Are you a success? It’s a nebulous question really. A success at what, for Frank’s sake? Last week I made brief mention of the notion of having ‘successful’ children. There was an implication that there is such a thing as an objective measure of success. But your definition of success may be completely different to mine. So I ask you, what does success mean to you and do you think you’ve achieved it?
Whether or not you feel successful will depend on two main factors: external expectations and definitions, and internal ones.
External expectations are those imposed by society at large and also by our own micro-societies. That is, our families and friends. If you’re the type of person who cares a lot about what other people think of you, then these forces will loom largely in your mind’s version of success. So when someone remarks favourably on the new thin body that you’ve been busting a gut to achieve, you will no doubt feel at least a nano-bits worth of success. You achieved a goal, and an external measure (someone else’s opinion) has confirmed that the goal was worth achieving because now you, apparently, ‘look awesome’.
Other external measures of success are the obvious, how big’s your salary, your house, your boyfriend’s shoe size? How high up the ladder have you climbed? Have you snaffled a husband, some kids, a nice car, an overseas holiday once every two years and a trip to Noosa every other? Do you have a glamorous career or a worthy one?
This last question is a perfect one to pause on regarding the notion of success. Which person has the most successful career: the glamorous one who travels the world or the worthy one who makes that world a better place? The answer is – it depends. It depends on the value system of the person asking the question.
Assuming the person asking the question is not you, then their opinion of how successful you are will depend on their own unique value system. But really, what’s that got to do with you? What the bejesus has that got to do with whether or not you can answer the question, Am I successful?
Now, if we consider your own internal barometer, we can probably have a crack at answering. If you value novelty and creativity and recognition, then a glamorous career would undoubtedly rank highly for you. And if you value service to others, or relieving suffering or fighting for human rights, then a ‘worthy’ role ranks highly for you.
And here’s where the internal/external dichotomy comes into play. External measures of success are only useful when we live up to them. If we care too much about them, then we can only feel good when we measure up. Heaven help us when we inevitably don’t.
Surely our own opinions of our achievements are the best gauge. If a relationship ends, do we necessarily have to think of it in terms of it being a ‘failed’ relationship. Can we not legitimately feel that it was an extremely successful relationship until it just wasn’t any more?
If your aim for your children is that they arrive at adulthood in one piece, with no addictions and their mental health in tact, and you and they manage to achieve that, then you’re all successful. If, on the other hand, your expectations involve six figure salaries, Nobel Peace Prizes and heterosexual couplings, you may end up having to classify yourself in the failure zone.
It’s wise to be careful whose definition’s we adopt when defining our level of success. Is it ours or someone else’s and above all else, is it realistic and relevant to our own individual value systems?
So, if you want to find out if you’re a success, just ask someone who knows. That would be you.