In college, I used to think that success in life was about the accumulation of things. Whether those things were money, diplomas, friends, it didn’t matter. I thought happiness was directly proportional to the amount of “stuff” in my life.
If you were to have asked me several years ago what I wanted to be when I grew up I would have told you that I wanted to be rich and successful. Yet I had no idea what that actually meant. All I knew was that my future was going to be full of nice things, a smoking hot wife and jealous friends.
It’s amazing to me how shallow I was back then. Not because I was a shallow person, but because I didn’t know any better. I bought into everything that was taught to me as a child. I listened to those around me that propagated the idea that life is about being the best. Back then I truly believed that being successful in life was a zero sum game and that for me to win, others had to lose.
To be honest, this credo of competition and perfection is what I believe contributed to my life-long struggle with insecurity. When you think about it, why wouldn’t I be insecure with a mindset like this?
If life is a competition, then the majority of your time is spent comparing yourself to your peers and the people around you. This only creates a small sense of who you really are—one that can be easily shaken and dismantled. When you compare you despair and any instances of feeling “less than” someone will inevitably lead to distress and suffering.
Furthermore, if life is about being perfect, then what happens when we fall short? Do we not risk losing the beauty in failure? Is it possible to learn a lesson from our failures if we look at them as just a notch in life’s loss column?
As you can see, my ideas for success were extremely problematic.
When your self-esteem is predicated on others by means of comparison then you really never have control of your happiness. When you live your life as if being the best is the only way to prove your worth, you set yourself up for disappointment because there will always be someone who is funnier, smarter, better looking, or who has more accolades than you.
When you don’t take time to think about what you really want you are effectively wandering aimlessly through life chasing a moving target; making it impossible to feel good about your successes and more importantly, yourself. You don’t know how to be successful because you’ve never really sat down and defined what success looked like for you. You have no goal or target to measure yourself against. In business jargon, you have no key performance indicators (KPI’s).
Before I began practicing mindfulness my life was an endless pursuit of achievement and accolades. Mindfulness made me listen for the first time. It made me hear something that I always felt, but never knew.
Ever since I was a kid, I can remember being compassionate and wanting to help other people. Growing up, I wanted to be considerate of others but I was told by my peers, and perhaps even by my parents, that caring for others was not the path to ultimate success. Success was about winning, period.
So, I quickly adopted this point of view and began presenting myself to the world in this way. In order to be “cool” I stopped caring about others. I saw people as a means to an end and that made them somehow less important than me. In high school I was considered one of the “popular guys” because I looked down on others in order to make myself look superior. I made life hell for underclassman and I honestly don’t know how I didn’t get my ass kicked over and over again in those days.
My entire childhood and adolescence was filled with fear and resentment. Fear of being seen for what I really was—an insecure kid; and resentment for living a life that was untrue to myself but considered the “right way” to achieve success.
It wasn’t until I started meditating and journaling did I realize that these shallow beacons of success were completely wrong. At least they were for me.
I always felt like I had a kind heart and after practicing meditation I was ready to start living compassionately. It was almost as if the kindness in my heart, through the lens of meditation, could no longer be contained. My mindfulness practice would no longer allow me to live life as a character portraying “success”. I could no longer deny that I was out of alignment because I had finally seen what was causing the unease in my life... inauthenticity.
So what can we do?
I encourage you to sit with yourself and ponder this question: “What does success look like for me?” Ask yourself this when meditating and see what comes up. Don’t try to answer the question. Instead, just listen to what your mind and your heart are telling you. Chances are you will start to notice some common themes-- some ideas that consistently come up when you sit with yourself.
But don’t stop with meditation. Write about it in a journal or on your phone. Discuss it with your loved ones. Tell them how you see success and ask them how they see it as well. You might find that your ideas of success are similar.
For me, the idea of helping others through teaching is what consistently comes up when I think about success. Furthermore, I no longer believe that “things” are nearly as important as people. When I’m old and grey I want to look back on my life and know that I helped others be a better version of themselves. Mindfulness has shown me that everyone can win on the pursuit of success--not just me.
The point is that you absolutely need to define success in your life because without it, you are a boat going nowhere subject to the will of the currents and the waves.
Thank you as always for reading! We appreciate your commitment to better yourself and would love to know how you define success in your life. What is important to you? How do you know? Leave a quick comment below and we hope to see you again on Sunday for our next post.
Until then, many many blessings