Let me begin by stating that there are many arguments against what I am about to say. That is a weird introduction huh? It’s like saying “I’m not racist…but…” and then following that up with a racist comment. Anyway, I’m doing it. Deal with it. What I’m about to write about is my belief of society’s definition of success after I had graduated University. After stating my belief, I will work backwards to explain why I held this belief at this time. Here it is:
Society’s definition of success: Rich.
Wow, that was a pretty simple definition huh? That ends this blog post.
Just kidding… Let’s look into this a little deeper. The dictionary definition of success is ‘the accomplishment of an aim or purpose’. Based on my understanding of society’s definition of success, the aim or purpose which one must accomplish to be considered successful is to become rich. Or in other words, in order to achieve success, as 50 Cent would say, get rich or die trying! This made sense to me. New Zealand is a capitalist country, albeit more lefty than a lot of other countries. Capitalism’s broad purpose is to allow individuals to control capital, and in the process, build wealth. It follows that the most successful people in a capitalist society must be those that build the most wealth. Right?
Before going any further I want you to do something for me. I want you to try to recall a time where a friend, colleague, or stranger has been talking to you about another person and they tell you, when describing the other person, that “he / she is very successful”. This is a very common phrase, so I would expect you should be able to recall at least one example conversation. Okay, have you got an example in your head? Good. Now I want you to think about what your friend, colleague, or stranger was trying to tell you about this person when they described them to you as successful. Take a moment. I want you to really think about this. Give yourself a couple minutes to think about it before you read on.
Okay… Now think of another example. And another. Maybe, one more if you can. Now think about all the examples you have come up with in unison – what do all of the people described as ‘successful’ to you in your examples have in common? If you are like me, then in all of the conversations the person described as ‘successful’ is wealthy. It stands to reason then that from society’s perspective wealth is a measure of success, and thus, the wealthier you are, the more successful you are. If you disagree with this definition of success, that is totally fine. I am not saying that the definition is correct, however, I hope that the exercise above is sufficient to demonstrate the basis for my understanding of society’s definition of success.
Wealth may be one valid measure of success, however it is just that – ONE measure of success. There are many other possible measures of success that seem too frequently to be overlooked by our current society. An easy example is a stay at home mother or father. Stay at home mothers and fathers most likely do not generate wealth, and as such no longer is this considered by society to be a successful path for one to take in life. YOU MUST BECOME A SUCCESSFUL BUSINESSMAN / BUSINESSWOMAN!! GET A CAREER. NOW!!! Society, to me, seems to insinuate that the challenge of raising children is easy relative to challenge of pursuing a career. Now is a good time to tell you a story… In the year 2012 I was working at the head office of a large New Zealand bank. At the bank I worked in a small team of 20 or so people. One of the people I worked with was an Asian man in his mid-40s. He used to talk a LOT, would laugh a lot, and would gamble at Skycity every morning before work. Needless to say, I liked this guy a lot… I’ll even admit to you that we went to the casino together during lunch breaks on more than one occasion… One day he came into work and was sniffing frequently and regularly blowing his nose. He was slightly sick. I asked why he didn’t just stay home and take the day off. His response:
“Well, I woke up and I told my wife that I didn’t feel too good. I told her I might not go to work. Then my wife told me that would be great. She said if I stayed home I could help look after the kids [he had five children]. I told her, “oooooh I think I’m feeling better!!!” and jumped out of bed.”
Maybe (or maybe not) you are wondering what my definition of success is. Well, for starters, that is one doozy of a question, but I’ll do my best to answer! One key part of success for me is that it is not tangible. It is not becoming rich, it is not obtaining an award, it is not completing a degree, it is not finding a job etc. If success were a material, it would definitely be a fluid. That is to say it changes shape easily and often.
This easiest way I can think of to demonstrate my definition of success is to tell another story of sorts. Here goes: Think of yourself as a body of water flowing through a stream. The stream has walls, falls, rapids etc that you, as the body of water flowing through the stream, meander through, drop over and navigate. Think of the waterfalls in the stream as analogous to success. Flowing over the edge of a waterfall is analogous to the achievement of success. Once the body of water (i.e. you) are released over the edge of the waterfall, the body of water descends into a glorious free fall – totally unbound by the walls of the stream for a moment. Success! However, it is only for a moment. The body of water then crashes down at the base of the waterfall with a powerful splash. After this, the water (i.e. you) reforms within the walls of the stream and flows once again, searching for the next waterfall. In other words, the body of water is unable to pause within the middle of it’s glorious unbounded free fall descent. It cannot rest upon the success it has achieved.
Hopefully the above is understandable and relatable. A natural question that follows is this: if the free fall joy of flowing over a waterfall (i.e. achieving success) is temporary in nature, then why should we strive for it at all? I believe the answer to this is simple. The unbounded free fall of the waterfall is such an amazing feeling that we would be stupid not to strive to flow over as many waterfalls as we can find! However, it is very important that while searching for our next waterfall, we also enjoy meandering and flowing gently down the stream.
For completeness, if I had to put my definition of success into a sentence, then it would be this: “success is understanding that life’s successes and failures are harmonious”.
Now it’s my turn to ask you: How do you define success?