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The irony of the fulfillment compulsion is something I’ve studied extensively but also something I’m well-acquainted with personally. As a child, I was often bored. This gave me avid curiosity, and while that remains an endearing part of my personality to those that know and love me, in hindsight I’ve learned a deep dissatisfaction lays at the core of my seeking nature. What I long believed was fuelled by my desire to be someone, and to do something incredible with my life, actually flowed from this internal void—a place inside where I had always felt unsettled and empty.

Anything we strive for outside of ourselves has one of two drivers—running away from something or running toward something. We can seek fulfillment from a place of emptiness, pressed on by that compelling sensation of feeling not good enough, or the propulsion to achieve something so that we feel valued or important. It could be the perfect marriage, or the 2.2 kids and the house with a picket fence. Or it could be getting that VP role in a company, the accolades at work or the regular promotions. None of these are goals without merit unless what drives us is avoidance—that running away goal. What we may be running away from is the fear that we’re never going to achieve what we really want, that somehow we are not enough in and of ourselves. We are trying to fill a cup that has a hole in it essentially, which is exhausting at best and completely futile.

On the flipside, we can also be motivated by a running toward goal, where we pursue a destination while holding fast to the belief that we are enough, and that whether or not we achieve this outcome has no bearing on our identity or our merit. This type of goal is fueled by true passion, purpose and a willingness to share oneself from a place of already being full. Imagine the opposite scenario. Imagine filling a cup that is already full. It overflows and there is more than enough for you and for everyone.

The analogy of the cups is a good one to visualize. Many of us are running on empty tanks and there is a misperception that if we push harder we’ll be more, do more and get more done. The opposite is true and often this is a recipe for burn out!

So what’s the difference?

The difference between a cup with a hole and one that can overflow is determined by our relationship to ourselves and our relationship to source, God, the Universe—whatever words you’re comfortable using. That’s what lines the bottom of our cups–the foundation. It is the plaster that will plug up that hole.

It doesn’t matter how successful you are on the outside, if you don’t have a healthy relationship to yourself, then you’ll be constantly trying to fill a cup with the bottom missing. And you’ll never feel fulfilled, rather you’ll be relegated to living with dissatisfaction, creating illness in the body and mind, and stress and turbulence in your work life and relationships.

Begin to see the ways in which you look to the external to make you feel good, and start creating a practice of awareness. Then ask, Am I trying to fill an empty cup with the bottom missing? All you need to do is notice. Don’t judge or beat yourself up, just be curious—curiosity is your best and most miraculous tool. Watch for how often you reach for something outside of yourself to fill you up, and then try to go deeper and explore why you really seek validation.

Exercises to get to the core of what’s driving you:

  1. Make a list of your current goals and aspirations. What do you want?
  2. Ask yourself these powerful questions for each of your current ‘goals’:
    a) What will this goal do for me once achieved? (eg. I’ll feel more connected to others, I’ll be on mission, I’ll feel successful, important etc., I’ll make more money…)
    b) What if I don’t succeed at this? What does it say about me? (eg. I’m not smart enough, or I’ve failed etc.)
    c) On a scale of 1 – 10 how significant will I feel if I complete this goal?

If you find that your answers to these questions reveal a deeper need to be loved, validated, labeled as successful (or other), then you may be attempting to serve the world or others from an empty cup. If however, you feel a deep sense of connection to others, service and love in the pursuit of your goal then you know that you are indeed sharing from an already full cup. None of this is to say that you can’t be well compensated for your work or that ambition is negative in any way. There is a toxic and healthy side to everything, including ambition and drive. What’s behind your drive?

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