When we are asked the question “Do you want to be successful?”, most of us would answer yes. But when then asked, “What does success look like to you?”, many of us would then draw blank faces .
The media thrusts upon us a Photoshopped version of success: wealthy lifestyle, sexy body, respectful career, frequent visits to Caribbean beaches, hot wife/husband, charismatic personality, and powerful connections with political figures. Examples of successful figures in the media include Elon Musk, Taylor Swift, Kim Kardashian, and Tony Robbins. With enough exposure to the media’s portrayal of these successful figures, many of us eventually come to believe in the misguided notion that all successful people must act like Elon Musk or Tony Robbins, and that if we don’t behave or possess the same traits that they have, then we must not be successful!
But the Taylor Swifts and Tony Robbins of this world aren’t the only people who are successful. There are successful people who don’t behave like them, who don’t live lavish lifestyles or have political influence, and who don’t fit the media’s view of success. We rarely hear about them because they are the everyday “normal” people whom the media doesn’t fawn about. They represent the silent majority of successful people. This means that the Taylor Swifts and Tony Robbins are simply a subset of all successful people, which leads to the corollary that most successful people don’t have the lifestyles or personalities that the media portrays them to have!
There’s a saying in politics that if you don’t define yourself, then your opponent would do it for you. Likewise, if we don’t create our own definitions of success, then society would project one onto us, even if it were one we don’t personally identify with. Blindly chasing after society’s definition of success leads to frustration because our achievements feel empty. The more we strive to achieve for them, the harder we work, and the faster we spin the hedonistic treadmill.
In chasing society’s projection of success, we base our progress and personal satisfaction on how loudly society applauds us. The louder the applause, the happier we feel; the less the applause, the more dejected we feel. Like the continual waxing and waning of the moon, we become tethered to other people’s approval and our happiness depends almost entirely on other people’s judgement of us.
In society’s version of success, one never truly becomes successful. There’s always someone richer, more influential, or more charismatic. There’s always someone who has more. The way to win the adoration of society is to spin faster on the hedonistic treadmill of life. Like Zeno’s tortoise, one would continuously approach the goal of success but never obtain it.
However, a personal definition of success enables us base our happiness not on the loose judgements of society, but on our own judgements. Our accomplishments feel meaningful because they are important to us and are not just checkboxes on a generic to-do list. We act with strong integrity and uncompromising conscience as we make decisions that resonate with our personal creed, and not the meandering ethics of society.
A personal definition of success removes the need of a hedonistic treadmill and enables us to focus on achieving what we want, and what we find important, not necessarily what society tells us is important. In drafting our own definition of success, we attach meaning to our goals and our progress feels genuine. We can step off the treadmill and choose to live a lifestyle that we are proud to live.