I think it’s fair to say that the majority of people, at least in the First World, want to be “successful.” Like so many terms that we throw around and use as compasses for our long, winding journeys through life, the real meaning of the word is rarely considered by each individual, in their own terms. Instead, it is quietly, and unconsciously implanted through every interaction you have by those around you; your parents want you to be “successful”, your teachers want you to be “successful”, your colleagues want you to be “successful”, society wants you to be “successful.” You then, of course, believe completely, that you want to be “successful”. After all, no one wants to be unsuccessful, do they? That’s tantamount to failure, and no one wants to be a failure.
The word “success” is charged with connotations of renown, realised ambition, appreciation, and value. The achievement of “success” dictates the level of your worth; your value in every strain of your social circles being intricately linked to how well you’re doing (according to the accepted measure of what “success” is, of course). If you’re not successful, it’s understandable that you might feel just a touch worthless or inadequate, labelling yourself one of those “low achievers.” You just aren’t gifted in “that” way. We can’t all be “high – flyers” – yet another term that we accept and throw around without really considering whether it has any real meaning at all, but that nonetheless has a profound impact on the core of how one dictates their sense of self – worth. We all have our place in life, and some of us are just smarter, or more beautiful, or destined for ” success” more than others. At least, that’s what you grow up believing.
What happens then, when you start to truly consider what the term “success” actually means for you? As an individual, rather than as a tiny, insignificant name on a page in the catalogue of society, on autopilot, unconsciously navigating yourself towards a destination that has been pre – programmed for you?
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know what happened when I started asking myself that question. I felt isolated, confused, and as though I had stupidly wasted time in the worthless pursuit of something that I didn’t even want. I realised that my individual notion of success is very different to the one that I have lazily carried around with me until this point, and have expended much of my valuable energy trying to achieve. I felt a sense of loss – frustration that I simply hadn’t stopped to consider what the term actually meant to me. I hadn’t thought to consciously consider, as an individual with my own place in the universe, my own purpose, and my own unique outlook and set of needs, what a successful life looked like for Me, away from the noise of what I’ve been told to believe, or pursue. It simply hadn’t occurred to me to think about it, until I found myself outside the sphere of the all – consuming pursuit of money and the 9 – 5 lifestyle, confronted with the freedom to actually look around and consider beyond the daily grind of getting to work every morning, meeting deadlines, and calculating how many long years it would take me to save up for a house that I could hide in on the weekends before dragging myself back to my “quite-good-job”. No one had sat me down and asked me the question of what success really meant to me. It had always been assumed. And I carried on the pattern mindlessly, until my fundamental lack of satisfaction with my life forced me to make a radical shift in perspective.
The question of what success means to you is fundamental to who you are, and how you live your life. To me, at this moment, success is simply being able to express myself. This branches out into being able to spend my time expressing myself in many ways (which I won’t bore you with now), and being able to make a living from the fulfillment of this fundamental need. Success, to me, is to wake up every morning, in charge of my own life. To not feel enslaved by anyone or anything, least of all my own warped, staid beliefs and anxieties about how my choices “look” to the world outside. To be free, to be able to love and give to those I am lucky enough to have in my life. Self – mastery. Success, for me, isn’t the achievement of grand material goals, like having the biggest house, or Rolex watches, or the latest mobile phone. It isn’t having a million friends on Facebook. It’s simply having the freedom to be myself, and to be able to express that completely, without fear, shame or boundary. Surprisingly difficult to do, when the world is telling you that unless you adopt the values and lifestyle that everyone else is perpetrating, you’re some kind of deviant, or failure, but if there’s one thing about success, it’s not really worth having unless you’re willing to fight for it. When being the living, breathing embodiment of your values and ideology is your idea of a successful life, integrity is your currency – and it can be tough to hold onto that, sometimes.
If I am spending my days doing what I truly wish to do, in a way that I respect in myself, I’m fulfilling my own notion of success. I’ve been brave enough to accept what it truly means to me, and it’s not what I’ve been taught, or conditioned to believe. It can be hard to maintain a sense of integrity and accept that this is truly what I want, especially when social norms and conditioning come knocking and I feel that I have to defend my views (they can feel frail under the scrutiny of my father’s eye, for example), but this is what a life well lived, and so successfully lived, means for me. Anything external to that seems like a distraction from what truly matters.
Being brave and acknowledging what my notion of success truly is has been a huge challenge. It’s almost laughable that it could be such a challenge to overcome your own conditioning to find the truth buried underneath (after all, you’re just finding “you”, which really shouldn’t be so difficult!) – but it’s one of the great challenges of leading a more fulfilled life. Don’t let anyone tell you what “success” means to you. Only you can do that, and it will probably change as you go through this weird and wonderful voyage that we have labelled “life”.
Let yourself consider what success really means to you. Beneath the conditioning, the bullshit distractions, and the empty pursuit of someone else’s notion of who or what you “should” be, or have, or do. Let yourself dive into the well of who you truly are, ride the wave of confusion and fear that you are confronted with when you begin to acknowledge and accept the truth, and let yourself live it. Be brave, and fulfil your own notion of success, whatever that might be.
Life’s too short to live for someone else. And far too valuable.
Thanks for reading.
An Ordinary Idealist.