The Merriam-Webster Dictionary provides this definition of success:
"The fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame"
This is the closest approximation to modern society's definition of success and it contains some of the elements that we associate with the idea of success: the attainment of desire when it comes to wealth and social position.
So, if you were asked to name someone who is successful, you might very well think of quite a few people who fit the bill. Perhaps you'd think of a millionaire entrepreneur or a famous professional athlete. You would probably imagine someone standing in front of a podium giving a speech on television or a well-known actor receiving an award.
Likewise, if someone asked you what success looks like, you might picture yourself living in a large house, or owning a private jet, or traveling around the world, receiving preferential treatment at the best restaurants and beautiful hotels. You'd be able to buy anything you wanted. People would envy you. Everything would be attainable.
Or would it?
Those images help drive our definition of success... But they can also drive us crazy.
From a very young age, we are bombarded with images of success that fill magazine racks, television programming, and every square inch of advertising space that we see. These images reinforce the pressures that demand conformity to the cultural norms of success and leave us constantly worried if whether or not we are or will be successful. The more we get, the less we seem to have. Our desires are never satisfied.
As author and philosopher Alain de Botton writes in his book "Status Anxiety,"
"Wealth is not an absolute. It is relative to desire. Every time we yearn for something we cannot afford, we grow poorer, whatever our resources. And every time we feel satisfied with what we have, we can be counted as rich, however little we may actually possess."
We're no longer able to objectively judge what success looks or feels like.
With our ambitions for success come status anxieties.
These anxieties deplete all the satisfaction from whatever successes we do enjoy. They leave us constantly comparing ourselves to other people. We begin placing ourselves in imagined hierarchies. We begin to think of others in terms of their potential to increase our social value: we reduce them to what they can do for us and how much they make or who they know or what their job title is.
The reason for that is painfully simple...
It's because we've reduced ourselves to the same things.
But if we redefine success, we don't have to.
There are other images of success that are just as compelling.
Like being loving parents...
Or having friends that care for and understand us...
Or teaching, leading, and inspiring others.
Those are all success stories worth telling and worth celebrating.
If we reduce ourselves and others to paychecks, job titles, and bank balances, we're missing out on really being alive, on really connecting with the world. We're missing out on the best part of our very short lives:
We're missing out on happiness: the only real success there is.
Join Strayer University in the Readdress Success Movement to change Merriam-Webster's definition of success! For every signature, Strayer University will donate 50 cents to Dress For Success!
We're going to focus on reimagining what success means over the next few weeks and we hope that these articles will help you become more successful, more satisfied, more content. Not just in your professional lives, but in your personal life. We think it'll be eye-opening.