What do you mean, he was successful?
As the sun once again performed her magic, throwing different shades of dusty pink on the sea and oranges into a fading sky, we ended the day with some friends we hadn’t seen in a while. They live in Australia is probably why. And as we ticked off the usual stuff and caught up on which child is doing which grade and how their teeth or teenage years were faring – we have eight children between our two families, it can take some time- the talk turned to more meaningful stuff.
Or … actually, did it? (Let’s leave that one for now…)
Talk about things that happen or how they don’t, what they felt about their future plans, and how they saw the years ahead. I don’t know how it came around to this but success became a focal point. I’m slightly fascinated with this because it seems to me, that while we all strive for success (we surely all do in varying ways) it’s one of those concepts which we seldom manage to define in universal terms. And yet, if this is the thing that we all strive for, how do we know when we have got it if we don’t know what it is? And how do we go about striving for something if we don’t know what that something is?
Here’s some stuff: if success is a subjective concept (clearly: my sense of self is different from yours) then my perceptive of success must only matter to me. Which must mean that if I feel I am successful, then that I surely must be.
However, I am not only me. Neither are you only you. (I feel a sense of Dr Suess emerge) For if it were only you and me then we wouldn’t care to be, for we already are, not so?
So it must be the others that count- but that cannot be? For if you believe in your success and I believe in mine, why is it that whenever we meet, we talk about them?
This is what we say: ” I saw ‘so and so’ the other day …flip, he’s done well…just sold up, bought a boat and is sailing around in the Bahamas.
Success? (Category : material)
(Here’s the back story: he’s on his third wife and hasn’t chatted to his only son in three years)
Here’s another: “Wow, I hear Matt just finished up at Harvard and Jane married that guy that heads up xxxBank…”
Success? (Category: status )
(Back story: two older children are still living at home, one just out of rehab, and the other taking another ‘gap ‘year. He’s 30.
Success? (Category: parenting, rating two out of four? Is it about numbers?)
Here’s another: “The church (at the funeral ) was so full, you had to stand outside the door.”
Success? (Category: popularity; a great legacy; well- connected, a person of ‘standing’ in the society, or maybe a life cut short- that’s the most tragic.)
We talked personally of our own upbringing, all pretty similar in many ways, with one so-called ‘successful’ breadwinner parent and the other, the more hands-on loving family one. Which one was it? The one who ‘achieved’ against greater odds or the mother who tried to balance it all?
So here’s some more: when does it matter then, when does it count? Is it a legacy we leave, or can it be now? Is it within only one frame of reference (the business world) or is the sum of all parts?
One of us asked the teens what they thought as we walked away. They said ‘being happy with your decisions, having no regrets’. Lovely, indeed, but a limited frame of reference, with not even two decades of life and reward.
Is a successful author one who writes bestsellers and builds a bank balance or wins awards but lives in abject poverty? Does it really matter if you have more than one marriage or does ‘success’ automatically exclude this whole bunch, statistically one in every three? Must you be a Barack Obama, Mother Theresa or the one who anonymously strives to save the planet, one little step at a time?
One of the articles I came across in my research for my new book (hopefully out in 2017!! #happiness! ) was from TIME magazine which reported on an event held at Park Hyatt Hotel New York City in September last year, entitled, The one thing I’m ambitious about is not failing.
It starts off like this: ‘Even women who believe that women should be successful don’t always agree on the nuances of the word ‘ambition’. ‘
Strange way to start, don’t you think? Doesn’t everyone believe that women should be successful? TIME and Real Simple had conducted a poll exploring the territory of how men and women define success and ambition, whether they viewed them differently and how priorities change over the course of a lifetime. While there were similar levels of reported ambition (51% of men and 38% of women defined themselves as extremely ambitious , the whys and wherefores were far more complicated. This whole topic is an interesting read I find. The bottom line it seems though is that women define success in terms of both professional and personal accomplishment a more contextual approach, in which they are less direct about their ambition and more concerned about finding the balance.
I’ve tried to understand all this stuff for some time now, I’ve written about some of it in my next book.
Still much work to be done. I keep saying the same thing…
And then I get a random and innocuous but thought-provoking little video clip, with accompanying music that stirs the soul from a beautiful friend on my phone entitled ‘ 8 things happy people do differently. Yes, all the stuff..savouring life’s joys, expressing gratitude…, but here are two worth thinking about ..
Avoiding social comparison since most of our insecurities come from comparing our behind the scenes with other people’s highlight reel.
And Nurturing your relationships: the happiest people have deep meaningful relationships
As a brand new beautiful day of infinite possibility dawns on this second last day of 2016, I hear the words of my old headmistress ringing in my ears (where the hell did that come from?) ‘think (long pause) on these things’.
But I have one more nagging thought, the real question, yes, but does success lead to happiness? Most of us strive for success, hoping that success will produce as a byproduct, happiness.
And it seems, at least according to some psychology reviews that in fact, it’s just the opposite. Happiness leads to success.
So may 2017, bring you whatever successes you strive for. And let some of that success just be happiness.