The True Metric Of Success
What truly matters to be successful, and yet we ignore it.
What does it take for someone to be a truly successful individual?
Is it fame?
Is it mass fortune?
Is it having a lot of subscribers and followers?
Is it having a large and successful business?
Travelling the world?
Bill Gates wrote an article reflecting on the work he did last year and one of the largest takeaways from his reflection is that age provides a great deal of perspective.
When he was in his early 20s he was focusing all of his energy into building Microsoft into the giant it is today. He poured all of his life into it to the point that he wrote this:
“Did I devote enough time to my family? Did I learn enough new things? Did I develop new friendships and deepen old ones? These would have been laughable to me when I was 25, but as I get older, they are much more meaningful.”
Here we have one of the wealthiest men in the world talking about some of the most simple things that even the poor have:
And yet time and again, we have moved further and further away from it.
Absolutely, thanks to social media we can connect with other individuals around the world. We can connect with people we have since lost contact with.
But that’s a double-edged sword in this situation.
Why did we lose connection with them in the first place?
Were we a bad person? Did we simply ignore them?
Deep down a lot of us will say that community matters, but how exactly are we making an effort to build it?
I know I’m not putting any effort at all. I’m a writer who chooses to live in my room. What little interaction I have is with my parents.
It feels like enough for me for now. But I can’t deny it that deep down, I’d like some better relationships and deeper connections with individuals.
Humans Need Others
Regardless of race, sex, country, culture, or economic background, humans need connections. In fact, our own livelihood depends on it.
In 2010, Julianne Holt-Lunstad published some research that showed those with weaker social ties had a 50% increase in dying early than those with stronger connections. She showed that having weaker connections was equivalent to one smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
But it’s not a matter of just making connections.
Loneliness comes in many different forms as Shannon Ashley remarked recently. People can still be surrounded by friends and family, and yet they still feel lonely. This comes to no surprise to John Cacioppo who died last year but spent over two decades of his life researching loneliness.
As a pioneer of social neuroscience, Cacioppo described loneliness as something often misunderstood — easily associated with depression, social isolation, introversion, and even just plain poor social skills.
As Matthew Brashears, who is conducting social network research at the University of South Carolina, once said:
“The problem isn’t ‘are you socially isolated,’ ie, you have no social contact. The question is, are you experiencing social poverty, inadequate social support?”
For many to that question, the answer is more yes than no. Especially when you look at the numbers. The BBC did a survey looking at 55,000 people about their own relationships. With regards to loneliness respondents between the ages of 16 and 24 were the loneliest with 40% responding they’re lonely often or very often. Looking to 75 or higher that number drops to 27%.
At the end of the day, people seem to be more focused on looking better, making more money, and being overly productive that we often neglect the connections that we have.
All Our Choices Have Consequences
Every decision that we make means we have to forgo something else. If we want to build relationships, we’ll have to cut out time at the gym or to grow our business
But not many people are that willing to do that.
These days everyone is looking to improve. They’ll sport their $100 Lululemon leggings and train for a marathon. Or maybe they’re walking casually with an informative podcast or audiobook playing buzzing out of the earbuds in their ear.
There is nothing wrong with looking to advance ourselves. Most people we’ll see in the morning probably will be able to run that next marathon no problem or start a successful business.
But it’s that kind of attitude where people can slip into where they think that life is nothing but a high-stakes game. And the only way to win gloriously is to be the best version of yourself.
You need to be physically fit, eat only organic, have 10 close and quality friends, have a successful business and living in a nice house.
It’s always go, go, go.
And yet, people can still feel lonely after all of that.
In 2018, the Kaiser Family Foundation performed a survey with Economist on three rich countries: Japan, America, and Britain. It found that 9%, 22% and 23% of adults respectively were always or often feeling lonely, left out or isolated.
Cacioppo once said that loneliness is not a matter of just building connections. For people who feel lonely, it’s more of a matter of reduction. Often times our brain turns in on itself and it causes us to retreat and self-preserve ourselves. This puts us on high alert of social threats which only deepens our loneliness.
Instead, Cacioppo has said that learning to connect is a matter of exercising our social muscle.
It’s things like relearning social cues, having good posture, making eye contact, understanding tone of voice. Furthermore, it’s important to give to others and others will give onto you in turn. All of this stuff can feel difficult and may require you to be a little more vulnerable than you’re used to.
It’s for this reason why it’s not always enough to go and see a therapist. For sure it’s helpful, but as Cacioppo stated once before:
“We need mutual aided protection. If you are only receiving aid and protection from others, that doesn’t satisfy this deeper sense of belonging.”
Instead, we need to be building our sense of community. Something that Facebook or Instagram can’t even come close to provide.
It’s not a matter of having a lot of friends, it’s being able to lean onto the relationships that we have established. It’s more than a friend coming by with a hangover meal if you’re drunk or to celebrate with you when something great happened to you.
It’s more of people coming together to show up by your bed and take care of you after you’ve had long sleepless nights. It’s people showing up and doing whatever they can to help you even if you never asked them or told them anything.
And these people can come from anywhere. A mentor, a teacher, family, previously established friendships and new ones too. It’s your neighbours and your neighbours’ neighbours. Even our kids if we have them.
Warren Buffett, a close friend of Gates once defined the measurement of success based on a single question. It’s a question that I certainly agree with too:
“Do the people you care about love you back?”