This week I spoke to two individuals on the topic of success. The first, a mother of two in her late forties, for her the concept of success had much to do with her husband and her children, “ultimately, if our children are settled and are good human beings then my life has been successful.” It made me wonder, how her success was about other people’s lives. We can make factors pleasant for those around us, but how much can we honestly control them? Also, I thought what would “a good human being” imply? At some point the people around her will experience, as my very dear friend (and namesake) aptly stated: “the weight of her expectations.” I mentioned this to her, saying that she had placed her entire emphasis on other people. She nodded, “that is my life, indeed.”
I could generalize and say that this is evident in women with years of conditioning to be of unconditional service to their families. However, if I were to accept it at face value. Perhaps, the idea of belonging, and seeking pleasure out of the responsibilities that we have undertaken could well be a marker of success.
I asked if she felt pressured about it, what if her kid did not “settle”. She looked horrified at the idea. “I would try my utmost to make it happen.” Our conversation got interrupted as other people had started joining our table. I could sense that she did not want to pursue the dialogue. It had made her uncomfortable. There was an aspect being unsuccessful that had perturbed her, and I felt that it was surrounded around the delicate subject of her children.
The second person I spoke to was a student of mine who is currently traveling across the Middle East in order to experience being local in a foreign city. He is in his mid twenties, has worked and saved money in order to undertake this journey. He has already spent time in Southeast Asia, and intends to also one day travel to Japan. (We often talk about our common obsession for Japan). I asked him, what would make him successful? And, he said something that got me thinking beyond the tangible.
I am quoting from the chat session, “That is a tough question. As of now, I would say if I can gather first hand the knowledge of as many cultures as I can that would make me happy.” I interrupted saying he was focussing on happiness and not success. “Well then that’s easy, isn’t it? If I am happy I am successful.” The conversation got me thinking about how success for him, like happiness, is an ongoing journey and also a continuous feeling. Whereas for the previous conversation, it seemed to be a destination. Could then success be both?
I asked him if he felt that his need for this success caused him any duress. He insisted they were entirely financial. That he had to save in order to make it happen, “I would like to travel all the time, but I am no sponsored vlogger.” I ended the conversation with him understanding that there was a deep connection between success and joy. We wanted our success to enable elation.
I am of the belief that success should be decided on your own terms. It is intensely personal. We tend to acquire our ideas about success from our parents, family, peers, friends, other people, and social conjecture. The process of receiving them from external sources can be fulfilling upto a certain point, after all we do derive a certain amount of pleasure in making people happy and gaining their approval. However, to have a deep-seated, long term, feeling of triumph or even focus about working towards it – one needs to pay attention to what is meaningful to you – on an individual level. This could well be other people’s success – as long as we mindfully choose that to be the case.
We also don’t seem to invest time into what we would envision as being successful. How many of us schedule thinking about what I could do achieve internal validation. In other words, very basically put, what do I have to do in order to get the sense that – I am leading my dream life.
I don’t have the secret code to what will determine this state of being. Does anyone? Though, I have enjoyed talking to people about it and I am hoping to collect these stories to see what is it that defines success. I am curious to know if there is any pressure that goes hand-in-hand with it, and if there is a gender factor to understanding it as a journey or as a destination.