The other day, I saw a quote that said, “The planet does not need more successful people. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of all kinds.”It made me think, if these people aren’t considered “successful,” then it’s high time we define what success means.” Let’s discuss!
It’s Time We Redefine What Success Means
As a society, we have a pretty warped idea of what success looks like. For example, we think of a doctor as successful if she has her own private practice or works in a big hospital and makes a ton of money. A writer only when he publishes a best-selling novel with a well-known publishing company. A teacher only when she lands a professor job with tenure at an Ivy League college. A business only when they franchise or “go public” with their stock options.
But what about the one who volunteers for Doctors without Borders, or one who chooses to work in a free clinic? Or the writer who overcomes his fear of rejection and publishes his own novel? How about the teacher who makes learning fun for her 2nd graders? Or the small bagel shop around the corner that makes THE best breakfast sandwiches in town?
Why aren’t they considered successful? The answer: because we use money and power (but mostly money) to determine what success means to us as a society. The more you have, the more successful you are in the eyes of the rest of the world.
To make matters worse, we’ve decided that if you’re not meeting our definition of success, you’re a failure. There’s no middle ground. No one looks at an average little shop on Main Street that brings in just enough money to stay afloat and give its owners a decent life and says, “Now, there’s a successful business.”
And if that isn’t bad enough, we’ve also decided that it’s not enough to succeed once. You have to KEEP doing that ONE thing that brought you success for the REST of your life. A local woman had the most amazing little cupcake shop that had people lining up around the blocks for years. But the day she decided to close it down and walk away from it, it becames “that failed shop on Main,” a cautionary tale to warn others not to bother opening a bakery.
In the eyes of society, if you’re not succeeding, you’re failing
We spend every waking moment trying to meet someone else’s definition of what it means to truly succeed in life because no one wants to be called a failure. It’s no wonder we’ve become such a miserable, grumpy, grouchy, anxious, depressed, and violent species.
I have a friend who makes very little money. She’s technically considered “poor,” since her annual income falls barely above the poverty line. She makes just enough money to pay her bills and has a smidge left over for fun things. In the eyes of society, she’s a failure, and for many, many years, she believed that about herself, too. She cried herself to sleep every night, calling herself a loser over and over.
Then one day when she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, her therapist asked her, “Why do you feel like a loser?” My friend said, “Because I’m a failure. Everyone I know has successful businesses. They own their own homes and travel the world. I only just make ends meet, rent a house, and barely even leave my house.”
Her therapist then asked her, “Would those things make you happy? Do you want to travel the world? Do you want a huge business? Do you want to own your own house?”
My friend replied, “Well, I do want my own house, but no, I don’t really want to spend my entire life doing nothing but working. I like my job and the fact that I have time left over to spend with my kids or read a good book. Travel is great in theory, but I prefer my own bed.”
“If you don’t want those things, then why do you let it upset you so much that you don’t have them?” her therapist asked. My friend replied, “Well, because everyone will think I’m a failure if I don’t have them!”
And that right there is the problem with our society’s definition of success. My friend is happy. She loves her work and loves her free time even more. Sure, there are things she still wants, but deep down, she’s truly happy and fulfilled. Yet she still feels like a loser because, in the eyes of the rest of the world, she’s a failure.
True Success Fulfills Your Mind, Body, and Soul
A few months ago, I ran into the cupcake shop lady from above. I told her how much I missed her bakery and how sorry I was that it closed down. She said, “Oh god, I hated that place!” I was really surprised and asked her why, especially since it was so popular and did so well.
Her response is what really made me start thinking about how we’re defining success all wrong. She said that she used to bake just for friends and family. Everyone loved her cupcakes so much that they convinced her to open a shop. She had the money at the time and figured, “why not?”
At first, she loved her little shop and the fact that SO many people seemed to enjoy her baking. But the more popular and successful it got, the more she grew to despise it. She hated waking up at 4 AM to bake every single morning, hated the grouchy customers who always found something to complain about, and hated that the shop ate up literally every waking moment of her life. Most of all, she hated that she no longer loved making cupcakes.
“So, I quit,” she said. “I closed up shop, took a 9-5 job that I love, and went back to baking just for friends and family.” She went on to say that she knows people call her bakery a failed business. She doesn’t care. She added, “I feel bad for people who think they need to work themselves to death and keep doing something they hate just so they can feel successful. I’m happy now. My life is full of joy. I AM fulfilled. Isn’t that success enough?”
Happiness and fulfillment ARE success enough
I spent a long time thinking about what the cupcake lady said. I also thought about my friend and her therapist’s words. Then I looked around at my own life. I have two amazing kids and a husband that I adore.
We may not be billionaires, but we travel frequently and spend a lot of quality time together making memories. We’re kind and compassionate, we treat others with respect, and we’re actively trying to leave this world a better place than we found it.
Someday, hopefully very far off into the future, when I’m getting ready to draw my last breath and looking back on everything I did, I’ll have no regrets. I am happy and fulfilled. To me, that’s more than enough success.
So, the next time you’re feeling down or berating yourself for not being successful enough, ask yourself, “What do I really want out of life? What will make me feel truly fulfilled mind, body, and soul?” Once you have the answer, go after it. Have the courage to reject society’s idea of success and chase after YOUR definition of it.
If, at the end of this life, you can look back and say “I was happy,” then you’ve succeeded.
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