Personal Achievement or Spiritual Evolution: Can you have BOTH? Take charge or let go? Or?

In the world of personal development, there seem to be two distinct camps.  Both approaches seem to lead to the same thing — happiness and INNER PEACE.  Is one approach, more effective than the other?  How can we make sense of the sometimes contradicting approaches?

The Camp of Achievement

First is the goal-oriented, achievement-based, power-filled doctrine.  This school of thought tells us to “take charge” of our lives.  It tells us, we CAN shape our destiny.  We CAN create our own reality.  We CAN achieve anything we set our mind to.  It’s generally very “me-focused.”   Whether it is a Tony Robbins seminar, a motivational book or Donald Trump’s Apprentice, the focus is on doing more. It’s about being the best. It’s about productivity.  It’s about material success. It’s about power, taking control and taking action. It’s about MORE, MORE, MORE.  Because, after all, MORE will bring you greater happiness.  Right?

I personally love setting goals and achieving them.  Don’t worry, I’m not asking you to throw away goals or achievement.  Think about it, without the world of achievement, we wouldn’t have all the luxuries and staples of our modern world.  We have cars, planes, computers, internet, TV’s, Tivos, DVD’s, CD’s, GPS, cell phones, clothing, books, appliances, as well as heating and air conditioning.  We can even access thousands of songs off a single iPod. There are countless creations you enjoy every day because someone focused on achieving a goal.  Our world continues to thrive and grow because of people and companies committed to achieving.

The Camp of Enlightenment

The other camp is focused on spiritual evolution or enlightenment as its ultimate goal.  The teachers of this path focus on the “here and now.” It’s about embracing reality, as it is, right now.  It’s about letting go of resistance. It’s about recognizing the perfection of the moment.  It’s about doing nothing. It’s about BEING. It’s about meditation and clearing your thoughts.  Of course, many of these thoughts are going gang-busters because we are wanting to pursue our goals and dreams, and they aren’t materializing as quickly as the books promised. The path of enlightenment is more about stripping away the focus of ‘me, me, me’ and recognizing the “oneness” of the Universe.  This path is more about simplifying your life.  It’s about doing and having less.  Some practices go so far to recommend you discard all material possessions. It’s not about achievement, it’s about letting go of the striving.  It’s about being.  Byron Katie’s Loving What Is, Eckhart Tolle, Adyashanti and Wayne Dyer all talk predominantly about this camp.

In our busy world, permission to release all thoughts in a meditation class is a welcome invitation.  Taking time to “be” when you’re ‘doing, doing, doing’ balances out the most committed achiever.  Aligning with the now allows us to savor each moment, and connect more deeply with ourselves and others.  It allows us to follow our intuition, and think creatively.   By simplifying, there are fewer competing thoughts and more time to BE.

I’ve personally struggled in reconciling these two camps because I recognize many of the contradictions (do vs. be, control vs. surrender, more vs. less and force vs. allow), yet simultaneously, I see tremendous value in them both.  I see how each has its merits, and can contribute to pain and frustration.

The Downside of Achievement

The personal achievement or “success” camp has an implied presumption.  The presumption is your life is NOT already “perfect” and wonderful the way it is.  We’re told…you need to set goals.  You should reach your potential.  You have to commit.  Your life will be better when you reach your goals.  Many marketing approaches aim to highlight your deficits, and exaggerate the potential upside.  And, they love to separate you from lots of money to learn their “secrets.”  Achievement can be expensive and exhausting.  There is a lot of energy on the future.  It’s about focusing, taking actions, working hard, and doing whatever it takes.  There is often a “forcing” type of energy.  Get it done.  Do more. Push yourself. Strive.  Sound familiar?  It can be very draining.  When the pendulum of achievement swings to the extreme, there are a lot of associated costs.

The Upside of Achievement

I believe, for many people, personal achievement is THE perfect place to start.  Considering the vast majority of the population doesn’t set goals at all.  Most live life more or less on auto-pilot.  So, taking conscious control of their lives allows their life to become a more authentic expression of themselves.  Goal achievement gives us focus and direction. From this pursuit we learn about ourselves.  We can recognize unconscious limiting beliefs.  We can develop our strengths and improve our weaknesses.  Goal achievement also builds self-esteem. Goal achievement often contributes to the greater good of society with new products and services. Without a certain percentage of the population focused on achieving and accomplishing, can you imagine how many basic luxuries we’d be without?

The Downside of the Enlightenment Path

The Enlightenment Path also has an implied assumption. It speaks to the perfection of the universe, and tells us we don’t need to do anything.  There is a certain truth in that.  We are whole and complete, however most of us still have work to do to authentically “own” this truth.  If we buy into the “whole and complete” wisdom without doing our inner work, we’ve just created a great story to justify our human blind spots.  I’ve also seen lots of individuals become financially distraught when they focus exclusively on pursuing enlightenment.  These people take “the perfection of the universe” wisdom as a “hall-pass” to stop contributing to society.   It’s as though they quit listening to their creative impulses altogether.  They give up on themselves.   At its extreme, they start resisting anything falling into the “achievement” bucket or any kind of “doing.”  These people are often part of the anti-capitalism movement.  Of course, true enlightenment doesn’t resist anything … including capitalism, achievement or doing.

The Upside of the Enlightenment Path

For some, completing “letting go” is exactly their path, even if it includes financial devastation. For the achievement junkie, letting their foot off the pedal is EXACTLY what they need to balance out their being.  When achievement becomes so “mind-driven,” the intuitive, creative impulses can get drowned out.  Relaxing into the flow of life seems to bring a different sort of serendipity and flow.  Living in the present moment IS where life is happening.  Most of us can learn to live here more often.  The principles of enlightenment do allow us to connect more deeply inside of ourselves and with others.  There are countless more benefits, including, my favorite … inner peace.

The Happy Middle

Perhaps there is wisdom from both camps for us to integrate into our lives.  If we could be aware of swinging the pendulum too far to the “achievement camp” or too far to the enlightenment camp,” maybe we would all be living in a natural place of flow.

We’d be living in the present moment pre-dominantly, while occasionally learning from the past or getting inspired about the future.  We’d be consistently honoring our own inner voice of guidance, often referred to as our intuition, our Higher Self, God or Spirit.  This inner voice would be inspiring authentic goals and desires.  This inner voice would also guide us to rest and relax.  We’d be nurturing this inner voice through silence and stillness.  This inner voice would get our FOCUS and attention.  Through this inner voice we would naturally honor our creative impulses.

We would NOT be trying to artificially speed things up. The Achievement Camp is often about trying to artificially speed things up.  It shows up in the form of pressure, guilt, overwhelm and stress.  In the middle, this would melt away.

We would NOT be trying to artificially slow things down. Sometimes the Enlightenment Camp gives us permission to slow things down too much.  Although, admittedly, members of The Achievement Camp can fall prey to this form of resistance also.  It shows up in the form of procrastination and fear.  In the middle, we would simply be inspired to act.

The Perfect Blend

Continually try to relax back into the moment, keep your energy vibration high, embrace the reality unfolding before you and listen intently to your inner voice.  From this place, conscious choices flow.  And, from this place, you will experience INNER PEACE.

Learn more by joining my Awakening Beyond Achievement Tour, where I will share what I have found to be the perfect blend.


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3 Responses to “Personal Achievement or Spiritual Evolution: Can you have BOTH? Take charge or let go? Or?”

  1. Lucky Balaraman

    Hi Mary,

    I liked this article. I do not, however, agree with several statements (I’m not saying you agree with all of them, either), such as:

    “It’s about doing nothing.”
    “It’s about doing and having less.”
    “It speaks to the perfection of the universe, and tells us we don’t need to do anything.”
    “For some, completing “letting go” is exactly their path, even if it includes financial devastation.”

    I’ve been in the same situation as you… I run a technology company AND I’m deeply committed to inner peace. I have been guided for decades by a living, enlightened being who resides in India.

    Firstly, pursuing inner peace does not mean giving up worldly possessions or professional ambitions. It means giving up ownership of the mind and body and realizing that you are basically the silent witness to them.

    Post realization, ambitions continue but are not yours; bodily actions likewise. All life-related dilemmas (such as “shall I pursue achievement or inner peace?”)belong to the mind and not you, and so do all the ensuing trains of thought.

    You are peaceful, still Consciousness, and, as mentioned before, merely watching the mind ponder existential questions and eventually take a call on them. So don’t fall into the trap of thinking the questions are yours in the first place!

    • Mary Allen

      So appreciate your post here. And yes, as I described each camp, the summary was described as a stereotypical archetype of the teachings. Both camps have their attachments.

      While some “spiritual teachings” emphasize less doing and less having — that is just another mind-made concept that keeps one trapped and separate from realization.

      What joy there is in allowing life to move through the physical body.
      And how easily the mind wants to own its content.
      Perhaps Consciousness like to lose itself in human form, as much as “we” enjoying losing mind when we dwell in Consciousness.

      Thanks for all your posts!

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