‘Allow yourself to be victorious every day’ – Chris Hadfield, astronaut
What image does ‘success’ conjure up for you? A Wall Street fantasy of a glittering career, complete with a glass-walled corner office in New York and a Ferrari in the garage? Maybe an extraordinary physical attainment like standing atop Everest or finishing a marathon? Is it seeing your happy, well-adjusted kids graduate college? Or is it something more fluid; more esoteric and personal?
We live in a very success-oriented society, with huge emphasis placed on academic achievement, material status symbols, and creating the appearance of a ‘perfect’ life. But how much fulfilment does that actually bring to a human being? It’s no accident that in today’s society we see sky-high levels of mental illness, dissatisfaction and disconnection. We’ve been hoodwinked into defining success on someone else’s terms, which may have nothing to do with what actually matters to us as individuals.
What’s more, money really doesn’t buy happiness beyond a certain point, and that point might be lower than you’d guess. In fact… let’s play a game. Let’s say that there’s a certain annual household income threshold, below which your happiness will increase somewhat with each extra thousand dollars, and above which your happiness will not increase at all as result of extra income. Where do you reckon that threshold is?
I’ll confess, I was going for a million.
Want to know how much it really is?
$70,000. About £40,000.
Surprised? I know I was.
In other words, once your material needs are met to a comfortable standard, no amount of money will make you happier. And therefore, no amount of stuff, beyond the obvious basics, will make you happier.
(I’m pretty sure most banks and advertising firms would rather we didn’t know that.)
So, what if we stopped defining success by society’s parameters , and made it up as we went along instead?
What if we chose to decide for ourselves what makes us successful?
It took me a long time to understand the idea of ‘values’. The question ‘what are your values?’ doesn’t really make sense. But ‘what DO you value?’… well, then it starts to means something tangible. Values are both qualities like honesty, kindness, and integrity; and the unique ways of spending time that are important to you. What actually makes you feel like a fulfilled, engaged human being? What makes you feel most like you? What makes you come alive? What enriches your life?
How might our perspective – and therefore our sense of life satisfaction – change, if we were to measure our success in relation to these things that we actually care about, rather than what we’re supposed to care about?
We’re hardwired to be competitive and to strive to do better, but we’ve been sold a crock about how to do it. We don’t have to measure success in dollars, or academic achievements, or marathons run. Those things might genuinely excite some people, but the challenge to do well at something can just as legitimately come from something that matters on a deep level to you, irrespective of how others view it. Something that you really value.
Success defined like this takes on a very different complexion. You get to channel your energies into what matters to you, instead of trying to create some generic appearance of success to impress other people. You get to set the terms of how you live your life, through authenticity instead of imitation.
And best of all, you get to be successful and victorious, every single day.