I have mentioned before how some of my friends and I are facing defining moments in our lives: some of us quit, others want to quit, some have no clue what they’re doing or want to do, and for most of us it’s a mix… Or maybe it’s just because most of us are turning or just turned 30, who knows? But the fact is our conversations can quite often get philosophical or inspirational. Recently a very interesting topic came up: Success. Success and what defines it. And in general we all agreed that society’s definition of success is bollocks (nonsense).
Let’s start with the standard definition of success, kindly provided by Google:
Success /səkˈsɛs/ noun
1. The accomplishment of an aim or purpose.
Synonyms: favourable outcome, favourable result, successful outcome, positive result, victory
It seems like a rather simple concept to understand: you have a purpose and you achieve it or you get a positive result on something you set up to do, right? But it’s not really that simple.
Somehow society has twisted this concept around, and most people would associate the word ‘success’ with people in extremely powerful positions or extremely wealthy: millionaires, powerful CEOs, presidents, etc. Now, this is all fine and well if your purpose is to become a millionaire or a powerful CEO or a president. But what if your purpose is to have an OK job, which gives you enough money to live a reasonable life, without luxuries, and allows you to get home at decent hours to spend time with your family? If you accomplish this, is that not being successful? Because by definition, you are successful too.
I for one value life and my time on this planet above all things. To be able to spend time with the ones I love and to do the things I actually enjoy doing. For me that’s happiness, rather than being in a race to be society’s definition of successful and not having time to enjoy anything else. So I guess we could say my purpose is to be happy, and I have to say so far I consider myself pretty successful.
I am not saying you can’t or shouldn’t spend all your time at work; if that’s your purpose, I am no one to judge. We all have different purposes and different definitions of happiness either way. But I will say this: make sure to find out what your purpose is, and embrace it.
I read an article a while ago by Richard Hytner explaining how you don’t need to push yourself to be the next Zuckerberg, unless that’s what you want to. If what you want is to be average, then just be average. As he said ‘it will probably make you happier’. It doesn’t mean that you are not driven. It certainly does not mean you have a less important place in society. It means your drive is different than the one imposed by society. You just have to embrace your purpose and accept your choice.
Have you noticed that more and more we hear about people going freelance rather than holding on to a ‘comfortable job’, they’re dropping out of fancy jobs in the city to go live in remote places, working in agriculture, or in a surf shop? Does that make them less successful? I don’t think so. If what you want to do in life is to grow your own vegetables, hang out with friends, and read books, then you should do it. Let’s face it, you’ll probably need a part-time job to keep up with your bills, but that’s absolutely fine.
I don’t even have to think of random examples, take me for instance. I’ve quit my comfortable job at a well-known and respected brand. Even though I now work more than ever before, for no money, I am having great fun with it and I absolutely love my days. However I need to keep it real as well, I mean a girl’s gotta eat, so I started freelancing and soon will be looking for a part-time job. Bottom of line is I am happy and on my way to something (which I don’t really know what it is yet), and that feels pretty successful to me.
I guess this distorted perception of success also comes from a society driven by things. In ‘developed’ countries we are all guilty of a bit of splurging. We all assume we need things we probably don’t. Big house, shiny cars, fancy school for the kids, fancy clothes, renew your wardrobe every season… and then there’s greed as well. And envying what others have. And it may become a purpose to have someone else’s lifestyle. And sadly that will probably never make you happy, but hey, we’re all different so I may be wrong.
Someone was once bragging to me about the most recent promotion and how they’d got their own parking space and everything. And I got to wonder whether that was this person’s perception of success. See, for me that would mean peanuts. In fact, I would actually prefer free peanuts. Of course I don’t have a car, but you get the point.
You probably shouldn’t listen to me, at this point in time I am that friend your mum doesn’t want you to have, ‘the bad influence’. But if I can give one word of advice, take some time to really find out what your purpose is. What is it that you want to achieve? Once you have that purpose, look at your life and check whether you are:
a) There already – great!
b) Not quite there – make necessary adjustments to achieve your purpose
c) Super far away from getting there – make drastic changes, take a different path and pursue whatever your purpose is.
Then you’ll be successful. And at peace with yourself. And probably happy.
But keep one thing in mind while defining that purpose – at the end of my life, what do I want to look back at? How I drove a company to success; had awesome houses; travelled the world; lived a life of luxury; owned a Chanel bag and a pair of Louboutins; built a (or several businesses); had a parking space and benefits; led a comfortable life; wrote the book I wanted to; followed my dreams and failed miserably; followed my dreams and succeeded; spent my life helping others; spent time with the ones I loved; enjoyed every minute of it…
All purposes and dreams are valid as long as it makes you happy. Just bear in mind that you’re only here temporarily, so choose wisely. And be successful at it.