Is Your Emotional Self Getting In Your Way?
Most of us will have had a personal or professional ambition at some point in our lives. No matter how small, there would’ve been something we’d liked to have owned, do or become. Not to mention people we wanted to enter into relationships with - both romantically and just as good friends.
Professionally most of us have harboured ambitions and ideas driven by feelings that we have unrecognised potential. For some of us these ambitions are no more than daydreams, for others they are very serious. When an ambition becomes a personal and professional commitment we begin making pledges and plans to achieve our objectives and get highly strategic about how we’re going realise our goals.
However I think it’s fairly safe to suggest that very few of us actually get to fulfill what we imagine is our full potential. Often we’ll settle for what we manage to achieve and find ways to justify our current situation. As long as we have what we need and life is not too difficult, we’ll console ourselves by counting our blessings. In other words, we make do. And there’s much to be said for that approach because I’m sure you’ve also heard of, or met people who have reached the dizzy heights of a bold ambition only to experience feelings that don’t seem to bring them the full satisfaction they thought it would.
Still haven't found what I'm looking for
I have a very successful friend who once shared with me that, despite her considerable success in business, she was unhappy. She said that the journey towards her goals was far more engaging and absorbing than the results. She felt the return in terms of satisfaction and her sense of well-being didn’t nearly match the amount of physical, emotional and intellectual investment she’d put in over the years. Not to mention the social sacrifices she’d made. As a result she ended up completely changing her life and becoming a Yoga teacher at the age of 48. However, she’s still dealing with the emotional fallout of feeling that she’d wasted so much of her young life chasing goals that didn’t meet her needs. In other words, she’s still unfulfilled. So what’s going on?
It’s all about the 4 dimensions of human being and how they can develop at different stages.
The moment we begin to imagine ourselves doing and becoming more than we are, we begin to both surface and form a set of intentions. We start to connect with what’s important for us in terms of our values, beliefs and ideas. If we have a developed sense of who we are and what we want, need and deserve, we’ll become authentically motivated to take action on our intentions.
We’ll then begin engaging the cognitive functions of our intellect by thinking more deeply. If we have a well-developed intellect we will be able to give more shape and direction to our intentions. We’ll seek professional advice, read books and speak to trusted friends to build up a logical and rational picture of what is possible and discover what we should and could be doing to achieve our goals. So far so good.
However, the core structure of who we are is embedded in the physical and emotional dimensions. And that’s often where the trouble lies because while we can learn new physical skills and build on existing capabilities, we will have our limits. These will not just be about our ability to do something but also our capacity to use our physicality in total service of our objectives. Particularly when it comes to communication skills. If we don’t have the humility to recognise and admit what we can’t do and the courage to seek help, we are likely to struggle. But most of us will acknowledge the gaps in our physical skill set early on and find ways to overcome and improve them.
Emotional Black Holes
The big challenge is the emotional dimension. This dimension is the source of your energy, motivation and enthusiasm for life. It contains the earliest, most fundamental and most difficult to change aspects of who you are. In fact your ability to manage your emotional experience directly corresponds with, not just your capacity to focus, persevere and achieve your objectives but also your ability to actually appreciate and enjoy the fruits of your labour. Stephen Hawking is probably the most radical and famous example of how a set of clear intentions, a robust intellect and a high level of passion can override physical obstacles. We may be forgiven for thinking that he might have an emotional ‘obsession’ with black holes which has helped him overcome some incredible personal and professional challenges.
Your most enduring, early memories are coded and stored together with emotions. Each stage of your life has moments you’ll never forget and earlier ‘states of mind’ can easily be resurfaced as you remember formative events. Just for simplicity’s sake, think of the structure of your emotional dimension as having at least four modes.
- You as an infant
- You as a child
- You as a libidinal teenager
- You as a mature adult
As a result our emotions can be constellated around earlier, unfulfilled and unmet needs. This means that our professional ambitions may well be a substitute for a much earlier and more personal search for meaning and emotional fulfilment. So, any one of these modes or states of mind can surface in reaction to a person, place or thing.
If you’ve had ‘good enough’ emotional experiences growing up you will have successfully reached a level of emotional maturity that will facilitate your ability to achieve most of what you set out to do. But I would offer that very few of us are completely aware of what stage we have actually reached emotionally. I would also add that the only time we can know what stage we're at developmentally is when we get in touch with the full range of what we are harbouring emotionally. For that to happen we have to allow ourselves to feel deeply. And there’s the rub. How many people do you know that genuinely allow themselves to connect with what they’re feeling, let alone express it? Particularly at work.
Most of us have had dealings with people who are either covering, repressing or in denial of their emotions. We may be doing, or have done the same ourselves. Of course there are equally as many people who are constantly expressing their emotions and will seem to unravel or even explode with anger, rage or sadness at the slightest disturbance or provocation. So it’s clear the emotional dimension is foundational to our experience.
Something I’ve often witnessed, particularly when coaching people at work, is that we are very good at what I call physical, emotional and intentional ‘by-passing’. If we know we can do something physically we then begin a process of self-auditing. We might say we understand the theory, the logic and the strategic implications of what we have to do intellectually and we may even claim to be totally connected with the WHY of our vision intentionally. With these 3 dimensions audited we believe we have everything we need to meet our objectives - but we've by-passed our emotional dimension.
Yet many people will either stall in their endeavor, fail to fulfill their objectives partially or entirely, or succeed but feel frustrated and unsatisfied. When this becomes a common experience, it’s time to do some digging. And when we take the time to root out the cause of our dissatisfaction, it’s nearly always emotional.
Of course, any developmental work you might be doing towards achieving personal of professional goals will only be as robust as your ability to focus and integrate all four dimensions – physical, emotional, intellectual and intention in service of your ambition. But the emotional dimension is the place to start before you set out on a personal or professional adventure that will absorb your time and energy. If you’re prepared to do that, you’ll be more likely to enjoy all aspects of your endeavors, no matter how numerous the challenges or what the results may bring.