Dedication or Obsession?

High-Octane Leaders, Beware

By: Dr. MaryJo Burchard

Movie icon Rocky Balboa once said, “Every champion was once a contender who refused to give up.” Have you ever watched a single-minded person move forward with such steadiness that the momentum seemed like a force of nature? Maybe you’ve been that person. If you have exceptional focus and commitment, listen very closely:

This fixed drive for greatness within you will either make or destroy you – depending on how you treat what matters most.

Greatness requires dedication.

Nothing exceptional is ever accomplished without intentionality and commitment. Anything worthwhile requires sacrifices and focus. Dedication is “very strong support or loyalty to someone or something.” Its synonyms include: commitment, wholeheartedness, conscientiousness, resoluteness, and diligence.

Dedication can also be a message at the beginning of a creative work that specifies the work’s inspiration. That’s an image, isn’t it? Think of the creative, exceptional work you do every day. Dedication makes your very life’s work an expression of honor and affection for who and what you deeply value.

Dedication honors and strengthens the people and things that matter most.

Dedication keeps people connected to the WHY behind the work. This builds healthy boundaries into high-octane performance. For example, if a leader is building a company to benefit the people who work there, she will not lead in a way that will hurt those people. If an athlete is competing to improve his family’s lives, he will not compete in a way that would destroy his family. Dedicated people are integrated, able to live with focus, connection, and clarity.

Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman to serve in both houses of the U.S. Congress, said: “Public service must be more than doing a job effectively and honestly. It must be a complete dedication to the people and to the mission.” Did you catch that? She wasn’t fixated on becoming the first woman Congressman or the job alone. Her commitment to the people counting on her and the mission compelled her to do history-making work.

Obsession, in contrast, is a mental parasite that attaches itself to the identity, reducing existence to fixated pursuit. In the classic book, The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand described obsession this way: “I love you so much that nothing else can matter to me – not even you…only my love – not your answer. Not even your indifference” (emphasis added).

Obsession pursues its fixation at the expense of the people and things that matter most.

Why would someone choose to sacrifice every other precious element in life – including intimacy, rest, love, and community? People do it to perform at a superhuman level. Pushing everything else out can enable otherwise impossible performance and creates superhuman expectations. A self-described god, Irish athlete, and international fighting champion, Conor McGregor, epitomizes this:

“I train and I go home, and when I’m home, I think about training. That’s my life every day, and that’s it…. I am in the fighting game. I don’t care about anything else…. I don’t care about anything I don’t need to care about. This is my sport; it is my life. I study it, I think about it all the time. Nothing else matters” (emphasis added).

As a fighter, Conor McGregor is spectacular. But as a human being, who is he outside the ring? Does it matter who he is outside the ring if nothing else matters?

Top performers: What really matters to you?

Go back up to Conor McGregor’s quote. Replace “train,” “fight,” and “sport” with your focus in life. Now read that quote again. Out loud. Be honest with yourself: Does that sound like you? Would the people who know you most describe you this way? If so, beware. You are losing sight of who you are beyond your role, your outputs, your impact. You are at risk of letting your identity become eclipsed. It’s time to reconnect with who you are as a human being before your obsession consumes you.

Now go back up to Margaret Chase Smith’s quote. Replace “public service” with your life focus. Read it aloud and ask yourself the same questions again. If you and others would say this perspective sounds more like you, then you’re likely being intentional about both the what and the why of your life, and there’s a good chance you still remember who you are “outside the ring.”

Moving from obsession to dedication:
• Ask your inner circle to tell you what your life says really matters. How can they tell? Then adjust accordingly.
• Write down who and what you want to value most. How can your work strengthen and honor them?
• Go back to your “WHY,” and adapt your daily decisions to be informed by this.
• Lower your performance expectations to make room for dedicated living: do excellent, human-level work in real time.

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