great. We worry that we might stagnate or become irrelevant. For John, it meant coming to the realization that the behaviors that got him to this place were not going to serve him well in this next phase. The eager-to-please energy of his early career was not leaderly. He recognized that along the path to maturity and mastery there is a natural and gradual transition from efforting to effortless. By letting go of striving, he made space for expansive creativity, more innovative thinking, and a magnetic presence that helped him grow into the trusted executive he sought to be.


How is it for you? Are you bringing the appropriate energy to this moment, or do you catch yourself in striving mode? Remember that letting go of striving does not mean not caring, engaging or advancing. Your track record as a leader speaks for itself and if you weren’t known for adding value, you wouldn’t be where you are today. By shifting into a different gear, you will allow your presence and leaderly qualities to shine through – all the more for not being masked by the sometimes frenetic energy of striving. Perhaps this is the moment to shift from achiever to enabler, expertise to wisdom, with an expansive, effortless energy. What might be possible if you do?