Is it time for you to redefine success? Having a good way to identify what success means to you allows you to move into the right direction. The problem is that our culture doesn't have a good working definition of it.
Throughout our lifetime, success has often been defined through numbers of zeroes or luxury goods. Six-figure, seven-figure, eight-figure incomes; private jets, yachts, and mansions.
I don't know about you but I dislike these ways of defining success. They strike me was shallow and disconnected.
Apparently, many Americans (and presumably people in many other countries) share that sentiment.
In this survey, success was mostly defined as “attaining personal goals” (67 percent), “good relationships” (66 percent) and “loving what you do for a living” (60 percent). The results of this study led the university to advocate for a change in Merriam-Webster’s definition of success.
(As a side note, the Executive Chairman and former CEO of Strayer Education Inc., Robert Silberman, may not share the proposed new definition of success.)
Why are efforts to redefine success a good thing?
Current definitions of success are not only shallow, they are detached from the well-being of all. As someone originally from Germany, the country with the world’s oldest social health insurance system, this doesn't feel right to me.
The truth is that the earth cannot sustain a lot of people with, for instance, private jets (unless they are all electrified). At the moment, private jets have a horrendous carbon footprint.
With the need to keep climate change to a minimum or face the consequences (which will be most strongly experienced by poor countries, first), how can private jet usage be seen as a sign of success?
Can someone really claim to be successful if their actions contribute that strongly to leaving the world worse off for future generations?
By redefining success, we help dispell that notion.
What is a better way of measuring success?
Personally, I think it's better to define success as a state or a feeling. Here's my proposed definition:
Success is the good feeling that you are on the right path in your life and moving forward at what is the right pace for you at this time.
Why do I think this is a better definition? Well, because it goes to the heart of why we want to be successful. We want to be successful to feel good. If you're not feeling happy about your achievements, what's the point? Or, as Tony Robbins so accurately put it:
"Success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure."—Tony Robbins (@TonyRobbins)
I think one reason people often focus on numbers or things is because these are easily measured (like vanity metrics in marketing). You know if you own a yacht. It's a little harder to know if you feel like you're on the right path.
These things require introspection. Self-knowledge. Being honest with ourselves. In other words, the definition of success that I propose requires us to grow... and that's not always easy.
However, if you use the feeling of success as your yardstick, you're that much more likely to stay on track (as opposed to waking up one day and realizing that you hate your life).
Redefining what abundance means: five-star vs. five-heart hotels
Something that is closely related to success is abundance. Just as we need to redefine our definition of success to be happier in our lives, we also have to redefine our idea of abundance and luxury.
A few years ago, I had an experience that got me thinking about this deeply. While on vacation, I was sitting in the most amazing hammock I have ever seen. It felt heavenly.
This hammock was situated in a Brazilian B&B. This place wasn't a five-star hotel. It probably could never become one—it didn't even have a pool. However, the beach was a three-minute walk away. And did I mention the hammock that gently rocked me into a little midday slumber?
On my last day, the owner of this place invited me to join her for lunch in her kitchen. She remarked that I had eaten so little for breakfast she wanted to make sure I wasn’t hungry. We talked a bit about our lives and had a really nice connection.
While it wasn’t a five-star hotel, it certainly was a five-heart accommodation.
Compare this with my experience of more commonly accepted luxury, such as the five-star hotel I was checked into by a prestigious company I was interviewing with.
On my way to the hotel, I passed three women living on the street. I had a brief chat with them and gave them my food and, I believe, money. After this encounter, I couldn’t enjoy the luxury of the hotel.
Maybe there should be a way to categorize hotels according to soulfulness. Because, while it’s possible to buy luxury, soulful luxury is a whole other animal. For instance, I once had a tea in the “hotel of hotels” in Dubai, an five-star hotel with seven-star service. While the entire experience was amazing, there was one thing that the hotel did not have in abundance—soul. Because soul experiences can’t be bought.
The trend towards true success and abundance
What we are currently seeing in the world is a trend towards more authentic definitions of success and abundance.
True success comes from identifying what makes us happy... and then pursuing it with dogged persistence.
True abundance comes from realizing that we don't need to own everything to have what we want. Owning things we really care about or need is great. Everything else can become a burden, because we either have to take care of it ourselves or pay someone to take care of it.
The recent trends toward decluttering, tiny houses and minimalism is a testimony to that. Similarly, there are many exciting movements toward conscious business, a gift economy and shared resources.
If we have a definition of success and abundance that does not entail freedom and relationships, we will lose out on happiness.
We don’t need more stuff. We need more sustainable abundance.
We don’t need more luxury. We need more soulful luxury—a fair trade hammock, a stroll on the beach, our loved ones and wholesome food.
We need more win-win-win situations: Win for us, win for those around us and win for the planet.
That, my friend, is what I believe success and abundance really looks like.
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