What is Success?

Can you ever be successful without your peace of mind?

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Imagine riding up the long winding driveway with the blinding sun grazing the jet black paint of your Mercedes Benz. You walk through the bleached white picket fence surrounding a lawn so green it radiates in your eyes. You look up to see your three story gorgeous mansion awaiting your entrance.

The American dream, the epitome of achievement, the goal that everyone is striving to reach. But is this utopian vision a reality? Does all this materialistic pleasure really earn you the title of success?

Society’s idea of what it means to be successful is working nonstop to earn mountains of money, and half the reward comes from doing it all by yourself with no help from anyone else.

But what are you missing with the three story mansion and your fifty thousand dollar car? You’re missing the things in life that truly make you happy, and keep you in tune with yourself. It’s important to reevaluate what it means to be successful by asking yourself if you can truly be successful without genuine joy in your life. Are the detrimental pressures that come with society’s idea of success really worth your peace of mind?

Being “successful” by today’s standards can take away from people remembering to live a life that provides genuine happiness, which cannot be compensated for by a materialistic life. Healthy relationships can bring some of the most rewarding feelings in life. However, balancing relationships with a job can be very difficult, and potentially impossible, especially if your only goals for success in life are “wealth, fame, and power”(1).

It’s not worth it to yourself to waste all of the short amount of time that you have on this Earth working, because working at your job in most cases will never make you as happy as spending time with your family. You can’t take every new opportunity in the workforce, and you can’t always stay the extra hour to improve your skills, because if you did, “you would never go home”(2). Sometimes it’s okay to be selfish, and to remember that staying late at the office probably won’t make you as contented as going home to see your family, the people who care about you the most in this world. You’re only really successful when you can provide for yourself but feel satisfied about your life as well.

Some people might argue that money sometimes does make you happy, as a more than stable financial situation can give you a comfortable way of life. This may be true, but much of your time will be spent in whatever job is giving you that “comfortable lifestyle” that reeks of societal “achievement”.

Therefore, it’s important to recognize that many of the highest paying jobs don’t yield a very meaningful experience. For example, computer science and engineering can pay a salary of $116,000 per year in a worker’s mid career, but only forty five percent of people in this profession really enjoy their work or believe what they’re doing everyday is purposeful(3). Even though this career can bring home a large paycheck, how much does that count for if you come home unfulfilled every night? How much does it count for if later on in life you wished you had pursued that career in social work that you had always dreamed of doing?

There are other paths in life that you can take that can make you feel happier and less regretful, and can still provide you with enough income to support yourself and a family as well, even if you can’t afford everything you could ever want. This lifestyle seems to be much more successful than the materialistic story above, because living a happy life is just more enjoyable than the alternative. So how much does your happiness really mean to you, and are you ever really successful in life without it?

Trying to be “successful” in life can be taxing on your physical and mental health. Not getting enough sleep is an ongoing issue in Americans among working adults, but also among teenagers in school. Not getting enough sleep can make people more irritable and more easily upset. In fact, the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain, is kept in check by the prefrontal cortex when the brain is rested, but that connection becomes interrupted in the tired brain, explaining this irritable state(4).

Also, this physical exhaustion that can affect your relationships, your work experiences, and your overall happiness, is also tied directly to mental illnesses. The risk of depression is five times higher in people with insomnia, and anxiety disorders are twenty times higher in those individuals(4). It is also true that mostly due to the desire to be successful and always be at work, forty percent of Americans get less than the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep a night(5). Being “successful” seems to trump the necessity for a healthy lifestyle, which is in part the cause of the one in five Americans that have a mental health condition, like depression or anxiety(6).

The idea that you should become successful without any help from anyone else that is very prominent in America is also the cause for the major shortage of mental health professionals, with only one professional for every one-thousand individuals(6). This depressing statistic is because the American dream for success doesn’t include meeting with a therapist. But the number of professionals isn’t the issue. The issue comes from the exaggerated greatness of the American dream that is burned into our brains as children, so it might be best to fix the problem at its source.

Young children are faced with immense pressure to succeed in life, by their parents, but also by their education systems. In schools, the focus is less on learning and more on who can receive the best grades for their work. Students are indoctrinated that good grades yield a good college that can in the future yield a high paying job, which is the only path to take. Kay McSpadden, a high school English teacher in South Carolina even claimed that “early childhood education shifted from a place of play to a place of work”(7). School children are trained to work tirelessly to achieve success, which in their minds has become a big house, a nice car, and plenty of cash.

It is time to rethink the idea of success. Is success the society born idea that you should work long hours to bring home the large salary? Is success the picket white fence in front of your giant house, with the jet black Mercedes out front? Is success the idea that you have to do everything alone, without help, ever?

In America we tend to overlook what you miss out on when you are blinded by the materialistic world we live in today. If any part of that American dream calls for a life of happiness, then it’s important to remember to foster and deepen your relationships, and to do what you truly love for your career, because how can you be truly successful if you come home to an empty house and an unfulfilled life? It is important to take your health into consideration, because how can you be truly successful if you’re always sick from all your anxiety, or always overly irritable because you never get enough sleep?

We need to change the way school systems shape the minds of young Americans so they don’t forget that success can be so much more than a good grade on a test, or the huge salary. Society’s idealistic idea of what it means to be successful can be very adverse to the lives of all Americans, so it’s time to remember what it means to be happy, so we can all live lives of genuine success.

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