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Accomplishment for the soul
What are you accomplishing?
I opened Bumble–that yellow square on my phone where an algorithm becomes my hope for romance.
I grumble about treating other humans like cereal boxes at the supermarket–one stare, prettiest box wins, nutrition be damned.1 However, I accept that a dating profile is an advertisement. You need to think like a copywriter. David Ogilvy instead of Pablo Neruda.
While renovating my Bumble profile, I got stuck in that pesky field: “Occupation.”
For years, it said “Sales at Google” and that was that. It was a solid line. It showed I had a career, that I was at a reputable company, that I was accomplishing things.
Now that I don’t work at Google anymore, what do I write?
I tried "On Sabbatical – ask me about it.” Dear reader: No one asked me about it.
So now I’m confronted with this blank field. It dangles menacingly over me like a light in an interrogation room. A detective that looks like Ron Perlman places his hands on the table and asks me: “What are you accomplishing now?!”
Accomplishment. For the majority of my life, it was my shining star, my guiding light. The story went like this:
Accomplishment is the path to worthiness. After all, everyone I admired growing up had accomplished things. Gabriel Garcia Marquez won a Nobel, Kobe Bryant won many NBA championships. Ronaldo (R9) won a World Cup. They were all winners. No one remembers second place, let alone losers.
Who am I in this world if I don’t accomplish things? What will my legacy be?
I saw their accomplishments and desired what it brought them: Respect, money, admiration, social status, and free food. I used their feats as inspiration to accomplish in my own life. But because I was never sure of what I wanted to do in life (nor am I now), every day I didn’t pick a definitive path towards mastery became one more day where my ambition was “wasted” and I would not be able to experience the gifts that accomplishment had brought my heroes.
This is the infinite treadmill of the rat race: You feel like you have to run harder than everyone because you started late in the path to becoming exceptional at something. This something would allow you to experience glory in your life and cement a legacy that transcends the present. Failure to achieve this and you are just one of many billions. Even worse, an absence of a desire to achieve means you are mediocre and everyone should stay away from you because that shit is infectious.
You are always late. You never run fast enough. Your motivation is to accomplish so that you are worthy of being remembered. So that your name carries meaning when uttered.
This is accomplishment for the ego. It’s alluring and satisfying. It’s a good story because it is easy to tell and commonly accepted. When I see someone on their fifth vacation to Greece this year or amassing wealth like a Sims character who stumbled upon the cheat code for infinite Simoleons, I tend to assume that they must be doing something right.2 They must be accomplishing things.
If only I worked as hard as them, or picked a (more) profitable career.3 If only I had listened to Tony Robbins’ Awaken the Giant Within daily on my commute to work.
Yet, my pursuit of accomplishment for the ego made me miserable. And the misery was compounded by my ego turning any reasonable questioning of this accomplishment story into an inquisition on whether I had the will, the courage, the grit to accomplish anything. “Do you have the desire to matter in life?!” it screamed at me as it manipulated me to spend 15 more minutes on a cold email that could help me break into a sales deal to reach my quota.
Mind you, I wasn’t doing poorly in this accomplishment quest. Despite that constant feeling of not enough, I could trace my life from the time I was 5 until now and see many milestones that validated this pursuit: Scholarships, awards, leadership positions, executive mentorship, promotions, etc.
All of that was feeding my gluttonous ego. But it was only when I burnt out that I realized I was not nourishing my soul.
That’s the accomplishment story we should be embracing. In fact, many people do already!
A study called The Success Index found that the way Americans define success and how they believe others in society define success are completely different. They believe others define success in “status-oriented and zero-sum terms.” However, they define personal success in “highly unique” and personal terms, valuing relationships and character over ego-led definitions of success.
The accomplishment for the soul is about pursuing activities that are fulfilling, you perform with mastery, and bring happiness.4 It’s about finding what psychologist Gay Hendricks calls The Zone of Genius, “the set of activities you are uniquely suited to do. They draw upon your special gifts and strengths.” The best part is that accomplishment of the soul might give you all the things you ego wants. The key difference is that you are not chasing it. It is a side product. An extra portion of fries you didn’t ask for. Ñapa as we say in Colombia.
I find this story more attractive than what I’ve been trying to follow for the last 30+ years. Though even voicing this alternate story faces resistance from the ego. It claims that I’m manifesting this supposed difference between the ego and the soul because I want to be a hero in my life. It is better to think of myself as a maverick than meandering.
I ponder often what I am accomplishing in this sabbatical. Some answers have emerged, though they are still hard to see, like when you haven’t washed the inside of your windshield in ages and the sun shines directly towards you. The revelation that I should pursue my Zone of Genius to find accomplishment for the soul is one of those answers. It’s led me to prioritizing my writing even more, for instance. It’s led me to going to more concerts, reading more, exercising more. These are things that nourish me, regardless if anyone knows about them or not.
I open my Bumble profile again and finally dare to fill the occupation field.
Title: Zone of Genius Explorer
Company: Accomplishment for the Soul
Special thanks to, , and for their kind eyes and wisdom reviewing this piece.
And special thanks to you for honoring me with the gift of your attention today.
In dating apps, my 5 '9 frame makes me the Cheerios of men; not the preferred choice, but you are probably not going to hate it. 6 '0 men and above end up being Frosted Flakes–they're grrrreat, until you end up with Diabetes. I digress.
Rosebud. (If you know you know)
Technology sales is one of the most profitable careers out there. You can see how pernicious this feeling of “never enough” is.