Why the word ‘success ‘ is a double edged sword.

Why the word ‘success ‘ is a double edged sword.

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What does the word success mean to you?

A big house?

Latest model car?

Thousands, millions in the bank?

A husband, wife, 2.4 children?

A thriving career? Promotion, leadership?

Several degrees, accolades, academic achievements?

All of the above?

What do you notice about all of these societal markers of success or what we think they should look like?

They are all external.

They all measure what can be seen, not by what is inside or internal.

Isn’t that interesting? What does that tell us about what these markers mean and our society?

Well in my opinion, this emphasis on the external, means that all too often the internal or the ‘soul’ of a person is often neglected and not valued.

Which is why in the pursuit of this external validation, people become disillusioned, burnt out, fed up and dissatisfied and in some cases, mentally unwell.

WHY? Because, sometimes even if you have all these validators, you may still not consider yourself successful enough in comparison to others ( because that’s what external success is all about at the end of the day- keeping up with Jones, comparison etc).

And if you feel like you don’t measure up, that’s when feelings of failure, not being good enough, and so on, start creeping in and clouding your view of who you are.

Why are character traits such as empathy, kindness and looking out for each other not considered markers of success? Why are ‘things’ the way we measure success in society?

Don’t get me wrong. Working towards having the finer things in life and enjoying what the world has to offer is not wrong or indeed immoral. These creature comforts are with us for a reason, but for anyone to feel successful based on this, is in my opinion, flawed.

Because, as I have stated, it is rooted in comparison, which leads to all kinds of messiness.

Recent cultural shifts, have exacerbated this emphasis on the material, but I will leave that discussion for another day.

However, I am reminded of the film — It’s a wonderful life’. where the protagonist considers killing himself because he feels he is a failure and is unsuccesful at the business of life.

Basically he can’t pay his bills so he feels wretched and useless.

Whilst watching the film, I thought, really? You want to kill yourself because of a few lousy dollars? (well, it wasn’t a few, but you get my point- it’s just money).

What also struck me about the film was that the universal themes of human problems and behaviour haven’t changed much over the years,(this film was made in 1946!) despite advances in tech, living standards and medicine.

Anyway (spoiler alert, sorry if you not watched it), in the end it is not money that saves him, per se, but the generosity and love of his friends and this quote at the end of the film really touched and resonated with me:

‘No man is a failure who has friends’ (Clarence the angel).

This man not only had friends, but a loving wife who adored him, beautiful children and a community that loved and respected him. He had during the course of his life touched others so profoundly, in ways you couldn’t imagine. And this is what saved him: his ‘internal’ traits of kindness, caring for others and integrity.

Now if that isn’t a successful life, what is?

He could have had all the material trappings and not had a friend in the world. What good would that have been to him?

All the markers of success but no friends and alone?

I know which state I would chose.

So do consider what success means to you, as your success may be different. It may be that you are someone who encourages, inspires or shows love through your interactions with others.

Your version of success may be getting up each morning to go to work to put food on the table for the family, look after a loved one or care for your pet.

Success could be you nuturing your inner talents, perfecting a skill or living daily with mental illness and getting through it.

My point is, we need to learn how to define success, on our own individual terms. Stop chasing the Joneses( you will never catch up with them, the goal posts are always moving), quit trying to fit into moulds of success created by society if it’s killing your soul or doesn’t align with your values or view on life, and stop beating yourself up about fulfilling that long list of supposed milestones you should have achieved by your 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond.

Life is just too short and you only get one.

So define success on your own terms and be happy.

Thanks for reading and stay true.

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