Growing up, I was told multiple times I was on “the road to success.”
But what the hell is success?
Merriam-Webster defines it as “the fact of getting or achieving respect, wealth or fame.”
Our whole lives, we are conditioned to see success in these very narrowly defined terms.
Busyness, working full time and amassing wealth equal success.
You are hyper-busy, with no time for anything or anyone. You are defined by your job. You’re tired, but nonetheless frequently engage in the cult of overtime, with obese work weeks as the result. Anxiety is your constant companion. You earn good money, but with every pay raise you somehow slide further into debt. More money coming in just fuels the need to acquire more status-bearing objects, memberships, trips and experiences. You swap your time for money. Your career advances and your time becomes worth more, but instead of slowing down, you speed up. Burnout always looms, somewhere just ahead. Lined, tired and worried, you are the very epitome of success in the eyes of society.
Kind of crazy, right?
I dispute the notion that only a busy, full time employed person who earns decent money is a success. That notion of success is dated, and damaging.
I believe there is a better kind of success to be had.
Instead of swapping our time for money, let’s swap money for our time
Nobody on their deathbed ever said they wished they had spent more time at the office.
Our time is the one thing we have on this earth before we die. I took a shot at climbing the corporate ladder, but came to the conclusion it really isn’t how I want to spend my time on this earth. I’d prefer to work less, and live more.
Obviously, that’s going to mean certain sacrifices need to be made. We can work less, but we will have less money.
How much money one needs is up to each individual. Personally, I lived quite well on about $500 a week which I was at uni. When I finished and got a “real job,” my income went up by about 40%. However, I had about 60% less time, and about 90% less happiness. I was pretty busy caring what others thought. I was anxious all the time; I didn’t feel very successful.
Eventually, the choice to work less and live more was clear, and well worth a financial sacrifice.
Instead of paying people do to our menial tasks, we should do them mindfully and with joy
Part of the cult of busyness is that we spend some of our hard-earned additional income paying others to do everyday tasks that we are, no surprise, too busy to do. Whether it be laundry, house cleaning, walking the dog or having the groceries delivered – these are things that people with time do for themselves. It’s actually quite joyful to do a menial task mindfully, or cook a meal for a loved one. Having the time to be there for family and having the freedom to do things for ourselves is a great brand of success.
We should measure our success in personal fulfilment, not dollars
I love the (perhaps idealistic) notion that our success should be measured on how fulfilled we are, not what we earn. This brand of success would still allow for particular professionals to be successful and make a lot of money – doctors for example, or anyone who feels they make a positive difference. Making money isn’t evil, and it isn’t wrong. It is simply not the be all and end all.
You know how at parties, people ask what you do and then appraise you based on your answer? I used to be able to tell people “I’m in X field,” and because of the degrees and long hours my title implied, I was immediately respected for it. Now, my answer tends to be centered around my goals and my interests and what makes me happy. It’s usually a bit awkward; people don’t know how to respond. We have been so indoctrinated with the myth that job + money = success that we don’t know how to understand any other kind of personal fulfilment.
A great reply to the party question of “so, what do you do?” could be, “I freelance a bit to pay the bills, and whenever I can I do X hobby and spend time with my loved ones, because it makes me happy.”
Kindness and contribution as a measure of success
There’s a lot to be said for scrutinising how your actions impact the broader community. Instead of focussing all our energies on amassing wealth, wouldn’t it be great to balance funding our own needs with helping others? I’m not saying give X% of your income to charity. I’m not even saying volunteer once a week. I just know I feel like a better human when I’m being a decent human.
Society’s current definition of success would label a cruel person who works hard at their career and earns a lot as successful. That image alone is enough to tell us that society’s definition of success is broken.
Here’s a better definition of success: let’s leave this world a better place than when we arrived.
[bctt tweet=”Let’s leave this world a better place than when we arrived.” username=”fromdesktodawn”]
What do you think success means? Do you consider yourself successful? Comment and share!