Back in my 20s I was full of energy and ambition. “Piss and vinegar” we used to say.  I was aiming for the next rung on the corporate ladder, getting my MBA, raising a family … and I always seemed tired and stressed.

I had a very special and influential teacher when I was in grad school who was a living Yoda.  One time we were sitting around having coffee and I was whining about the increasing anxiety in my workplace.

“It doesn’t have to be that way you know,” my teacher said.

My defensiveness was up. He was just so out of touch if he thought the pace of this world wasn’t stressful!

“Well,” I said, “If you don’t feel anxiety all the time, what DO you feel?”   Without hesitation, he stated “joy!”

This opened up one of the most important discussions of my life, a discussion that has influenced me to this moment.

Joy.  I had never really stopped to consider that as a goal for my life.  I decided I wanted to figure that out.

One of the things I discovered is that there is a difference between happiness and joy.  You can be happy about a hamburger.  You can be happy about a song. Happiness is temporary.  Joy is peace.

Living in a joyful way is a challenge but one key idea is staying focused on the reason for your journey.  If you KNOW why you are on your path, then you also have internal guideposts to lead the way. Stay focused on WHY you’re doing something.

But if your life is guided by external guideposts like Twitter followers, blog rankings … and even money … you might experience happiness but you will never experience joy because you will never achieve your goal. There will always be more, more, more to acquire. You won’t experience joy in the journey.

When you become active on the social web, it can be easy to be knocked off center because we are all being constantly measured — publicly.  There are so many ways to quantify you, and what you do, and compare it to others. Suddenly the journey is much less important than hitting that next level of Twitter followers or a higher Klout score.  And it just never ends.

For the past few weeks I have been immersed in a project that has brought me close to many people who are unquestionably obssessed with their online personas, appearances, and scores.

One guy told me he spent all his spare time tweeting at a high rate just to keep his Klout score up. I told him that it would certainly go down when he goes on vacation. “I can’t stop,” he said. “Even on vacation. There’s too much pressure to keep it up.”

Where is that pressure coming from? Something about the conversation made me sad.  All this social media stuff can be fun in its place but should it become a life goal?  Nobody is going to list the number of Twitter followers on my tombstone.

It makes me sad that increasingly, these external guideposts seem to be driving our behavior. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

I read a story where a guy was giving tips on how to cheat at Foursquare. So he’s cheating a system in order to earn an electronic badge to be a fake mayor of a donut shop.  And then what?  When will he have enough mayorships?  Will he ever experience joy?

I want to make sure you know I am not in a position to pontificate.  I am a work in progress too. I get knocked off center — at least just a little bit — every day.

For example, this week I was offered a lot of money to begin having “sponsored posts” (aka paid product reviews) on my blog.  Wow.  Money for blogging?  But after checking my internal guideposts I found violating the content on the blog with sponsored content does not support WHY I am blogging.  So I declined the offer.  Maybe you think I’m an idiot, but I feel peaceful about the decision.  I’m on the right path, at least for me.

Are you finding it harder to focus on your internal path when there are these numbers blinking at you, screaming to be optimized for your personal brand?  Do you see it differently, or are you experiencing the same concerns as me?

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