Most of us have a vague idea. We’re brainwashed from a very early age to believe that it involves having lots of money, lots of power, lots of stuff, leisure time whenever we want it, looking like a model, if not a super-model, being constantly happy, in a loving, supportive relationship etc etc. We also know what it’s supposed to EXclude – successful people don’t have to work for a living, don’t have to diet, don’t have to budget, don’t argue at all with their significant other, family or friends, never have a bad hair day, and never feel depressed or down.
The only candidates I can think of for success, then, are Barbie and Ken. You can’t get much more superficial than a couple of hollow plastic dolls. (By the way, if you’re dieting in the hope of looking like Barbie, you should be aware that she physically doesn’t have enough room in that waist of hers for all the bodily organs we come stocked with.)
Now, what about the people we think of as successful:
Oprah: she’s got the power and money, I don’t know about having lots of stuff (she keeps giving it away on that show of hers), but super-model looks aren’t part of her appeal. If anything, the fact that she struggles like the rest of us with her weight is part of why we love her. I’m pretty sure she also has bad hair days (even if she does have a stylist to help) and occasionally argues with people, too.
Donald Trump: He’s supposed to be successful in power and money terms, but he’s also been millions of dollars in debt. I wouldn’t class him as a super-model, but maybe that’s why he likes to surround himself with them. Loving supportive relationship? Well, if you believe the press he’s had several of those, but you have to wonder why they keep ending if they’re so fantastic. Oh, and leisure time? From watching his TV show, I get the feeling it’s not part of his personal vocabulary – and that budgets definitely are!
Barack Obama: A bit new to the public eye, at least down here in Australia, but while he definitely has the looks and power, I have no idea about the money side, and for the next few years at least, it seems like leisure time is going to be a bit hard to come by. I can also be pretty certain that, on the assumption he’s human like the rest of us, he will also have bad days and arguments – and from the recent special on the number of M&Ms being consumed in the White House, he and his staff certainly don’t seem to believe that success involves super-model type diets, either.
Bottom line is that what we’re taught to aspire to as the ‘default’ definition of success is unrealistic. Each of these people, though, are massively successful by their OWN definitions. They decided which things they were going to pursue, went after them, and reached them. Would they have done that if they’d still been trying to fit someone else’s idea of what success should look like? I don’t think so. That default definition leaves you chasing down 10 different roads, all going in different directions, and probably giving you a net result of not moving anywhere at all.
So what IS the definition of success, then?
Like the definition of beauty, even though there’s plenty of people who want you to believe that they have the single most valid definition, I don’t think there is only one. I think there’s as many definitions as there are people who’ve thought about it – and that there could be (and probably should be) at least as many definitions as there are people.
I know what my definition is – my ideal successful life involves leisure time, travel, helping lots of people, being fit and healthy, and loving myself regardless of what size that ends up being. I want a circle of close friends I can share anything with, and call with exciting news. I want to be able to help my family and friends out, as well as give generously to charity, without having to scrape together the cash to do it. I want mentors I admire, and who stretch me to constantly keep growing and giving. Most of all, I want my life to have a bigger meaning than just me – I want to make a difference on as big a scale as I can reach, teaching people to unlearn all the programming and rediscover the value they have in themselves. I want to touch lives and leave them empowered, loving and believing in themselves again.
I may not be anywhere near the scale of an Oprah or a Barack Obama, but on those terms I’m already fairly successful. Not 100% there, but close.
That’s MY definition, though. Not yours. Do you know what your own ideal successful life looks like?
If you haven’t thought about your definition yet, maybe it’s time to go down the local coffee shop with notepad and pen, buy your drink of choice, and paint the picture of what success means to you. Even if you already have one, there’s no reason you can’t re-visit it and check out whether it still feels right. As you’ve grown, your thoughts and dreams could have too.
This is more than just an exercise – it’s a vital step if you ever want to have a hope of achieving your dream life. Doesn’t it make sense that it’s a lot easier to hit a goal when you know where you are on the field, and exactly which of the goal posts around you is the one you’re aiming for?