It’s funny how sometimes the universe seems to point us in certain directions. Within the span of two days I received five emails, read a multitude of Facebook posts and updates along with some Tweets all about the same thing. Success, how to attain it and what the secret is. We’re all guilty of wondering this I think; even though our cultural and moral norms define the term differently we are all curious about how those successful in life got there. When titans of industry write books we read them, when celebrities are interviewed on TV we watch with baited breath, always hoping that The Answer will be revealed. As they will quickly tell you though, the answer is one that no one ever wants to hear – there isn’t one. Bear with me.
What is success anyway?
I’ve written multiple posts about this, so I won’t go into a long diatribe except to say that success isn’t what you may think it is. In the U.S., our perceptions of success are different from the rest of the world’s. Personally, I was brought up to believe that a straight line through life was the only path to success. School, more school, work, more work and then death. Happy days, right? Many of us feel that is the only way to be happy without considering the other aspects of life. Did you know that the U.S. is the only Western nation NOT to have mandatory time off for its citizens? Foreigners are always shocked when I tell them that in fact 25% of Americans have no right to any time off at all. I love my country dearly, but in our quest towards perfection we have forgotten that there is more to life than living our jobs. But I digress; I give this as only one example of how differently success can be defined. In other countries it’s being happy, about having a well-rounded family life and so on. What is important is to sit yourself down and think, really think, about how you wish to define success. If that means being super successful in your business life that’s fine, but own it. Realize what other things you may give up to achieve that and come to terms with it. If your definition of success is living in a cabin in the woods you have to equally realize that your life may not have many perks and as long as you’re ok with it, that’s fine. No matter how you define success you first have to do just that, define it.
We want what we don’t have
Once again, we humans always seem to get in our own way. Seeing other people it is human nature to suddenly have an incredible desire to have what they have, whether it’s a happier family or bigger house or what we perceive to be a better job. We suspect that other people have easier lives than we do and while that it is sometimes true, usually perceptions bear no resemblance to reality. People are like icebergs; we only see a small bit of their chosen public persona, what we don’t often see is how they struggle, how they may even suffer through life. Does a recovering drug addict dwell in that big house on the corner? Does that successful business lie on a foundation of debt? We don’t know and probably never will, but it’s an important lesson to never assume other people have easier and therefore happier lives. The reverse is often true and while you may not realize it, you could be the happiest person you know. Understand your own blessings in life and count them every day.
Instead of wishing for it, work for it
If you’re still reading you’re probably wondering when I’m going to get back to my main thesis, so here it is. The only path towards success isn’t by lamenting what others have done or own; it’s by making it happen for yourself. No matter what you do for a living, whether it’s a line cook or a travel blogger, no profession or life for that matter has a single proscribed path towards success. Are there best practices? You bet, but if you really want to succeed you have to stop ignoring the inspirational speakers and tricksters; stop wishing for success and instead just make it happen. How did I make the transition from soulless job to one I truly love? I worked hard, very hard, without any benefit for years building up my small business to a point where I could make that transition. I jokingly tell people that if I’m awake I’m working but it’s mostly true. I don’t say this to brag or to insinuate that I’m important, I’m not, I’m just a hardworking stiff like many other folks. The difference is that I’m doing something about which I am completely and utterly passionate. I love working in the travel and tourism world and I will be the first to say that my job is definitely a nice one, no doubt there. But it also requires a tremendous amount of work. That’s the part of the iceberg that most people don’t see.
Now extrapolate this to your passion, your work and even your family. To make anything happen in life, from having good kids to reaching the top of the corporate ladder, sitting back and hoping for it to happen will never, ever work. No, instead you have to work hard, very hard to make life better for yourself. I look at my friends who I think have a wonderful family life. Charming kids who smile and hug their moms, picture perfect in my mind. Well, I realize that 1) it took a lot of work by my friends to reach that point and 2) I bet they have plenty of crummy times too; times when the kids slam doors and parents cry. It’s all a balance, but the one constant in life is that if you want something, then you have to work for it. Life doesn’t give us freebies and we only have one shot to get it right so stop wasting time lamenting what hasn’t happened and instead make it happen for yourself.
But wait, you may already have it
When you’re defining what personal success means, you may surprise yourself. You may realize that you already have some of that success you thought you were chasing. Even if there are parts of your life you want to improve, I believe that most of us have successful lives in one sense or another. Step back for a moment and look at the broader picture. If you’re reading this, then you have a computer or mobile device of some kind. I’m guessing you also have a roof over your head, are reasonably well fed and probably also educated. Congratulations, you’re one of the most successful people on the planet and in the span of human history, no one has achieved more than you have. Seriously, it’s true. So what we’re talking about here are tweaks, some large and others small, to improve upon this already inherently high level of success. It’s easier than you think, but don’t start from a position of weakness. Don’t think you’re a failure and that you have to move up. You aren’t, you have talents you don’t realize even if they haven’t been harnessed yet.
So this was a long-winded, and oddly cheerful (for me) way of saying that there is only one answer to the question about how to be successful. It’s passion and hard work, the two have to exist symbiotically and if pushed in the right direction WILL necessarily lead to a happier life. There are no shortcuts though, which means you have to make sure you’ve defined it properly before wasting time titling at all of the shiny windmills in life.