In this day and age, if you’re not successful you’re worthless. Everyone is fighting their way up the ladder of success to reach the top. One day, you’ll have all the money, rewards, and riches that rightfully belong to the successful… Or will you? In all of the time you’ve chased successful, have you ever sat down to take a good hard look at exactly what you’ve been chasing? It’s probably time that you do…
What is the definition of success? Webster defines success as:
- the factor of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame
- the correct or desired result of an attempt
- someone or something that is successful : a person or thing that succeeds
Many of us subscribe to all three of these definitions, and most particularly gravitate towards the first definition. When one achieves wealth, respect, or fame, one is successful. Right?
That definition has been so ingrained in our society that it’s the first definition that Webster lists.
The problem with this definition to success is that it’s too limiting. Isn’t there more to life than simply wealth, respect, and fame? Some important aspects in my life are friends, family, health, mind, and soul. I’m sure you could list off a dozen things important in your life that aren’t covered by that extremely narrow definition of success used by Webster.
Not only is that definition narrow, it’s also dangerous. If you focus on wealth, or fame, or respect, all of your other qualities are likely to fall by the wayside. This leaves you out of balance with yourself. When you’re out of balance with yourself, you become unhappy, unhealthy, and miserable.
Type A Success
I want you to think of anyone you know who is a Type A personality, perhaps you yourself are a Type A. Type A’s are usually much more competitive and stressed out than Type B’s. They have a much greater sense of urgency and impatience, and frequently strive towards their goals and the cost of everything and anything else. The stereotypical Wall Street executive is a prime example of Type A.
In our modern society, Type A is the pinnacle of the success architype. Type A’s will stop at nothing to reach their goals, which are often monetary and fame oriented. The Wall Street executive is a perfect example. For many people, that is the definition of success and power and wealth… and Type A traits.
It usually comes as a surprise that Type A & Type B personalities did not come about because scientists were studying success. The Type A and Type B personality theory was actually developed by Friedman and Rosenman, cardiologists.
They developed this theory because they noticed a trend in the men who they were treating for heart disease and high blood pressure. The men with the highest rates of heart disease exhibited the same traits that we associate with Type A personalities: aggression, impatience, competitiveness, etc.
Type A’s are more likely to live a life with high levels of stress, and die young from heart disease. They’ll be going through their short, stressed-out lives full of aggression and competitiveness as well. Does that sound like success to you?
“Well, at least they’ll reach the top” you say to yourself. Except, chances are they won’t.
There are a host of others personality traits that are toxic to others that come with being a Type A such as hostility and aggression. While these traits might help with reaching the top of a cutthroat industry, you will burn a lot of bridges and sacrifice a lot of relationships and networks to get there, if you get there at all.
The people with the highest net worth also have the largest professional and personal networks. It takes a village to build wealth, and if you’re a Type A personality, you won’t have much of a village to work with. Any Type A’s who DO reach the top will find it lonely up there, and will be exhausted from having to use their sheer force of will to climb so high.
What then is true success? I want you to read the following parable closely while you ponder that question…
The Fisherman and the Businessman
There was once a businessman who was sitting by the beach in a small Brazilian village. As he sat, he saw a Brazilian fisherman rowing a small boat towards the shore having caught quite few big fish.
The businessman was impressed and asked the fisherman, “How long does it take you to catch so many fish?”
The fisherman replied, “Oh, just a short while.”
“Then why don’t you stay longer at sea and catch even more?” The businessman was astonished.
“This is enough to feed my whole family,” the fisherman said.
The businessman then asked, “So, what do you do for the rest of the day?”
The fisherman replied, “Well, I usually wake up early in the morning, go out to sea and catch a few fish, then go back and play with my kids. In the afternoon, I take a nap with my wife, and evening comes, I join my buddies in the village for a drink — we play guitar, sing and dance throughout the night.”
The businessman offered a suggestion to the fisherman.
“I am a PhD in business management. I could help you to become a more successful person. From now on, you should spend more time at sea and try to catch as many fish as possible. When you have saved enough money, you could buy a bigger boat and catch even more fish. Soon you will be able to afford to buy more boats, set up your own company, your own production plant for canned food and distribution network. By then, you will have moved out of this village and to Sao Paulo, where you can set up HQ to manage your other branches.”
The fisherman continues, “And after that?”
The businessman laughs heartily, “After that, you can live like a king in your own house, and when the time is right, you can go public and float your shares in the Stock Exchange, and you will be rich.”
The fisherman asks, “And after that?”
The businessman says, “After that, you can finally retire, you can move to a house by the fishing village, wake up early in the morning, catch a few fish, then return home to play with kids, have a nice afternoon nap with your wife, and when evening comes, you can join your buddies for a drink, play the guitar, sing and dance throughout the night!”
The Delusions of Success
Who is living the better life in that story? Who would you consider the more successful man? The highly learned and accomplished man or the man who is living his dreams?
Society wants us to say the businessman, yet, deep down inside, we know that choice is fraught with sadness, despair, and grief. Why is that?
The answer is actually simple, and we all understand this answer at a primal level. Yet most of us deny this truth because it hurts and it’s painful. However, the more we ignore this truth the more painful the answer becomes, so we continue to ignore it even more.
The truth is, we are all going to die. We live like we have forever because we so desperately want to live forever! And it’s this desperation to escape the inevitable that makes the businessman in the story such a tragic figure.
You are striving for success, to achieve great wealth and prosperity, at the cost of the present moment. There is no guarantee any of us will live long enough to even entire retirement.
“But I’m fit and healthy and plan to live until I’m 90!” That is a nice delusion. You have a 1 in 112 chance of dying in a car accident. I have known acquaintances who have died from heart attacks and brain aneurysms who were perfectly physical fit otherwise.
There are no guarantees in life, except for death (and taxes). Acting otherwise is to deny a basic truth of life and to deny your own fear and pain around death.
What Is True Success?
The fisherman has no illusions as to the nature of life. He lives for the moment and enjoys the moment as much as possible. He has no delusions around success and happiness either.
The fisherman is not chasing happiness, he is going after what he wants in every moment while enjoying every moment. His happiness is not deferred to some future event, he is choosing happiness right now.
This is true success. True success is going after what you truly desire while being healthy in mind, body, and spirit.
True success is finding your purpose and then living a life that is devoted to that purpose. Only then will you be truly happy and will have attained a healthy definition of success.
To be happy and healthy in mind, body, and spirit is true success.
This does not mean the businessman cannot be happy creating businesses and only those who go out and live poor hermetic type lives are happy. To think so would be to miss the point of the story.
The fisherman’s purpose is to fish on the water and love his family on land. This is what his mind, body, and soul crave. Because he is living his purpose, he is not deferring his happiness off to some future event like retirement.
The businessman, on the other hand, sees businesses and a means of happiness and success. This defers his happiness to some future time. The businessman cannot be happy in the present, not truly happy that is. His dream life is years away.
He will neglect himself and those around him to reach his retirement goal. He will do this because he believes only then will he be truly happy and satisfied.
Instead, if the businessman’s purpose was to create businesses for the sake of creating businesses, he could choose to be happy in the now. There would be no need for retirement because the businessman would be happy in each and every moment. The perfect embodiment of this type of businessman is Richard Branson.
Richard Branson enthusiastically loves life and loves creating business for the sake of business. He is not deferring his future happiness to some later date. He is not waiting until the day he is successful to enjoy life. Richard Branson has always enjoyed life.
Successful people are living their purpose every moment. This keeps them healthy in mind, body, and spirit throughout their entire lives.
As a society, we need to evolve our definition of success to include everyone who is living their purpose, not just those who have risen to the top of the corporate ladder.
This starts with you. Do not let your friends, family, or society dictate what is your own success. Only you know your true purpose. And no one else can tell you what the purpose is!
It’s up to each and every one of us to find our purpose and then live it. Devote each and every breath to living your purpose. And be proud that your are living your purpose and that you are successful because you have found your purpose, not in spite of it.
Once you are true to yourself, nothing else can touch you, and that’s when you become a success.