“Define success on your own terms, achieve it by your own rules, and build a life YOU’re proud to live.” ~ Anne Sweeney
Our maid, who comes twice a week to help us keep the house in order, is one of the most successful people I know. She is economically poor but otherwise infinitely wealthy. She irradiates happiness and inner peace. I have never seen her in a bad mood. One day she told me that in the past she used to clean more houses and earn more money, but that feeling constantly overworked made her miserable, so she cut down on her cleaning gigs. Now, she has enough income to cover her unpretentious material needs and also enough spare time to enjoy her existence. In other words, she has found her own, personal definition of success and follows it conscientiously. She has the strength and the honesty towards herself to modify her way of life in such a way that she could fulfill her individual needs and wishes. She has taught me a great lesson.
I believe a lot of people fall into the trap of unquestioningly adopting the stereotypical definition of success society offers us: an ambitious career, a high income, the acquisition of status symbols such as big houses, flashy cars or expensive clothing, being “hip”. It is absolutely possible that for some individuals, one or more of these things really hold a promise of happiness. For some people, these may actually be good aims to pursue. However, we are all different, hence for many this cookie-cutter definition of success will not work and only be a source of frustration and bad decisions if they apply it to themselves.
Personally, I am such a one. I have become aware that, while material stability and a margin of financial mobility are important to me, I am unwilling to engage in activities that do not fulfill me in order to obtain more than that. Making tons of cash as a business executive or the likes would land me in a pit of depression all the capital on the planet could not buy me out of. Money, beyond the necessary amount to live free of existential anxiety, is not an end in itself for me. Neither are high-ranking corporate positions. My ambition to be someone else’s boss oscillates around zero. Cars, in my eyes, are things with four wheels on them that can take you from one place to the other, but their brand names mean nothing to me.
In terms of the stereotypical definition of success, I am a complete loser. This used to drag me down before I realized that for the amazing variety of human expression, there was never supposed to be one single definition of success. It is a ludicrous, fallacious idea. So when I asked myself what is important for me, I saw that many of those things I already had, and those I still didn’t, I was actively pursuing. From this perspective, drawing a balance of my success in life brought forward a rather favorable result, showing me clearly I was traveling along a path of learning, meaningfulness, and love, and encouraging me to continue walking it. If money and prestige should ever come out of what I do, great, but they would only be the byproduct of a much greater treasure I will be harboring right in my heart.
Be Brave Enough to Define Success on Your Own Terms
Others, or society in general, might deem me substandard or uncool. I cannot be bothered by it. As I am writing these lines, I am occasionally looking up from the computer screen to watch my rescued pigeons strut about in the backyard. They poop all over the place, but where others would get the heebie-jeebies, I see a flock of beautiful creatures whose presence gives me joy. At the desk next to mine sits my husband, a wonderful soul whom I can love without reserve. I do not perceive my day-job as my vocation, nonetheless, I appreciate that it gives me the stability I need to pursue activities that do give me a sense of purpose. And maybe one day I will be able to dedicate myself entirely to them. I am gradualy, steadily pacing towards it. So far, the journey has always been rewarding.
Among my acquaintances, I see individuals who are driving themselves crazy trying to keep up with standards they were not made to meet, and then punishing themselves with self-destructive ideas for not succeeding. Imagine having size 8 feet and spending all your time and energy trying to squeeze yourself into a size 5 shoe, telling yourself that the day your foot finally pops into that shoe, you will suddenly be happy. That’s what many of us are doing. So many people are chasing after an illusory, evasive future self that is frighteningly remote from who they truly are.
I am no guru, nor am I entirely immune against negative self-talk. I have weak moments. What I can wholeheartedly advise everyone to do, though, is to ditch the stereotypical notions of success your surroundings are burdening you with if you feel they don’t resonate with you.
Strive to be independent of the expectations of others.
Find out which things are meaningful to you, and you alone. They don’t have to be high-flying or impressive. “Bringing on world peace” or “becoming a renowned intellectual” do not have to be among them. Instead, they can be as simple as “being close to nature” or “communicating with people”. Think of growing more than of accomplishing.
Listen to who you are at your core. It is the most competent and assertive guidance you can get. Following it is where success really lies. You will find no trodden path, but discover one borne out of the projection of your unique, irreplaceable essence unto material reality. This is the most precious contribution you can make to yourself and to the world. Being truly yourself, you will naturally ease into your best possible role on this earth. Hand-make your own, made-to-measure definition of success. It is the best shoe to wear as you’re walking the road of your life.