It’s likely the way you define success is preventing you from feeling successful.
In this age of social media, it can be difficult to avoid comparing your success to the success of those around you. When you’re constantly receiving notifications about who has a dream job or higher salary, how can you make peace with your own career trajectory?
Author and philosopher Alain de Botton firmly believes it’s our very notions of success and failure that are getting in the way of our happiness and well-being, both personally and professionally. In his TED Talk “What’s a kinder way to frame success,” de Botton outlines how our beliefs in external accomplishments and a level playing field are making us unhappy. He suggests to feel successful we should accept being good at one thing and define our goals outside of societal concepts.
A misguided success metric
We judge ourselves by external accomplishments. Due to the internet and social media, external accomplishments have become more visible than ever before. Correspondingly, they have a much larger impact on how others perceive you (and how you perceive yourself) in both social and professional settings.
Since we see those around us employing this same success metric and caring about how successful we are, we start to care as well.
We’re not playing on a level field
This emphasis on external accomplishments is compounded by the fact we believe we live in a meritocratic society. We are told from a young age that if you have the drive and potential, nothing should stop you from rising to the top. But what if you don’t reach the top?
Conceiving of life as a contest to be won implies that everyone has the same chances, but unfortunately, we don’t live in a truly meritocratic society. From economic hardships growing up to invisible illnesses, there are a number of reasons someone might not have accomplished as much as someone else, beyond the notion that they are simply not good enough.
But there is a way out of all this toxic thinking—stop judging yourself (and others) based on external signifiers, like jobs and accomplishments.
Know you can’t have it all
As much as we all aim for success, it’s important to remember that you can’t be successful at everything. “Having it all” is nothing more than a myth. Randi Zuckerberg calls this belief the entrepreneur’s dilemma.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t strive for success. Rather, question your idea of success. Who is defining success for you—your parents, celebrities, or social media?
Define your own success outside of societal concepts
Imagine working incredibly hard to achieve a goal you’ve always dreamed about. You finally achieve it, do your victory lap—and you don’t feel any better. That’s probably because it was never your own goal to begin with, but the product of the poor success metric you are using.
That’s why it’s so important to make sure your goals are indeed your own. It may be hard to distance your idea of success from that of those around you, but it will be far worth it in the long run.
DISCLAIMER: This article expresses my own ideas and opinions. Any information I have shared are from sources that I believe to be reliable and accurate. I did not receive any financial compensation in writing this post, nor do I own any shares in any company I’ve mentioned. I encourage any reader to do their own diligent research first before making any investment decisions.
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