Here’s a question! How do you define success? Are you successful? How do you know? Dee and I have been talking about this for a while, and she uses the following quote in one of her wellbeing talks:
Success is no longer defined in the traditional manner. It is defined by how much passion and joy each one of us can experience on a daily basis.
Have you made a success of your life if you have a fancy car, a big house, countless holidays, but you’re deeply unhappy? Does that count? Or is success really about overcoming all the obstacles which have been placed in your path, to leave you surrounded by love and family? Is being successful still being married after many years, though there’s no love or happiness in the marriage? Is success determined by how others see you, or is it determined by how you see yourself? Or is success all about removing the things that are not joyful so you can spend your time with the things that are?
I recently had cause to think about this question because of two people I met.
The first had been brought up in a “normal” family home, and on the face of it had all they could want: love, attention, clothes, food on the table, no poverty, no abuse, no real big issues. Yet when I met them they’d become consumed by bitterness and anger, to the extent that I couldn’t spend time with them to find out what had caused those feelings. They were obnoxious and seemed to take joy in insulting anyone and everyone they spoke to. They’d had years of ill health and stress, but their behaviour seemed to me to be making further health issues more likely, not less. Ill health had forced a semi-retirement status on them, and their marriage had failed. I haven’t discounted the possibility that those are all reasons for the anger and bitterness, and I’m trying to be compassionate when I think that the person could be happier.
The second person had not had a great start in life, had had to literally fight for anything and everything they could get. Now, for all there were apparent anger issues which seemed to be well under control, they had a family (including grandchildren), a “decent” job and a position in that job that commanded respect. Life hadn’t been easy, but they’d made the best of it, worked hard and seemed to be doing well for themselves: not necessarily in a financial way, but definitely in terms of being surrounded by love and joyfulness. Being totally honest, seeing how this person had turned out made me quite emotional: they were truly awesome in my eyes, having apparently beaten the odds to become who they are now.
I’m not sure I have any answers for you, probably just more questions. I don’t believe that material goods have anything to do with defining whether you’re successful or not. I think that for me, success is about being happy in yourself, about having a positive effect on others. It’s about doing good because that’s the right thing to do, not because that’s what your neighbours, peers or society expect you to do. It’s not about being seen by others to do be doing well, it’s about being honest with yourself and knowing that you are happy and content.