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A New Take On Success

One of things I find so distressing is our obsession with success. It is so black-and-white, so divisive, so confusing and anxiety-provoking. We separate people into “haves” and “have-nots” by focusing on the two things that we believe is the be all and end all of success – money and power. When we do this, we become so narrow-minded that we miss the most important point about success:

Whether or not you are successful is determined by you, and you alone.

Success comes in many shapes and forms. While we tend to focus on (and obsess about) the obvious indicators of success (money and power), there are an infinite amount of ways we can be successful. We might be socially successful. We might be emotionally successful, or physically successful. We might be sexually successful, or successful because we are kind and compassionate. We can be successful as caregivers, successful at overcoming challenges. You might be a successful athlete, or a successful student, or successful at being unsuccessful. The list is never-ending, and it is up to you how you define it – not anyone else.

The idea that we determine our own success is so important to acknowledge. One person might consider themselves successful because they have overcome drug and alcohol addictions related to childhood trauma. It doesn’t matter to that person that they have been to prison, work a low-paying job, and have limited access to their kids – because the thing that controlled so much of their life has been bested, and they are working towards a brighter future. Another person might consider themselves unsuccessful because they haven’t yet made a billion dollars. They are only at $780 million and pining for the rest. It’s totally subjective.

Remember that the definition of success is “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.” An aim or a purpose is only yours to determine because we can realistically only set goals and ambitions for ourselves. It would be absolutely absurd to set purposeful life goals for another person!

Sure, most of us will not be powerful authority figures with an endless supply of money, but most of us will excel in other areas of life. You might never be a millionaire, but you might be damn good at your job and accomplish the majority of your goals and ambitions. By definition, that makes you a success.

For a wonderful, loving, compassionate person who is an excellent caregiver with many close friends and a stimulating, purposeful (albeit, low-paying) job to consider themselves unsuccessful is simply heartbreaking. Similarly, for a person with wealth and influence who has horrendous relationships, zero empathy, who works in soul-sucking and purposeless industry with a knack for nastiness and bullying to consider themselves as “successful” is absolutely ludicrous. The real issue here is that despite this, society will look at them and immediately think “GEE WHAT A SUCCESS!”

The indoctrination of this belief has been deliberate and systemic and has existed since the dawn of humanity, and is something we all internalise to a certain degree. We acknowledge that with power and influence, we get more of what we want. With wealth, we can buy more of what we desire, and can improve our comfort and security. But here is the kicker – what if the rich and powerful person does not consider themselves successful? What if, despite society claiming they are successful, they still feel unfulfilled, empty, and unable to curb the desire to want more?

Well then, the person is simply not successful. Not because I am saying so – but because that is how they consider themselves. I have spoken to countless people who achieve their goals and aspirations in one area of life (say, a career or a salary) who feel completely unfulfilled. While they work in a lucrative industry, the work brings them no joy or satisfaction. While they make good money, it is never enough. Thus while society might think “wow, that person is so successful,” the person themselves might think “I’m not successful. I’m a fraud. I’m a loser.”

On the other side, I have met people who have struggled financially their whole lives. Because they give so much to other people, they rarely find themselves in positions of authority but rather in positions of servitude. These people, being so caring and compassionate, typically attract a group of loyal friends, and are generally regarded by their offspring as excellent parents, by their co-workers as great employees, by society as noble people.

When people such as these are prompted with the question “do you consider yourself to be successful,” they’ll often respond with “yes, I do.” Because they understand that success is self-determined, that success requires excellence in more categories than just the “I made a whole bunch of cash and can order people to do thy bidding” category. And if they responded with “no I don’t, because I struggle financially” I’d be the first person to tell them to focus on the amazing things they have accomplished; that to me, they are truly successful.

Measure success in your own terms, on your own time.

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