I received an interesting email from one of my buddies just a couple of days ago, on success. Here’s how it goes:
Most of us learn that success equals some form of achievement in the world. For many it’s not the achievement but the recognition and the applause that they crave. For others it’s not the arrival but the journey that generates the satisfaction of success. They value the process more than the prize. For some the pursuit of success will be avoided at all costs, sometimes for fear of failure, and sometimes for the fear of …success! And, for a few, just living simply and sincerely each day will be deemed to be successful enough!
At some stage in all our lives there’s a good chance we will each stop and consider the question, “What does success mean to me?”, even if it’s only for a few fleeting minutes! However, if we don’t contemplate this question deeply then it’s likely we will blindly follow others ideas and measures of success, usually learned in childhood, craved in youth and pursued into our adult years. We may not notice the connection between our dissatisfactions, however superficial or deep, with the absence of a consciously defined and chosen idea of a what ‘successful life’ looks like and feels like. It is the clarity of this inner vision/wisdom that gives focus to our energies, adding significantly to the sense that we are creating a meaningful life.
So what’s the price of success? That’s the note that many of the modern day ‘success gurus’ begin and end on. It means how much are you prepared to sacrifice to achieve the success you want. How hard are you prepared to work? What are you willing to do to get there? What sacrifices are you prepared to make? Interesting questions, but they do make it all sound like hard work!
How do YOU define success? Is it simply the completion of the next task, another job well done, a promise kept, an exam passed, a medal won, a mountain climbed, a target hit, a happy family raised or the leaving of a legacy that ensures you will be remembered long after you have gone? Whatever you ‘believe’ success to be will have a profound influence on your life. If you were to follow the predominant mindset in the world today then success would likely be measured by acquisition. The more you have the more successful you are.
When we inherit and absorb the prevalent beliefs that the world is a place of scarcity, that the purpose of life is survival, that we must accumulate stuff to prosper, and that the more you get the happier you will feel, then success equals ‘more’. More can be almost any quantity – objects, money, properties, trophies, celebrity, fame, fans. And in terms of position, it simply means higher.
When we are taught to believe there is not enough to go around the media delights in keeping us abreast of upcoming shortages. And if there aren’t any obvious ones they will likely invent them for us! So we learn to speak the common language of ‘not enoughness’ or ‘scarcity’. We then struggle and strive for what we consider is our rightful share of the ‘great pie’, before someone else gets it, and ‘more’ is not only good, but applauded when attained.
So what does it mean to be successful? At what level, in what context and by whose standards?
If you were to give yourself some time to live in this question you would likely arrive at the fairly obvious insight that, at the deepest level, success in life is not a material thing, it is not something that can be possessed, or won, or even attracted! It is a state of being. Some call it contentment, or happiness, or even peace. These are, for some, the deepest and most meaningful ‘symptoms of success’, but only when they are internally stable and consistent and therefore not dependent on anything outside ourselves.
In the meantime success for most of us, tends to be context specific. As we consider ‘context’ we start to see why the kind of success that we have been encouraged to pursue has many levels and more than a few flaws.
SPORTING Success – in this context it’s obviously about competition and winning, being number one and being recognised and glorified by others as the one who took the prize. How often are we reminded that no one remembers the runner up? But few seem to ask why would I want to be remembered? Should the desire to be ‘not forgotten’ have a ‘danger sign’ hung around it that says ‘ego at work’? And notice how much suffering is required to reach the sporting peaks. Seldom do we see relaxed and contented sports people as they take their struggling and striving very seriously. They will say it’s worth the pain. Others would say life was not meant to be a painful, tense and injurious affair, inflicted upon our self by ourselves! Was sport not originally a game in which the ‘joy of play’ was given free reign? A time when faces smiled consistently and frustration, tension and anger were impossible.
BUSINESS Success – seems to range from building a large business to profitability to being recognised for excellence of service. Sometimes all three parameters are pursued, but unless they are prioritised there is the danger none will be achieved. And if profit is prioritised over service it’s fairly obvious that the energy behind the enterprise will become fear based and therefore quite a stressful endeavour. Which explains why most business people know stress intimately. It’s a serious business…business! And, when the ‘purpose of service’ is lost and the profit motive kicks in, that’s usually when need turns into greed and the ripple effect touches many far and wide. Hence the global financial turmoil that we see today.
SCIENTIFIC Success – new theories, new dimensions of old theories, inventions of new technologies, the creation of new procedures, making fresh discoveries, all carry the ‘success kitemark’ in the scientific arena. Yet it’s all very material and ‘out there’ which tends to deny the other dimension we call spirit and the ‘in here’. Scientific success certainly dominates our world today, but at what price we now ask, as we live increasingly isolated and technologically dependent lives, while sucking dry the natural wealth of the planet! Mmm…!
POLITICAL Success – tends to be measured by the acquisition of position and power, though much ‘lip service’ is given to the notion of public service. And while the intentions towards the upliftment of society are authentic and worthy we now know success in this arena is fragile and crumbles easily, can often be easily corrupted, and darker motives can often be found behind the desire to serve others. And as more people rebel against the dictatorial political forces that have traditionally controlled our destiny, as more people demand a greater say in their fate, we now see the moral and ethical chaos that is generated as we/they realise and exercise new freedoms.
That’s not to say that success in any of the above arenas is not worth pursuing. But there is value in considering how success is both viewed, defined and achieved in each context.
When we do take some time out to reflect we may realize that personal success comes in ways that we seldom recognize as signs of success! When we build and shape, design and create, these capacities and states, then all other levels of success become both easier to achieve, and yet, paradoxically, less relevant and/or much less meaningful.
Inner success looks and feels more like the capability:
* to act with total honesty and integrity thus generating a clear conscience without which the authentic happiness that we call contentment is impossible
* to remain peaceful and stable when all around you are in crisis or chaos
* to value what you are more than what you have
* to accept full responsibility for all thoughts, feelings, words and actions
* to be able to see past the weaknesses/mistakes of others and focus on their inherent goodness/strengths
* to be able to let go of the past
* to give without the desire for anything in return
Notice how intangible these measures are. No one else can measure them except our self. Unless we ‘can do’ all of these it is unlikely we will achieve the deepest measure of success which is to be content within our self and able ‘to give’ our best to others without condition. And as long as we desire to change the world around us it means we are still trying to ‘police the universe’. The enlightened soul however, has realized that is not ‘my job’. They know that the light and power that emanates from a stable state, a contented state, from a giving intention, is the greatest and most influential gift to others and to the world.
Success is Personal
As you reflect and contemplate on what success is going to look like and feel like for you, perhaps it’s useful to include three key considerations.
1 Any success that is dependent on public recognition and acclaim will inevitably lead to insecurity and eventual depression, as does all forms of dependency.
2 When success is defined by an end product, an outcome, or some final achievement, then life tends to be a continuous struggling and striving to ‘get there’. Our happiness is continuously delayed. In other words, not such a joy filled journey!
3 If success is defined by the acquisition or accumulation of anything then fear will always be lurking in the background. Fear of failure which is the same as the fear of loss. Stress will be our companion.
No matter which way that you look at it success is a very personal issue. It tends to be shrouded in many illusions and delusions, depending on our upbringing. It’s achievement is now championed by hundreds of success gurus and coaches, mentors and trainers, all waiting in the wings to advise and guide us. All promising a ‘magic formula’ which ranges from the secrets of attraction to the power of self-belief, from the work harder ethic to the development of your creative genius, from how to ‘unleash’ your potential to invoking the angels of success to take over your life!
But before we listen to anyone (including this article) it’s probably worthwhile finding a tree, or a quiet and sunny hillside, or a peaceful meadow, or next to meandering river, to sit and gently reflect on what only our own heart can tell us in response to the question, “What does success really mean to me”? It will of course generate many other questions. Like what is the purpose of my life? What do I value? But then ‘they’ do say that when it comes to this unique and special journey called life there is a time when the asking ‘right questions’ are much more important than having the right answers.
I pondered over what he had shared for a number of days, thinking slowly and carefully over each word and each statement, reading and re-reading in case I had missed out information. As I spent time thinking and re-reading, I started to form an understanding about what he had said in the email (I’m assuming it’s he who typed it, as there were no reference to anywhere else) and this is what I replied:
I love these articles that you send!
Hey so you know, I believe and think that success can be both innate/personal and external at the same time, and it starts from the innate side before it flows out. A more balanced way of success will be more like this: innate success > external success > innate success (it’s an upward spiral when done right).
Innate and external success need not be mutually exclusive, but yes, in a majority of society where society, familial and environment plays a large part in brainwashing our future generations (think where parents, teachers etc tell their children to be doctors, lawyers and engineers only) – people grow up with skewed perspectives and understandings of themselves and the world they live in.
These people are those who tends to be most broken, confused and depressed, because they do not live for themselves nor understand themselves, having not the awareness and consciousness of a freedom of choice to pursue what they are motivated by innately, but by the crushing demands and expectations of others.
For these people, it’s not right that we just tell them that “outer success” is not a viable option, as there are people who are extremely aware and conscious of their desire to be great doctors, lawyers, engineers, who truly enjoy what they do, and some make tons of money, some serve the community, and then some.
You see, the danger is not the “outer success”, it’s the lack of understanding that it’s truly a result of really liking what you do, and not vice versa. An example is a doctor making lots of money because s/he opts to be a very good doctor to serve more, and as a result, made lots of money AS OPPOSED to a doctor who simply serves more because they want more money.
That’s where we come in, to push for a growth of awareness in people, where they live consciously of the decisions that they make, and not live as dictated by societal standards but truly living the lives they had intellectually, spiritually and mentally made.
When success is innate and personal, I do believe and experienced that it tends to manifest outwards to the physical and the environment. A person that That being said, it’s about doing what matters truly to us, doing it well, doing it profitably and win-win-win for all.
Just my two cents worth.
You, my readers, what do you think? What crosses your mind as you see, read and understand what is being communicated through this email exchange? Does it inspire you? Does it make your eyes glaze over? Does it make you annoyed or angry, thinking “I’m not like that?”
Do share with me what you think, feel and plan, about your personal goals and successes.
Edit on 9/1/2013:
On Wed, Jan 9, 2013 at 9:26 AM, G wrote:
Thanks for your thoughtful reply. Didn’t expect anyone to write back, let alone a thoughtful one =) In anyway, I agree with what you’ve written, but I think that anyone who has an “answer” (like you did) or at least had contemplated the question “What is Success for Me?” is already “successful”. Whatever answer one comes up with, or even having no answer at all, is right for that person. It’s the questioning and self-curiosity that is essential.
To use a simple example, I can “successfully” skateboard with my left foot on the board and right leg peddling before hopping my right foot up to enjoy a smooth ride, but struggle with the feet in opposite positions. Instead of resigning myself to being a one sided skater, I got curious and began casually looking into/questioning why was it so. Just by having the question and the curiosity, I played around a little and discovered an inherent postural habit that was making it challenging for me to ride just as effectively on the other side. I became aware of this postural habit during my daily life and within a week or so, the skateboarding on the less effective side became more “successful”, eventually to being equal to the other side. Now, I can ride it both ways and my skateboarding feels more balanced and I’m having more fun!
So, in a nutshell, having the right questions and possessing a sense of self-curiosity will lead to pleasant discoveries…….just like Socrates said thousands of years ago, “An unexamined life is not worth living” =)
Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!
And my reply to him was:
Ah, that is something I can definitely agree with you – an unexamined life is truly a life not worth living…unless one is having a ball of a time without realizing that one is having a ball of a time!
G, please permit me to share this email conversation about “What is success to you” on my blog at NigelChua.com to my readers, I think and believe it will definitely spur some thoughts and ideas for people to elevate their consciousness.
Conclusion on success:
Everyone wishes to be successful on some scale, the bottomline that both G and I reached is, like how Socrates put it – an unexamined life is a life not worth living. I prefer the tone of examining one’s lives so that one can better appreciate one’s self and journey, as well as look at where one wishes to strive forward to. To me, it’s not just about examining one’s life that suddenly after examining one’s life, our life suddenly becomes worth living – I think with the self examination, one’s consciousness about oneself increases, bringing rise to a more conscious level of living, and that leads to a heightened sense of being alive and living.
To me, living consciously is living successfully.
Edit on 10/1/2013:
On Wed, Jan 11, 2013 at 9:43 AM, G wrote:
The thing is, us being civilized people living in a developing/developed society are subjected to and conditioned by our so called “modern” environment (formal education, popular/cultural/religious/
societal/government propagandas, commercial marketing/advertisements, etc) to think a certain way, a default perception that will lead us down a certain path. This path if left unchecked by our self inquiry/curiosity/questioning will inevitably brings about some sort of negative outcomes, i.e. discontentment, unhappiness, poor health and well-being, emotional stress, etc. SO, to sometime stop and ponder a little about things may open up an alternative way (via self-discovery) of perceiving ourselves and the world around us, freeing us from the miseries that “life as we know it” brings.
There are many questions that we could ask ourselves, for example “what is the purpose of money?”, “what is the purpose of going to school/college?”, “what is my life purpose?” “why do I like soft drinks or eat certain foods”?”, “why can’t I use my left/other hand to write/paint?” etc, etc, OR if one wants to plunge into the deep end, you could ask yourself the fundamental question of zen monks “who am I?” SO who are you, really?
And my reply to him, which is really a reply to myself, was:
That’s really a very good and valid point – I think there’s a few baselines that we would need to first establish. Firstly, not all people “wake up”, some do, others never do. How does one wake up? People do “wake up” to a heightened level of consciousness either as a result of a severe traumatic event (loss of loved one, close shave with death, etc) or purely by chance (something just clicked) or through conscious elevation of consciousness i.e. meditation, focus, etc.
Of course, those who never wakes up, can never tell the difference for they never had the opportunity of this heightened sense of living (I call it meta-cognition, which is being aware of one’s awareness of mind and being).
THEN one would ask oneself, would one stay awake, or should one go back to sleep, because at times, it’s just so difficult to be awake as it seems as so anti-culture and against everything that one has grown up with. That’s short for “everything is not what it seems to be.” And some breakdown and return to where they were, which is back to life as we know it, because it’s easier.
It’s true, everywhere we go our minds are constantly bombarded with information. This era is the era of information overload, where deep-pocketed conglomerates, bureaucratic agencies and the government at large, including the richest and influential powerful six groups that control the world via back end and unseen (can someone say “whoa” to this conspiracy theorist), to influence people to make decisions the way they’d like things to do, and many times these becomes invisible scripts in our lives that drive and bind us.
Yes, we want to have more people to wake up, but we must be ready to guide and show them, that there is a better way of life and of living. It’s like when Neo awakes from the Matrix, and he was guided by Trinity and Morpheus. Without this to guide the newly awakened, they may get overwhelmed and very frightened, as it can be both lonely and burdensome to be conscious awake in a sea of people that are still asleep.
To draw back to the original question, which was: “What is success to you?”
Perhaps, we can say that success is truly success to oneself, when we make it a conscious decision to be successful in it.
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