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What Does Success Really Look Like?

Updated on November 19, 2016

'You Must Unlearn What You Have Learned' - Yoda

I had the opportunity to participate in a professional development activity in which participants got to go on a poster walk and write their thoughts about what feelings each of the posters might have generated.

There was one in particular that got me thinking, in large part due to something a friend said during our session. It was about success; on the poster was drawn a circuitous path, with offshoots to fame, fortune and success, with the final offshoot going to happiness (inquire within).

"Where's health?" my friend asked. "Or love?"

It was a great question, and while I was able to continue the conversation briefly during the professional development session, I continued to think about what she'd said well into the night. At the time, I'd made brief mention about how we all want better and more for our kids than what we ourselves had during our childhoods, and acknowledged that we all have different perceptions of what success is. On the poster, though, there was no note made of love, health or anything else that people might look to as a hallmark of success.

We try so hard to reach these pinnacles of success that society has established for us, and we convey to our kids that same message, for the most part: that to be truly successful, you need to have a whole lot of money, have been recognized in your field, and therefore, happiness might follow. The problem is that we all have shifting definitions of success.

For the chronically ill, success might be viewed as a week - or even a few days - without feeling as though you'd been hit by a truck.

For those struggling to find a job, success might be the first time they've ever been hired for a job that ranges beyond week to week.

For those who might be struggling with things like depression, it might be something as simple as getting out of bed.

Sometimes, success criteria is incredibly difficult to determine from one person to the next. People might be quite happy working as artists, or even as sanitation engineers, because they know what ultimately matters the most to them, which naturally varies from person to person as well.

Lately, there are parents telling their kids that if they find a way to work at what they love, they will have found success. The statement is true, but the problem is we tie in the notion of success with work and earning a living, where that might only be the first step.

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We Don't Live In A Vaccuum - Why Should How We Define Success Be Equally One Dimensional?

Each person may choose to live out their lives with a partner (or not) and how that looks is up to the person in question. W don't have to expect that every person's relationship should look exactly the same, and therefore each person is enjoying their own level of personal success. We also have varying levels of health, so who are we to question the person who goes to work only three days awake because anything more than that will upset the delicate balance that is their health?

Success is a fluid notion, but there should be some considerations that go along with that, as my friend pointed out. Is the person capable of being engaged/does the person want to be in a relationship with others; is that person satisfied with their level of mental and physical health and if not, what are they going to do about it?

We can no longer continue to ascribe to the popular worldview that in order to be happy, you need to have an outstanding job that you excel at. Sure, it'll help to an extent, particularly since struggling to maintain the basics of human life can provide survival challenges, which in turn can impact a person's level of happiness. Think about love, relationships, health, and all the other stimuli that we enjoy currently in our daily lives. Don't all of these things have an equal impact on our sense of purpose and on our perception of success?

We can't allow our sense of success to live in a vacuum. If you feel successful because you've got a job you love, children who you love and love you right back, and a relationship with friends and family that enlightens you and keeps you safe, that sounds pretty successful to me.

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