I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately.
The stories we tell ourselves about our own lives….
What we say, how we ‘report’ our lives, when we speak to people we haven’t seen for a while and they ask us what we’re up to these days…
Does it feel like we have to ‘put on a show’ and that we’re in a competition that we’re losing more often than not..?
For example, what do we say when someone asks “What did you get up to this weekend?” Have you ever been tempted to ‘guild the lily’ a little to appear more active and interesting than you think the truth might sound? I know I have…
And what does success in one area of our life cost us in another?
Hence some of my recent Instagram posts:
Going back to basics, Collins dictionary defines success as:
“The achievement of
…something that you have been trying to do,
…a high position in a particular field, for example in business or politics.”
“…the fact that it works in a satisfactory way or has the result that is intended.”
Of a person:
“…achieves a high position, makes a lot of money, or is admired a great deal.”
Thinking about it now, how does this fit with your own idea of what it means for you to be successful? To have a successful life?
Is it always, necessarily, about having ‘high position’ or lots of money? Surely we can’t all have these – if so, then there would be no-one else with whom to compare?
And is other people’s admiration the ‘be all and end all’? Isn’t our own opinion of ourselves important, too?
I’m thinking particularly, at the moment, about how we balance life and career goals and objectives, and more general self-improvement, with celebrating our innate gifts and doing what comes more naturally to us.
Shaping or accelerating growth in certain directions can be helpful – but sometimes it can also look or feel false? Personally, this makes me think of forced rhubarb, Bonsai trees, ‘manicured’ lawns and topiary BTW – not all of which I like – but also of tooth braces, plaster casts and business targets – which all have their place in life, too.
And I’m wondering how this kind of structure might fit with – or result in some creative tension alongside, perhaps – a more organic approach, allowing space for something more spontaneous and natural to creep in, occasionally, too.
And it’s not just about the bigger things, the ‘lofty’ goals – the smaller victories and differences we can make in the world day-to-day matter, too – the ripple effect we can create:
And also thinking about what we leave behind once we’re gone, our legacy, and ‘paying it forward’.
How do we judge our own and others’ successes? Is it on the basis of outward appearance and status symbols – job titles, houses, cars, the successes of our children – ‘status anxiety’ as coined by Alain de Botton in his book of the same name?
The filtered images put up on social media, the values we’ve inherited, taken on from our parents and teachers, ‘swallowed whole’ without question or digestion…
Or have some of us crafted our own, personal definition of success as in the ‘Second Adulthood’ James Hollis describes in his book ‘The Middle Passage’?
Is it about what we have and what we do, – or about who we are? And if you take away what we have and what we do, who are we?
How important is it to us that we appear confident and firm at all times, ‘sticking to our guns’ and doing what we said we would do (no matter what)?
Or perhaps we are able to be flexible sometimes, have the confidence to change our mind in the face of new information – and to admit that, sometimes we’ve been wrong or mistaken in the past? Or a mixture of all these, each right in the right circumstances?
Actually, I don’t think there’s a right answer here, I think it’s all situational and subjective.
But I do believe it’s important for each of us to develop and cultivate the ability to think for ourselves, to question the status quo every now and then, to live as mindfully as we can, continually learning about ourselves, other people, and the world we inhabit together.
And also to be honest with ourselves, accept our vulnerabilities, even show them to others on occasion – to share our humanity, not trying to put on the perfect front all the time.
Let’s be honest, who among us really wants to be friends with a perfect person – wouldn’t that just be boring and uncomfortable?
Does success bring happiness, or happiness breed success?
I came across a great concept for this in a talk I attended quite a few years ago given by Neale Donald Walsch (author of Conversations with God) where he explained that most of us work according to the process of:
“when I have ‘x’,
I will do certain things,
and therefore be successful/happy etc”
ie, ‘have – do –be’
He suggested reversing this to: ‘be – do – have’
ie, be the person we want to be right now,
and behave as that person would,
which may then bring onto our lives what we would actually want for ourselves…
It’s an interesting thought isn’t it..?