“If I try to fail and succeed, which have I done?” – Anonymous
I use the above quote with my college students. I try to challenge them to look at life from a different perspective. In challenging our perspectives I am not merely playing semantics — I firmly believe that words actually do hold meaning. Words have the power to affect our emotions. By challenging ourselves to look at our own definitions from a new perspective, we have the ability to change how we feel.
How I define success influences how I feel about myself. Many of us have culturally learned that success is defined by tangible goods and wealth. We hear expressions such as “If I have more things than someone else, I am successful” or “if I have a title or initials after my name, I am successful.” Does someone else’s level of success negate my perceived level of success? In other words, is one’s success defined in relation to another’s accomplishments?
A person who works hard and deservedly obtains the position of CEO is perceived as reaching success. Another person works hard. He is known to be the best plumber in tow. Although an employee, not the owner, would we agree that that person also has attained success? What about the trash collector who strives to be the best collector there is? Have they attained success? If we will agree that the people in these examples have attained success, would we also agree that each of them is equally as successful?
So why is it that many of us, although accomplished in what we do, continue to feel less successful than the person holding a higher position or making more money? I believe that one answer is due to our drive to challenge ourselves and to strive for excellence. These motives and qualities are positive, yet at the same time, they also perpetuate a self-told narrative that others are better than I. Does this mean we shouldn’t strive for betterment? Of course we should strive to better ourselves, but not at the cost of sacrificing our core being or inner peace.
Is there a definitive definition of success? I believe that the definition is subjective. How I define success for my own life is based on my perspective about my life. Therefore, I suggest that each of us change our perspective from one based on societal objectivity to a perspective wherein our success includes inner peace, happiness and self-worth.
Making this perspective shift requires us to examine our motives for wanting to better ourselves and attain success. If my motivation toward betterment and success is based solely on the belief of “beating everyone else,” then I may be willing to compromise my core being and values. Otherwise I may view myself as a failure.
In this scenario, one’s success comes at a price. The idea of seeking betterment is not the issue. Your guiding motivation causes you to gain everything yet continue to feel empty and restless.
How can you change your motivation and perspective about success so that you may attain the best you can be and feel inner peace?
Take time each day, just 10 or 20 minutes, and meditate. Focus on your breathing, not trying to control your breaths, just noticing them. Be aware of the air entering and the air leaving. Be aware of what you are feeling. Don’t judge the feeling, just notice it. Practice this daily and over time you will notice that not only is the act of meditating becoming easier, but you yourself are feeling more at peace.
Take time to reflect on what success means to you. Don’t judge your definition, simply define it. Does your definition match your core self and values? Sacrificing who you are for temporal gain will not, in the long term, bring you to a state of inner peace.
Take time to meet with family or friends whom you trust to discuss your thoughts and feelings from numbers 1 and 2 above. The next time you meditate, reflect on the feedback and your feelings concerning what you heard.
I often say “there are no problems, only solutions.” Its meaning motivates me to reframe my thinking and change my perspective from “problem-oriented” to “solution-oriented.” Creating a deep belief that solutions are possible, we will reach for success while maintaining a sense of inner peace.