“What do you define as success?” This a question sometimes gets posed in conversations with people of note or, perhaps somewhat bizarrely, in job interviews. However, leaving aside the second one especially, and taking it on in a mindfulness context, this can be one of those laser focused questions that cuts through our everyday autopilot to prompt some actual reflection and thinking.
Because when we look at it, we often discover that we’ve never really chosen it for ourselves. Often, we find we’re just living into the default view and measurements about success and what success is that we inherited from our context (including our upbringing, community, colleagues, etc). Or if we did choose, we may have accidentally slipped back into those typical contexts after we’d suffered a setback or two while in pursuit of our desires.
So in giving it some reflection and thought, it’s common to notice that what we’ve been pursuing under those default contexts – often some variety of money, and/or status or fame, and/or control and/or some material items and/or some family/social unit or activity – isn’t actually aligned with what we truly want, such as love, connection, peace of mind, fulfillment, joy, excitement, making a difference, aliveness, beauty, gusto, wonder…
And sure, money and the like may provide some pathways towards that which we truly want. But even beyond the long-held truth that money can’t buy happiness, when we focus on those reductive measures of success like money we can very much forget what we’re actually aiming for. We get stuck on the default treadmill, aiming for the tool rather than the thing we want to create. To bring back a quote from an earlier post, “It’s easy to confuse what is important with what is easy to measure.”
Which is also why when we attain those default measures of success, they rarely leave us fulfilled or satisfied. And, rather nefariously, because we’re absentmindedly stuck on the treadmill pursuing those default measures, we fall into another pitfall of, to quote yet another previous post (one of the earliest!), “I gotta get a bigger hammer!” In other words, we surmise that if these haven’t brought satisfaction yet (and everyone is saying they should), it must be because we haven’t gotten enough of “it” yet.
So we stay on that treadmill, our eyes firmly off the real prize.
Which brings us back to that laser-guided question we can ask ourselves “What do I define as success?” With mindfulness and care and creation we get to choose that which will leave us delighted, radiant, and fulfilled. And then we can align ourselves and our activities towards attaining that, including right-sizing our focus (or whether we choose to engage with them at all) on those default measures of success.
And with this clarity of success, we empower ourselves and those around us towards living the lives we want.
(And if we need a good starting point in designing our measures of success, Ben Zander’s “shining eyes” is a great foundation.)