'The world doesn't need more 'successful people.' The world desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds.
Lately, something has been bugging me. It took me a while to figure out what it was. This morning I found it after reading an article discussing mass media influence on our way of thinking. It brought up an irritation to being told how to be successful.
Being an entrepreneur and an adviser in digital communication, the idea of success and how to be successful has always eluded me. It is a difficult subject, and thinking about it irked me with all kinds of questions:
Do I really want to be successful? What is success? Is success achievable with integrity? Should I play a role in order to be successful?When we look for advice on success on the internet, it seems to be easier to find than a recipe for a simple apple pie. The net is riddled with blogs, video's and how-to's on success. It's especially true for LinkedIn. Most of the time, certain methods are advised.
For example, we have to be diligent, intelligent and persisting. We are being told to give our best every day and grab every opportunity possible. We have to write, blog and meditate. We are also encouraged to eat healthy, be kind, and come up with new innovative ideas. Next to all that, we should invest in our networks, build (business) relationships and meet new people every day.. on the whole, a very intimidating list.
A standard deviation on success
What started to bug me about all this, is that exact approach on success. The promise that when everyone would just walk this trodden path, we would all be instantly successful people. There is a lot amiss with this idea. For starters, the idea of success varies per person. That is why we have to start defining success for ourselves first.
For one person, being successful is raising a family, for another, it's mastering a certain form of art. For others it's the ability to retain freedom in their lives.
Most of us focus on and aspire to the worldly view of success. The idea of being rich, important and beautiful is being dangled in front of us as a juicy orange carrot by the media. Many of us share a meritocratic worldview in which we think all of that can be obtained if we work hard enough towards success.
The moment when we subconsciously agree that there is only one true path to and one true way of success (the aforementioned worldly view of success), is the moment we get completely stuck in the common rat-race of life.
When we think of it, most of us would agree that there are different measures of success. Most of us are plagued by the thought that we should strive for worldly success, while our inner self dreams of another way.
Many of us have been taught in our younger years to strive for material riches. And indeed, shouldn't we always strive for better, more and greater? Perhaps.
Relax, nothing is under control
There is an underlying assumption in methods and advice on success: that we are in total control over our lives. For example, we have certain means to control our health. We eat healthy and exercise - two points of advice often to be found in methods to success. On their own, definitely good ideas - but eating healthy and exercising will not always save us from developing cancer or being hit by a bus at an inattentive moment.
Just as we have only partial control over what happens to our body, we are very inexperienced - even unable - to control our thoughts. Some of us are not even aware that our thoughts can be observed in the first place. We are often encouraged to meditate in order to be more successful, but I think the Buddha would wince to see his methods are used in order to attain exactly that which he warned us of: success, wealth, and material gain. Jetsuma Tenzin Palmo says it very well in this short video.
Next to our inner world, the outer world revolves completely on it's own. We try to impact it with our actions, but from time to time many situations just hit us unexpectedly and uncontrollably. Our loved ones might leave us, fall ill and die. All these situation are not - or only partial - under our control.
People who we love might no longer love us back. Friends come and go. Housing prices go up. We get fired. Taxes go up. Our cars breaks down. We miss an important meeting or fail to see a business opportunity, which we only realize at some point at home, while taking a shower. Only seconds later a bar of soap flies through the bathroom, flung away in a desperate fury.
Life is full of unpredictable changes and gratefully so, because it also provides us with the flip-side: positive and lovely surprises. One is not without the other. The thought that success is something that we can form, control and manage totally by our own means seems highly unlikely.
Maybe we've been luckyNext to that, we need a lot of luck in order to be successful as human beings. First of all, we are quite lucky when we are born as moderately mentally and physical healthy beings. Second, we are even more lucky if we have been brought up in a stable, loving and reasonably happy family. We might have been raised with high standards, offered high quality education and bequeathed with enough wealth to leave us time to day-dream, read good books and make interesting friends.
The way the cards are dealt for us at the beginning of our lives has a big impact in our ability to be successful later in life. Little of this is actually under our own control. This is a moment to show a little bit of appreciation if we were born in certain lucky environments.
Leaving the well-trodden pathIf we take all this into account, the so called 'methods for success' - as we find them on commercial websites - seem a little bland. These methods always seems to favor a certain kind of approach. A sure path to success.
Blindly following a certain ideology - even on success - could rob us of creativity and block the birth of new philosophies and ideas. We might lock ourselves into thinking a certain way. We seem urged upon a well-trodden path, instead of exploring new routes. For an ever changing world, with so many unique thinkers, a one-way approach will never do.
In relation to happinessThere is another assumption for our need for success: we have a deluded idea that being successful - and the fruits of that success - will make us happy. Is our hunger for success driven by our need for love, fame and recognition? Do we yearn for money and status?
Do we have to feel envious at the sight of the gigantic car of our neighbor? Or are we mature enough to understand that basing all our self esteem on material goods will only make us miserable? The expensive car might break down, costing us even more money.. and of course.. there is always a bigger, more beautiful and faster car around or in development to top us.
Being the boss of a big company might give us status and financial freedom, but brings a of responsibility, overtime and stress. We see less of our children, friends and family. We might get quite lonely at the top.
Status and praise will come and go. The admiration fame brings us can swiftly transform to envy, dislike and even hate. The chase of material richness and status are part of a never-ending rat race that we are bound to loose in the end.
It seems essential to develop a personal view on success. What is a successful life for me? How much do we really need in order to live a well-lived life?
Success as a band-aidWhen we look at ourselves and our desires (for success) honestly, we find that the craving for success is often based on an emotional hunger, a hunger or a want for something we haven't received in our youth or trauma we haven't got to terms with.
It could be due to our parents; we missed out on love, attention or simply being accepted the way we are. It could be due to society; we might felt pressurized to follow higher education and success in order to be valued. But it could also be due to our situation. Maybe we grew up in poverty and war and are determent to find our happiness in a world of abundance.
Paradoxically, it may be that we grew up in a too safe and wealthy environment, where we have grown jaded and addicted to comfort and praise. We might have been set in the world in search for more.
As mentioned earlier, the way we were raised and the environment that surrounded us when we grew up, deeply impact our character and our worldviews. When we desire certain things in our life, that thirst is almost always related to something we emotionally lack on the inside.
We could be more grateful in life when we take the time to get to know ourselves - the good and the bad - and try to heal ourselves in truth instead of finding empty ways to fill the endless lacking inside.
It doesn't mean that all forms of success are bad, evil or misguided. There is a big difference between wanting success because you are craving for it out of a feeling of deprivation and the feeling of wanting fervently to do something good in the world. It is a matter of intention.
What is true success?
True successful people - in my view - are people who are wanting to improve our world in an ethical way. These are people who try to broaden our minds, teach us kindness and compassion and share their humanity with us. They aren't perfect, do not take themselves too seriously and invite criticism as a gift, as they know themselves well enough to not have all the answers. They celebrate collaboration and will not think of themselves as leaders, more as motivators.
One can think of great people like Mandela, Carl Sagan and the late Maya Angelou, but those people might feel a little out of reach.. So we can look more close to home. It can also be the woman next door, who cares for her sick neighbor and the tired father who is patient with his children. Friends and colleagues who are always there for people in need.
True successful people treat others with kindness, honesty and respect. Those people who enable others to grow and celebrate them in the process. We are successful when we try to live a life of compassion and kindness, and work accordingly. We should try to help others where we can, as opposed to working only to gain in a selfish way (either financial or emotional).
Striving for worldly success only should never be our goal, because it doesn't ensure our happiness. We need the necessary to survive and grow, but we do not need material gain and status to survive. Those gives us a false sense of identity, but are a mere shell to who we really are.
Our goal should be to truly know ourselves, to know why we think and act a certain way. To dare to think, choose and act differently according to new truths. To challenge the status-quo and therefore our own assumptions.
Only we - you and I personally - can command the power of self-transformation. We are ultimately responsible for our thoughts, our words and our actions.Our ultimate goal - and therefore our ultimate success - might be in reaching the core of who we really are and to be able to cherish and appreciate life, benefiting ourselves and others accordingly.
Perhaps then, and only then, can we find true success.