The way the conversation around success seems to be going, it remains a broad, complex, and subjective concept. For example, I can define success as something you will consider completely unimportant.
But even if we don’t agree with a certain definition of success, some of them still generate in us behaviours indicating that we just might, after all, give it more weight that we’d like to admit. One that I have found particularly insidious is money. Most people who do not agree that money equals success still act deferential around people who have lots of it.
I find that this confusion occurs more when things like ego and pride are involved. It becomes even easier to become confused when we don’t really think profoundly about what we believe success is and don’t take the time to go though the mental exercise of figuring it out. I can’t blame anyone for not wanting to do this; it is painful and exhausting to analyse our patterns of thought and behaviour!
As always, I don’t have a straightforward answer. I only have the current state of my thoughts to share with you. When it comes to success, I think there are two types: the ‘relative’ successes in our lives and the ‘overall’ success in our lives.
To me, ‘relative’ success is when you are successful within a narrow niche. You are, indeed, successful when you become rich—but you are only successful in the niche of “making money”. When impressive enough, relative success seems to be often mistaken for ‘overall’ success.
‘Overall’ success has to do with fulfilling the purpose of our life. I believe this purpose to be going through our 70-90 years on this planet developing our personal spiritual characters and contributing to the betterment of our communities. Being successful therefore means having a job that helps me and the community improve; it means having hobbies that help me and the community improve; it means having a material life that helps me and the community improve; etc. It can mean that I have relative success without it being essential.
I wish I could say that having made this distinction helps me not fall into the trap of mistaking relative success for overall success. Ha. Quite the contrary! It’s so easy to forget this distinction when living in a social environment that celebrates relative success to such an excess.
There are three relative successes that I feel oftentimes get confused for overall success. The first is money; the second is power and influence within the social infrastructures most prevalent today; and the last one is being the go-to-person. And while the first two tend to happen to a limited number of people, the last one is something that can affect every single one of us.
I had a very interesting conversation about this matter with a co-worker of mine. This co-worker is overall successful; she is constantly and consistently working on improving herself and on contributing to making the community she lives in a better place as well, questioning the way she leads various aspects of her life and joyfully making the necessary changes as she identifies them without guilt.
It was a time in our office during which a lot of extra work suddenly popped out of nowhere. And yet neither she nor I had been asked to take anything on; instead, other members of our team, who already had extra responsibilities, were asked to take on even more.
My co-worked and I had a really interesting conversation about how we both constantly struggled with the question: “Why am I not being asked to do more?” We both found out that it made us question our level of success at work; if we were not one of the go-to people, it meant that we were not successful workers, and therefore not trusted to get more to do—right?
Interestingly enough, although we had both been struggling on our own with this question, the answer hit us within a few minutes of opening up to one another: it was about our ego. We were not taking into account so many other factors in management’s decision to not assign extra work on us, including the massive load we both already had on our shoulders at the time.
But that seems to be the thing with the ego: it’s never happy. It always wants more. And if you feed it, it wants more and more, until your entire focus becomes feeding that insatiable little beast. However, if you don’t feed it, you might feel the discomfort of its hunger; but this hunger abates and the overall sense of well-being you will feel will make it well worth it.
Managing one’s ego seems then to be very important in living a truly successful life, one in which we are fulfilling our entire life’s (timeless) purpose rather than a purpose imposed by the social constructs and priorities of the time.