Is our measure of success backwards?

When thinking about life on a broader scale, we know that no amount of fame, fortune, or material possessions will give us lasting joy. Furthermore, we know we will not take any of our accumulated wealth with us when we cease to exist. However, despite this knowledge, when we talk about success and successful individuals, our default is to talk about success in terms of fame, fortune, or career. We’ll glorify actors, musicians, entrepreneurs, and the wealthy. Even when having a conversation among family or friends, we default to praising those in our circle with well-paying jobs, big homes, a post-graduate degree, or a Director+ level job title. We know of the horrors and challenges of the rat race, yet we continue to gush over it and fantasize about it.

Backward success begins in childhood and bleeds into adulthood

“The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat”

~Lily Tomlin

A concern with this way of thinking is that it develops in childhood when children are pressured to be achievement-oriented. Kids are encouraged to be maximally involved in school – get good grades, be involved in sports, band, and other extracurricular activities. When a child achieves all they can achieve in school, the next achievement is getting into a good college, followed by a good graduate school, followed by a good-paying job, followed by an even better paying job, and so on. By the time we reach adolescence or adulthood, most of us have finally learned that these achievements and goals will not give us lasting joy. However, because we’ve been trained to think a certain way for so long, we cannot turn off this way of thinking. We do not know how to, and guidance is minimal. At some point, we go so deep into this lifestyle that we become stuck and just give-in. We cling to our wealth and our children’s achievements to preserve our joy, as minimal as it may be.

Success the right way

“You aren’t wealthy until you have something money can’t buy”

~ Garth Brooks

It is imperative that we begin to shift the focus of success to the right things in life, the things that matter. Have a well-paying career is a form of success but is it the right kind of success? What about the person who is simply a good parent, or the individual who can live life mindfully because they have control over their emotions, or the person who has achieved a high level of spiritual awareness?

Many people have attempted to move the needle on work by encouraging others to find a purposeful and meaningful career so that work no longer feels like work. This is sound advice for some, but it still promotes the rat race, just in a way that is more tolerable. Another option exists – live your life so that work is not at the center of it. The purpose of work is to enable you to create a life where you can focus on things that matter. However, many of us are disabled by work and neglect the things that matter to be successful. Unfortunately, along the way, we often find that while we get closer to success in our career, we become more and more separated from the success that matters.

Let’s shift the focus. Let’s recognize those who have achieved true success. Move away from the rat race.

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