Having an undefined ideology of what it means to be successful has led me to make questionable life decisions. At times, things have felt so irrational that I could not find any reasonable explanation for what I was doing. I have therefore always wanted to ‘fix’ the underlying issues by understanding the subject.
At first glance
When it comes to definitions, you are on your own; therefore, I started with two questions:
Do you want to be successful? and
Are you successful?
The first question is rhetorical, while the second depends on so many other things — if you had to ask twenty people the same question, there would be a high chance that you would get many varied and unique answers.
It is obvious that success comes in countless shapes and forms and that there are unlimited opportunities available for achieving it. However, there are no rules, standards, or guidelines. On the other hand, regulating what success is on the global scale sounds pity, as it could bring about a hierarchy, ownership and it could result in rating people, which could eventually create a system of ‘winners’ and ‘losers.’ Some people may therefore feel anxious by just reading this.
At first glance, the concept of ‘success’ is disappointing, because we do not see things as they are; rather, we see them as we are.
Understanding the basics
People can conceptualize great ideas early in life. When a seven-year-old says, “Dad, I want to be a world-class football player,” it sounds motivational; however, the idea is also undeveloped on many levels, which we don’t expect youngsters to understand. This could be a classic opportunity to educate the boy, and if it is missed, it will have a crucial impact on his life.
The standard approach is to put a seven-year-old on a socially-acceptable journey and to help him celebrate his little success stories, with the hope that one day they will turn into something bigger.
The alternative approach is to help him understand “Why,” by putting his dreams at the center of his decision-making processes. This will generate passion that is strong enough to inspire a seven-year-old for the rest of his life and to rekindle his soul in the moments of failure.
Challenging social norms
While evaluating the influence of social judgment, my whole perception of success has changed.
New significant achievements in the world have had a massive global impact on an individual level, unfortunately resulting in a spoiled consumption mindset, comfort addiction, and the avoidance of difficulties. One by one, we are falling into the category of becoming ‘followers.’ We have also been told from childhood that certain things, like buying a house or going to a prestigious school — are significant life accomplishments, however, I believe, these are illusions of legacy greatness that make people feel as if they are winning in life. A fear of dark reality pushes society to hide true meaning of success by normalizing insignificance, in order to keep things under control.
People can forever change the social norms by doing something for the first time, things that other never done before — most of us would call these success stories. If it makes sense, then other people try to repeat these achievements, and they also call it a ‘success’. This kind of repetition is like following a well-defined forest trail — it feels excellent for the first, second, and maybe the third time, but then we strive to experience something else; and then the process repeats itself, by following a ‘new trail’. The feeling of living someone else’s life hunts us down at night, it is grinding, uncomfortable and paralyzing — it is something big that scares us and leads to questions that are difficult to answer, and a truth that sometimes is impossible to accept. In such cases, life feels busy, but it is meaningless, which is why many people drop out of high-class jobs or universities, they stop chasing money and do volunteering, or they escape into the virtual worlds.
Our culture keeps a list of the people who are the first to do something, such as landing on the moon, becoming a billionaire, inventing a vaccine, or creating the Internet — and this has a generational impact. These people have many good characteristics, but something tells me that pursuing success is at the bottom of their list; what they would like most of all is a life that is worth living. Exactly that defines the path for success.
The more I think about it, the more I become convinced that success probably should never be normalized — nevertheless, there is still hope . . .
Changing the perspective
The cost of being ‘first’ means taking on a personal responsibility for a new normal; it comes with a significant number of failures, emotional solitude, and devastation. The fundamental characteristic of people reaching success are ability to start from scratch and turn miserable fiasco into valuable learning. What does a silver medalist feel like after the race? Some athletes would answer that it was “the biggest disappointment of my life”.
The pursuit of success cannot be a guiding principle, nor can it be a judging force. There is no logical answer either, as it goes much deeper and darker than that, somewhere between our consciousness and subconsciousness. Once we conceptualize it in our head, it is not that hard to explain what has driven people overcome gravity or to re-imagine how the world communicates. At first, you are inspired by your dream, then you are scared, and then it stays inside of you, until it is fulfilled to make you and world around a different place. Although, many people fail to connect life with a purpose, while they are chasing after the next promotion.
Having a mission and being successful is connected:
Success can live in isolation. Our culture allows success in many simple things, but it does not guarantee a meaningful outcome. It is a life that is filled with good moments and memories to be cheerful about. There is also a good side to isolation — ignoring the significance of other people’s successes opens our minds to the most beautiful emotional state, namely, freedom. It allows people to look at and leverage all the world’s achievements without feeling anxious, envious, or guilty.
A mission can start in the unknown and end in failure; it can come crashing down and destroy everything that society has promised us. On the other hand, when a mission is successful, it can shape the world, it can change our understanding of reality, and it can create a new normal. I imagine, it must be something magnificent to experience.
The problematic question is, “Does every person need a life mission that has the potential to change the world?”
The world of meaningful success
After taking all the available information and putting it into perspective, I have come up with my own personal understanding of how to approach the question.
Here is visual representation:
Firstly, there should be something at the center, to anchor our life; ego by phycology standards.
Secondly, regardless of our destination, we must have a dream, which we have either carried with us since childhood, or which has been freshly-generated. It must inspire us to challenge the status quo, to aim for the highest, or to be the first — it must be our own individual dream.
Thirdly, there must be a plan to keep things on track; we must have a personal mission statement, so that we can re-evaluate the dream when needed. This is the social aspect.
Finally, although there will be many guaranteed obstacles along the way, there should be enough passion to ignite and re-ignite the dream, one way or another, and to keep it alive. This must occur naturally.
Having the above fundamental elements lined up will create a momentum and help us to go through the cycle of failure and success, creating a ‘feedback loop’ that validates our mission and gives us a chance to correct our course.
The ‘Happiness’ and ‘Meaningful Life’ elements are unknown to me at this stage; there is no guarantee that a life filled with success and achievements can bring about feelings of such magnitude. It is a strange thing to say, but it seems that people can be happy and have a meaningful life without having much success, without having a mission, a dream, or a passion; it is that vague.
For the concept of meaningful success to remain true, I must make the following crucial statements:
Putting other people at the center of your world can break the circle and create chaos;
Skipping some elements, or changing the order, can lead to a feeling of emptiness; and
Accepting the constantly-growing complexity in the world can help us to stay on track.
To summarize shortly, I believe that every person has the potential to have a big enough life mission that could change the world.
Practice and let life be
Every person can take specific practical steps, in order to understand and create a life mission that brings meaningful success. It may feel boring and painful at first, so it is up to you to either keep going, to pause, or to decide not to do it at all.
Write down your mission statement, or use the following steps to define it:
Think of desired tangible and intangible things and write them down (there can be 10 or 1,000).
Group the items into two buckets, namely, what “I want” and what “I need.”
Look very closely at every item in the “I need” bucket. Try to understand why you need it, and if it cannot be reasonably justified, remove it from your life, if you are able to.
Group the remaining items into four buckets, namely, “Business”, “Family”, “Hobby”, and “Self-Development”. Feel free to change the buckets based on your mission statement.
Check if any one bucket dominates. Could that be your mission, or is there just an imbalance?
Balance the buckets to 25% each, or any other proportion that you feel is appropriate.
Create the following timeline: 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, 2 years, 3 years, 5 years, 10 years, 25 years, and 50 years.
Assign all the items to a specific time period.
Check to see if you struggle with any of the long-term views; it could be a sign that you have a potential issue with a dream or a mission. Think about it and validate your perspective.
Take a ‘bird’s eye view’ of it to see if there is any ‘secret agenda’ behind your goals. If you do, be open to address it now or in the future.
Pause for a few weeks, and then look at the list again.
Work on getting things done.
Check how it feels when you have achieved something on your list. If there is no emotion, it might not be what you wanted, so keep an eye on similar items.
Revisit the list on a regular basis, to add and/or adjust the items and dates.
Eventually, enough stories will only be generated from what truly matters:
If you have a mission statement, check if it keeps you going — you might be onto something.
If you do not have a mission statement yet, check if you are ready to write it down and then repeat the exercise.
This exercise began as my own personal light research into understanding what success is all about, and it has become one of my most meaningful discoveries over the past few years. I have learned a pivotal lesson: being on a big ‘life mission’ that has failed is far more significant than having a comfortable feeling of success.
My view on chasing after success in the past can be described as follows:
There was a constant need to please other people, because I could not tell what I wanted;
I was only seeking success by attaining promotions and salary raises;
There was a feeling of emotional emptiness;
There was a continuous desire to understand the purpose of life;
I made compulsive decisions to buy or do things, but I couldn’t even tell if I wanted to;
I was seeking recognition at all costs, in order to please my ego and boost my confidence;
I was scared to accept the fact that I did not know everything; and
I was arguing with people to prove them wrong, in order to feel a little better about myself.
I was thirty-three years old when I came up with the first version of this mission statement. By my own definition, my life had not been a success, even though I had achieved a lot, by social standards. However, now I can easily filter out the non-essential things that are imposed on me by others. It has brought me a great sense of freedom, and I highly recommend it.
The world is far too complex to understand, and it is getting more complicated as time passes. Many of us have the opportunity to experience a meaningful world that is filled with great challenges, emotions, and achievements. At the end of the day, it is fine if we do not carry the title of being “Number One”. However, it will not be okay if we give up all our potential by chasing after ‘normalized success’, by calling it ‘a win’, and by pretending to be happy about it.
Be honest with yourself and enjoy the most extraordinary thing that you have been given — life!
(c) Artem Gonchakov