You make enough money, hold some clout within the community, and are well known in your industry—surely, you can claim you are a success now, right?
Maybe you earn a six-figure salary or have an impressive stock portfolio.
Your car is the envy of everyone that you drive past.
That big giant house on the hill, yup, it’s yours!
This must surely mean you are successful!
But does it really?
There are so many ways that people define their success that have nothing to do with wealth and fame.
Why Wealth & Fame Don’t Always Mean Success
More than ever, as David Howitt of Meriwether Group points out, “The consumer is voting with their dollars and… aligning with businesses that are authentic, that are born from a founder’s need to birth the business into the world.”
Howitt experienced success tapping into the organic and fair trade movement with his company Oregon Chai, founded in 1996, which received a buyout offer from a large competitor in 2001.
Oregon Chai declined the offer, so the larger company reverse-engineered an imitation version of the product; however, their customer base consistently chose their more authentic version over the mass-produced competitor’s product because they believed in sustainable values and higher quality.
Although Howitt’s account of this experience doesn’t mention an over-the-counter price difference between their product and their competitor’s imitation, it’s implied that the larger company was able to charge less for their version of the product because they spent less money on the ingredients and because they didn’t source their ingredients in a sustainable, ethical manner—which generally costs more due to fairly compensating the farmers or producers (hence ‘fair trade’).
Fair trade is becoming a desirable and marketable feature that is valued by consumers who want to be conscious of their carbon footprint and minimize their negative impact on countries and economies that are the source of many internationally-sourced ingredients and products.
In a recent Forbes interview with Internet media mogul Arianna Huffington, she shares the following career advice tips:
- Don’t be afraid to fail.
- Don’t just go out there and climb the ladder of success. Instead, redefine success. Because the world desperately needs it.
- Remember that while there will be plenty of signposts along your path directing you to make money and climb up the ladder, there will be almost no signposts reminding you to stay connected to the essence of who you are, to take care of yourself along the way, to reach out to others, to pause to wonder, and to connect to that place from which everything is possible. As Archimedes said, “Give me a place to stand, and I will move the world.
Huffington’s advice calls for a restructuring and redefinition of what success looks like.
It’s refreshing to see such a high-profile celebrity advocate for such an unconventional understanding of success.
Not only does Huffington call for a reassessment of how we define success, but she also reminds us that the world we live in doesn’t particularly value a slower, more qualitative approach to life beyond the all-too-common metrics of money and power.
Rather, we must make a concerted effort to seek out counsel from the small, still voice inside us that reflects the will of our actual selves.
Listening to our own inner voices, rather than the voice of society that implores us to follow the prescribed, typical series of life-events, is difficult.
Society would prefer that we go to college, get a job, gain job experience, get more education, dress professionally, become a manager, buy a house and a car, start a family, etc.
However, a good number of people—often made up of self-declared artists, writers, musicians, and various other types of creative entrepreneurs—go about their goals in a more circuitous, unusual way.
Oftentimes, it’s necessary to try one’s hand at a career or job field before realizing whether it’s a good fit or not—and the result can be a second or even third career.
One person’s dream job may be the stuff of nightmares to someone else, regardless of what they studied in college or graduate school.
A given career may look attractive on paper, in terms of compensation and status symbolism, but there are plenty of stories of Wall Street bankers deciding to leave their high-profile careers in the big city to start a farm in the rural countryside or in a smaller town, upstate.
Perhaps Paramahansa Yogananda was right when he said that “The meaning of success…can only be measured by the extent to which your inner peace and mental control enable you to be happy under all circumstances.
That,” he argues, “is real success.”
This difference between external status symbols of success and internal contentment seems key to understanding where the key to real success lies.
Do you value the results of all your hard work in favor of the work itself, or are you motivated by the process of creating the thing that brings you success?
Are you as present throughout the journey as you are when reach your destination?
As Richard Branson, owner of the UK-based Virgin Empire, asks, “What gets you fired up?
What are you passionate about?
The more you’re actively engaged in the work you love, the more successful you’ll feel and most likely from the feeling, become.
Love what you do for maximum success.”
Note the emphasis on what we do, rather than an end goal.
Of course, for many of us, this ideal is easier said than done.
It definitely helps to have healthy self-esteem; in the process of striving toward your goals, don’t overlook the importance of mental and emotional health.
In a recent blog post on the difference between self-confidence and self-esteem, Neel Burton notes that “People with a healthy self-esteem do not need to prop themselves up with externals such as income, status, or notoriety, or lean on crutches such as alcohol, drugs, or sex.”
Burton also notes that, contrary to how things may appear on the surface, it’s possible to have a great deal of self-confidence while simultaneously having very little self-esteem.
Another common thread running through many definitions of true success is the idea of contributing something to others and the world at large.
Even Leonardo DiCaprio, someone who has reached uncommon levels of recognition and success, regards wealth and fame as secondary to more significant achievements:
“I’ve been very lucky to have achieved a lot of the things that I dreamt of achieving as a young man,” he says.
But, at the end of the day – and I truly believe this – it is not about achieving great wealth or success.
Because they don’t bring happiness ultimately.
They really don’t.
What matters is whether or not you’ve fulfilled the idea of having led an interesting life, whether you’ve contributed in some way to the world around you.
In DiCaprio’s case, the particular contribution is a dedication to the goal of reversing climate change and educating the public and the international leadership community about the need to take dramatic actions and legislating guidelines and requirements into place that will allow sea levels to get back to normal and for temperatures to stop rising—not a small goal, by any measure.
But again, the goal is to give back to the world and the people in it.
We should all be so bold.
May we strive, then, to move toward goals that help to better our communities and the world around us.
To enrich the world with our voice, our art—whatever our contribution consists of—is a goal worthy of achieving, in the long run.
That kind of goal is surely worth more than a materialistic goal of money in the bank, especially if it means the difference between hurting and helping ourselves and others.
Share your experiences with your idea of success in the comments, below!