Our world tends to focus on external measures of success. I suppose this makes sense, those are the things we see every day.
A quick scan of almost any self-help bookshelf will reveal this tendency to focus on external pursuits.
You’ll see books about making money, saving money, working out, getting healthy, productivity, parenting, happiness, advancing in your career, and personal growth.
All of which are noble pursuits. In fact, I’ve written about many of them myself.
But it seems to me that a focus on external measures of success without an equal or greater focus on our internal development leads to less than the best (or even potentially dangerous) outcomes.
— Making money, without generosity, can lead to greed.
— Advancing in a career, without selflessness, can lead to isolation.
— Pursuing fitness, without humility, can lead to arrogance.
— Gaining intelligence, without wisdom and discernment, can result in unethical outcomes.
Without a proper internal compass in place, even the best external pursuits can become shallow and empty. Or in extreme circumstances, harmful to ourselves and others.
For that reason, an intentional pursuit of worthwhile internal characteristics must accompany, or even supersede, our external pursuits. And it would be wise for each of us to put into place practices that allow us to grow in them.
Here are 7 Pursuits That Provide Meaning to All the Others
“Don’t try to change people; just love them.” —Anonymous
To love is to experience an affection for another person—to desire the best for them and wish no ill-will upon them.
It is easy, of course, to love those who already love us. But learning to love those who do not love us first is an even greater pursuit.
When we feel genuine love for others, the end result of our external pursuits begin to change. Personal development is not solely about what I can get from it. Instead, personal development is the means through which I bring about my best for others.
“Without wisdom, knowledge is more stupid than ignorance.” —Anonymous
Wisdom is the knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment to action. Or, as I have always understood it, Wisdom is knowing how to apply knowledge.
There are any number of things we can accomplish with advanced intellect. But only when we pursue wisdom, do we discover the best use of the knowledge and experience we have gained in life—the best use for both ourselves and the world around us. That is why wisdom is so important.
“Happiness doesn’t come through selfishness but through selflessness. Everything you do comes back around.” —Anonymous
Selflessness is the lack of preoccupation with one’s own interests, advancement, desires, etc., and attentiveness to those of others.
It is important, of course, to care for our own personal and our family’s needs. To be selfless means to care not only for own interests, but also for the interests of others.
Selflessness can, and should be, pursued in every arena of life: family, work, community, even the world at large.
And based on all the studies, it is the one internal pursuit that results in the longest lasting happiness and fulfillment.
“Patience is when you’re supposed to get mad, but you choose to understand.” —Anonymous
Patience defined is this, the bearing of provocation, annoyance, misfortune, or pain, without complaint, loss of temper, irritation, or the like.
How perfect is that definition?
It is so easy to become impatient—especially with those we love the most (including ourselves at times).
But even health experts speak to the importance of practicing patience for both our physical and mental health.
Equally important, patience invites others to join us in the journey of life. Without the pursuit of patience, we will inevitably stand alone. And not because we matured or developed faster than everyone else, but because our arrogance will alienate those around us.
We are all in process and all in need of patience—just in different areas. Embracing patience as an internal pursuit allows us to humble ourselves enough to see what areas we need to work on in ourselves.
“Honesty is a foundation, and it’s usually a solid foundation. Even if I do get in trouble for what I said, it’s something that I can stand on.” —Anonymous
To be honest is to be one who tells the truth or is able to be trusted and not likely to steal, cheat, or lie.
Without honesty, the foundation to acquire many of our external symbols of success can be built without integrity, values, or character. Without honesty as the bedrock of our lives, we will lie, cheat, or steal to acquire anything and everything we desire.
I suppose this might sound attractive to some. But ill-gotten gains are rarely appreciated. A society built on lying, cheating, and stealing will crumble soon enough—and so will our individual lives.
“Compassion is at the heart of every little thing we do. It is the dearest quality we possess. Yet all too often it can be cast aside with consequences too tragic to speak of. To lose our compassion, we lose what it is to be human.” —Anonymous
Compassion is the sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.
The world is filled with injustice. Every person you meet has just emerged from a trial, is in the midst of a trial, or is heading toward one. Nobody escapes life without pain.
In fact, it may be the one reality of life that unites all of us.
Compassion brings meaning to our hurts and passion to our endeavors. When we begin to pursue compassion and concern for others, our work (in every aspect of life) takes on greater meaning—and our desire to do it well expands.
If you want to reach your highest potential in your external pursuits, start with compassion in your heart. Your motivation will never wane.
“A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things that renew humanity.” —Anonymous
To be liberal in your giving is to be generous.
Without generosity in spirit and heart, our gains become entirely self-centered. The natural extension of love, selflessness, compassion, and wisdom is generosity. It is the ultimate barometer of how well we are doing in those other pursuits.
And yet, it is different. Generosity is the exact opposite of hollow insincerity; it is a deliberate action that releases our clenched fists from a tight grip on our money, time, talents, energy, and life. It is, indeed, the ultimate expression of love.
Without it, the joy we find in external pursuits is short-lived.
Our world will continue to focus on externals. It is up to us as individuals to nurture the inward pursuits and values that bring meaning to our lives and endeavors. It may be counter-cultural, but out greatest lives and contribution depend upon it.