The secret to success in life

What does it mean to be a successful person?

I read an article the other day that discussed how much can be gained from staying off Facebook for a week.

Negative reactions and even depression have been linked to looking at other people’s happy status updates and photos. Ideally, we’d all be pleased for each other.

I’m sure we are, but there’s still a dark little monster that says oh, they just got a promotion; why can’t ever get ahead? Oh, they’re in a relationship and I’m eating icecream for dinner. Oh, they’re on a holiday and I’m staring at someone’s armpit on the tram. Look how gorgeous she is in that dress, I’d have to carve off a leg to fit into that.

It sounds brutal, but who isn’t? In our secret dialogue, that nasty voice pipes up before we can shush it.

For all the power of social media to connect, explore and entertain, we end up feeling miserable and the problem is other people’s success.

Now hang on a minute.

Success is wonderful, isn’t it? It’s a natural human desire that motivates us toward better things. It’s the reason why humanity has walked on the moon and watches entire TV series at once on Netflix. We want to achieve greatness and so we should.

In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, esteem is right up there near the pinnacle and that includes esteem from others. We’re supposed to pretend not to care what others think but it doesn’t really work that way. Feeling successful is something that we need, and also something that gets out of control.

All our motivating forces are blind of themselves. They provide us with drive but we steer the wheel. Success can take you in any direction, toward achievement, fulfilment, burnout or check-out.

When we achieve something, it’s objective. You set out to do a thing and you did it! Be proud of yourself!

Success, on the other hand, is achievement observed and the observation makes it relative. How well are you doing the thing compared to others?

Social media puts everything up for potential, addictive approval, a new piece of furniture, a big life event, a random shower thought and even breakfast leftovers #demolished #hungry #earnedit

We naturally crave the esteem of others but these were of family and friends, immediate colleagues and neighbours. The internet invites us to compare ourselves with everyone, most of whom are nowhere near us and nothing like us. We even compare our real selves against fantasies created by Photoshop.

Instead of spending time and effort to play the game better, let’s step outside it. We know the version we project is only a fraction of our reality, so let’s not be fooled by other people’s projections, assuming it’s the whole picture of theirs.

When you see other people’s statuses, be happy for the highlight of their day. Their lives are also busy, filled with disappointments and hours of straight- up meh and reminders of what they’ve yet to achieve.

The fact that it affects so many in exactly the same way is telling. It means people are also looking at YOUR profile and feeling sorry for themselves.

Step outside the game and seek achievement on your own terms, without comparative success. That’s the real secret.

“If it is better to be happy as a result of one’s own exertions than by the gift of fortune, it is reasonable to suppose that this is how happiness is won.”
Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics

Originally published at on June 5, 2016.

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