Being too lax about what you eat makes you unhealthy. Being too stressed about food makes you miserable (and possibly anorexic). Too much focus on others makes you a regret-filled doormat. Too little makes you a psychopath.
Life is about finding balance. And it's the same with ambition, especially for success-hungry entrepreneurs.
If you don't strive to be the best version of yourself, you're leaving a lot of life on the table. You won't develop your talents. You won't examine your beliefs. You won't work to improve yourself. On the other hand, if you're always hunting the next win and pushing yourself to be better, you're not going to enjoy the present or like yourself very much along the way. That's no way to go through life.
How do you strike a balance?
That's the incredibly tough and incredibly important question at the heart of a conversation between renowned researcher and blockbuster TED speaker Brene Brown and entrepreneur Tim Ferris for his podcast. The whole lengthy conversation is fascinating (seriously, find time to listen to it in full), but in the middle of the episode Brown makes a surprising but important point about the relationship between self-love and self-actualization -- you've probably been thinking about them exactly backward.
Self-love comes before success, not the other way around.
We tend to think of self-love as something (like happiness) that comes after self-actualization--you like yourself because you have accomplished X, Y, and Z goals, be they professional, personal, or spiritual. Brown argues that's backward. If you want to make the most of your abilities and become the most self-actualized version of yourself you can, then you actually have to love yourself first.
"I don't think you can truly change for the better in a lasting, meaningful way unless it is driven by self acceptance," she tells Ferriss. "Beating the s**it out of yourself for performance -- I work with a lot of sports people now -- it works. And if all you have to do is one game or one season, you're OK, but lasting, meaningful change has to be driven by self-acceptance."
Complacency can come from two directions. You can be paralyzed by self-loathing and fear of failure. Or, you can be a self-satisfied narcissist (you've probably met a few). It's easy to spot that the person who perpetually procrastinates out of a fear of their own inadequacy is letting a lack of self acceptance hold them back. But how are narcissists held back by a lack of self-love?
If you define success as having some level of happiness and comfort in your own skin, no matter what level of performance you're playing at, then narcissists are far from successful.
"Narcissism is the most shame-based of all the personality disorders. Narcissism is not about self-love at all. It's about grandiosity driven by high performance and self-hatred. I define it as the shame-based fear of being ordinary," Brown points out.
Feeling you are somehow inadequate or flawed might paralyze you from doing anything. It might make you frantic workaholic. It might make you a loud-mouthed self promoter (you've probably seen some of these on TV). One thing it won't make you, though, is anything close to your best self.
If you want to push yourself to make the most of your life, both personally and professionally, you need to start from a place where you accept who you basically are and learn to view that flawed but beautiful person with the same affection you view others you love.
Self-actualization and self-love aren't opposites. In fact, the latter is a prerequisite of the best version of the former. Remember that next time you're wondering how to balance acceptance and ambition, and maybe place your thumb on the scales of self-love a little.