What’s your definition of success? Is it a fancy new car? A big house in Beverly Hills? Having a family? Finding love?
The purpose of this blog post is to challenge the conventional pursuits we often have in our lives. It will hopefully help you to think about what your own definition of success is and how you can get there.
The conventional definition of success
What do we consciously or unconsciously perceive to be success? Society pushes us all down a specific path, whether we want it or not. We’re born, thrown into schools, forced to memorize things someone else determined as important for us. From there we continue to do this until we buy into it, not knowing any alternative.
After that, perhaps you get pushed down a path of further education in post-secondary. Many people figure they need it to find a good, stable job with upward advancement. Next, we buy a car, get a house, fill it with things. You shop around for a spouse similar to you shopping around for a house or car. Maybe you find a flaw – dispose of it and get a new one. Keep saving because you need enough money to retire. Work some extra hours if you have to in order to prove yourself to the company. Get a management position to make more money. Inevitably there’s more responsibility and you spend less time with your family. Keep working. Keep saving. Oops, you splurged on some more things and used some of your savings. Keep going in the cycle. Follow the rat race.
Seems like a pretty typical life, doesn’t it? Alright, now what are we striving for in this life? What are our definitions of success?
1. Collecting things – if you can, nice things: First collect a car, then a house, then fill it up with stuff. If you have one, maybe you need a better one. Better and better. The better is seems, the more successful you must be. The pressure from society is like an ominous presence.
A spouse falls into this category for many people. You might think, “I haven’t collected a wife or husband yet. Something must be wrong with me.” If this is your thinking, then you’re trying to collect a life partner like an object. Society made you feel you ought to have one and now you’re feeling that pressure. Many people choose a partner not because they feel truly in love, but because they’ve given up on the idea of true love and figured they ought to be with somebody. This person is “good enough”. Then what about a family? I ought to have a family, right? My parents did. It’s kind of expected of most people, isn’t it?
Collection is the prime definition of success in our consumerist society. From your early education, your parents believe your goal to be this kind of typical collection. Collect, collect, collect.
2. Get a good, stable job that pays well: You need to collect things. But how? You need a job. It doesn’t matter if it’s a job you enjoy. Sure, you ideally want to enjoy your work, but as you choose your path for the future, many people get swayed into the more “stable” options they might not have enjoyed as much. Be an engineer, not an artist. “It’s more stable,” you hear. “It’s better for your future,” they say. If you have one of these jobs, you’re on your way to success, right?
3. Moving up in the company: Once you’re established in a company, you feel like you should move upward in that company. “I need a higher salary”, you think. “I should be manager.” This ties into our other definitions of success to collect things, and when we have them, getting more and nicer things. Already have a house? How about a cabin? How about a fancy car? You need to move up in the company for this. You need more money. You need more. But this often comes at the sacrifice of time and health. You have less time for other things in your life and you accrue more stress.
4. Stability of consumption: You need to ensure you have enough to keep consuming like this after you finish working. Save for your retirement. You ought to save over $1 million I keep seeing in the news. Well, that means more sacrifice from you. Maybe you were an artist and moved to a practical option. Maybe you were happy as a regular employee but took a chance at promotion for manager. We need to be practical. Do we not? Everyone wants to be a manager, right?
Food for thought
What definition of success do we find in the average life path? Consumerism. Plain and simple. Is this definition of success what we want it to be?
Some people may argue, “But I need to live. Of course I need a stable job, etc, etc.” This goes beyond needs. What do we really need?
You might end up making many sacrifices because you were told certain things were important. Perhaps you also now believe them to be important. Or maybe you’re like most people. Maybe you never really thought about it. You were put on a train that’s going a certain direction. Perhaps you never thought about what direction that train will actually lead you in. Everyone else on the train says it’s good, so you don’t really think too much about it.
But I’ll encourage you to think: Do you want a certain lifestyle? Do you feel stressed if you don’t have a car as good as your friends? Do you feel stressed that your house isn’t as big or nice? Are you stressed you don’t have enough things? Does it really matter? Are you feeling pressure because of other people?
Take some time to think about what you want in life. I’m not saying getting a stable job or having a family are bad, so long as that’s your definition of success, not someone else’s. Are you on the train because you want to be? Have you evaluated your own definitions of success and what you want out of life? Take the time. Think about it. When you’re working towards your own definitions of success, you’re more likely to find happiness, fulfillment, and satisfaction.