Fake it 'til you make it? Nah. Focus on 'internal' success.

A shiny new car, fancy clothes, and a big house might indicate success to the outside world. But 'internal' financial success – being debt free with a rewarding job, for instance – will lead to greater security and happiness in the long run. 

Christopher Ena/AP
The Mercedes SLS AMG Electric Sports Car on display during the press day at the Paris Auto Show, France, Sept. 27, 2012. A fancy new car might indicate success to the outside world, Hamm argues, but that outer success is precarious without the less visible financial stability to back it up.

One of my closest friends is in his early thirties. He lives in an old fixer-upper. He drives an old car and he dresses extremely modestly most of the time. He’s quiet and reserved.

If you saw him at the grocery store, you wouldn’t give him a second thought. Yet he’s got six going on seven figures in the bank, has no debt, and has a high-paying and technically-demanding job that he absolutely loves.

He’s what I like to call “internally successful.” He’s successful at the things that are largely internal to him and he’s happy with that.

On the other hand, another person I know constantly has a shiny new vehicle on a lease, has just about every recreational toy I can imagine, and dresses his children to the nines. At the same time, this person in so much debt that even a small reduction in income would result in debt payments missed within a few weeks.

This person might be externally successful, albeit a flavor that’s not paired with internal success.

People often want to appear successful. The idea of “fake it until you make it” is very prevalent, and people often feel that they “deserve” things.

The problem is that external success is extremely fragile if you don’t have internal success backing it up.External success without internal success means that if even the smallest unexpected life event occurs, the facade collapses and you’re left with nothing.

If you want to be successful, build your internal success first.

Focus on debt freedom. Focus on building the career that you want. Focus on building lots of real relationships in your communities.

Don’t focus on the flashy house or the flashy car or the pile of toys. Those things just delay internal success.

What are the rewards for internal success, though? Less stress. Fewer monthly bills. A lack of worry about keeping up appearances. A career that you have much more control over. A sense of pleasure from doing what you want to be doing.

Once you have internal success locked down, you can choose your flavors of external success.

What I’ve found, though, is that external success has a lot less appeal once you’ve found internal success.You have the relationships you care about. You have the career that you want. You don’t have bills breathing down your neck.

Internal success brings internal peace, and that cuts the legs off of a desire for lots of external success.

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