Am I a success?

Your definition of success defines how you live your life. Whose definition are you following?

In South Korea it is not untypical for students to study for 16 hours a day. The pressure to excel academically is huge. Families move homes to be near good schools, parents work away or crazy hours to pay for their kids’ education and temples are filled with mum’s praying for good grades. Success in life is determined by academic achievement and families adjust their whole lives to get it.

As a result South Korea heads global academic league tables. Suicide is also the no.1 cause of death for South Korean teenagers. This may seem an extreme example but it’s not so different from anywhere else.

The cost of striving for society’s definition of success

In my late 20s I was a “success” — a good degree from a respected university, a career with status, earning lots of money, in a steady relationship, thinking of getting a mortage then marriage and kids. My life was on track. I loved the weekends, drinking and partying, and was pretty hardworking. The cost? My happiness. I became depressed and withdrawn. I had no idea how to be happy.

Sure, I’d like a holiday home in a beautiful part of the world, to own my home, to dine out at more expensive restaurants..…but it’s important to get clear about what comes first. Does success create happiness or happiness create success?

Most people follow society’s definition of success and believe that will make them happy. However, comparing ourselves to others, we are just not content with our lot, whether it be...not enough money...not enough time...not enough respect…not enough growth….challenging relationships...loneliness...childlessness...not enough qualifications….not slim enough.…not young enough….not attractive enough. And worse still, we do not place a priority on passions, dreams and possibility.

When we judge ourselves by society’s criteria of success we become followers rather than leaders of our lives. We lack belief in our own innate ability to create a life that we enjoy, and that supports us financially.

“The only courage you ever need is the courage to live the life you want” Oprah Winfrey

Successful people do not follow anyone else’s definition of success

The paradox is that every successful person you might look up to — Richard Branson, Barrack Obama, Andy Murray, Eckhart Tolle, JK Rowling — regardless of the sphere in which they are successful, have defined success according to their own terms. They focused on what excites them, tried and failed many times, faced great criticism, rejection, even poverty but above all were courageous enough to keep going.

“The superheroes you have in your mind (idols, icons, titans, billionaires, etc.) are nearly all walking flaws who’ve maximized 1 or 2 strengths. Humans are imperfect creatures. You don’t “succeed” because you have no weaknesses; you succeed because you find your unique strengths and focus on developing habits around them. Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about. The heroes in this book are no different. Everyone struggles. Take solace in that.”
Tim Ferriss, from his book Tools of Titans

Success doesn’t mean you have to be a superhero or billionaire. Success doesn’t mean you won’t struggle or be scared. It doesn’t mean you are flawless. It means you have to dig deep and find out what it is that really excites you and stay true to that.

I am now in my 40s, a single parent, no property, no car, not much money. I have struggled with not being a “success” but my priorities are clear — to live in a beautiful space, do work that I am passionate about, make a positive change and spend time with people I love. Life is challenging. I get lost. I want more money. I get scared of criticism. I worry that I am not good enough. But the truth is I always am enough and have enough, and I choose to follow my own definition of success because it is the only way I know how to live a fulfilling life.

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do and liking how you do it” Maya Angelou

Sarah Samuel is founder of Potent Creatives, a business that supports organisations to be truly creative. Sarah has a background in business consulting and a passion for helping people unleash their creative potential. I’d be delighted to hear from you. sarah@potentcreatives.org