Are you doing the right thing?
What matters at the end of the day?
What is success?We quite often ask ourselves: is what I am doing right? Am I successful? What do others think of me? Am I important enough? Should I be richer? Are my parents proud?
Those questions relate to our vision of personal success. Success, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary of English, has few meanings:
1) The accomplishment of an aim or purpose
1.1) The attainment of fame, wealth, or social status
1.2) A person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains fame, wealth, etc.
2) The good or bad outcome of an undertaking
You may have noticed I highlighted one definition. This is something most people in a standard society seem to follow. We attribute success to thickness of the wallet, to the position in the society, and our looks- the clothes we wear, the whiteness and straightness of our teeth, how fashionable our hairstyle is, what logo appears on our computer or phone. Our looks then lead to attribute of attractiveness, which in turn leads to the popularity with the other sex (or same one), and overall popularity. That can lead to romantic relationships. In three words:
Wealth, Power, Sex
But I have a bit of a problem with this understanding of success. My problem with this definition of success is that it's all imposed from outside. Now, as much as I am myself, and you are yourself, why then you should listen to someone else who tells you what you should want and do? Is it their life? Do they share the exact same experience with you? How about values? What about purpose? Passion? Aims? Ambitions?
Let me tell you. No one but you has this unique set of the mentioned qualities that you have. You and yourself is your own, you have the sole ownership of your personality, values, and ambitions. You may want different things than others, and this is perfectly fine. So what success really is?
You die today.
Imagine you walk through the door of your local church, mosque, or wherever your people hold the burial ceremonies. The church is full of people, dressed in black. The atmosphere is heavy. People are sad, but also happy that they got to know the deceased person and spend time with him or her. You walk through the temple. You reach the coffin. You look at the deceased person's face and you see... yourself. You turn around. All the different people whose faces were hidden before appear to have your face on them. Now, the 4 of you are to make a speech.
One of you represents your family. He or she has seen you from the moment you were born, till your last day. It is someone who hugely contributed to who you were during your life.
Another you, your best friend, who has known your personal struggles, thoughts, has seen you in your prime and at your lowest. Maybe your life partner, maybe simply the best friend.
The third you speaks on behalf of your coworkers, people who you worked with, or maybe managed. This person will address the professional aspect of you.
Last but not least, the fourth you will speak on behalf of your community and society. Maybe members of the religious organization you were a part of, maybe someone from your social club, maybe your teammate from the sport club, maybe someone you shared hobbies with.
Now, each of them will speak on different aspects of you. And remember that each is still you.
What would you like them to say about you?
How they will address the crowd depends on how you led your life. They will talk about what they have seen. How would you like your life described?
What kind of words would you want to hear from the you who will speak on behalf of your family? We are talking both about the family you were born into- your parents, brothers and sisters, cousins, uncles and aunts, grandparents, all the family members who have known you a bit better. This you has consulted his speech with the other members of the family, to make sure what he says best presents you as a family member. He will also represent your chosen family- your life partner, your children, maybe even grandchildren.
What would you like to hear? Do you want to hear that you were committed to your born family? Do you want to hear you were a caring wife/husband? Do you want to hear you were a loving, but requiring father or mother?
Take a minute to really think what would you like to hear at your funeral from your family.
Now, it is your friend's turn to talk about you. This one has been the closest person you've had. This you knows all about your personality, about what choices you were making, what made you feel how, knows you personally. This you knows what you were thinking when you were excited, happy, satisfied, bored, sad, disappointed, brokenhearted. You also knows about what you promised yourself and others and how much of that have you done, and how much of that you have done. He knows your good deeds and motivations behind them, and knows when you acted immorally and why.
What would you like this you to say about you? Would you like to hear that you were consistent? Ambitious? That you kept your promises? That you put others above yourself? That you dealt with disappointments well? That you acted accordingly to your personal code? How did you spend your time? What did you really care about?
Take a minute to really think about what would you like to hear from your best friend.
The third you to speak represents people you've worked with. He will represent you professionally. He will talk about you career, and who you were at work. He will talk about your impact at your company. He will talk about what was your decision-making process. He will talk about what you valued at work. What you were good at. He knows when you failed, and how you dealt with it. You worked with this person, but then you left to set up your own business. But you brought this person to your company as an employee. He will also know what kind of boss you were. How you treated your employees. What you valued in your company. How much you stuck to the law. What kind of impact you wanted the company to have. How much you cared about the profit for yourself, and how much about your employees' well-being, as well as how socially responsible the company was. This you also knows your previous boss well, so he will know what kind of employee were you. Did you live up to trusted tasks? Have you been a team player, or a solo achiever? Were you a leader, or mediator, or the most reliable person on the team, or the one with the most skill and knowledge?
What would you like this you to say about you? Were you responsible? Were you a selfish, profit-chasing person? Were you sensitive? Were you making good decisions? Did you care about others at the workplace? Did you do your best? Did you care about the social impact of your business? Did you treat you colleagues and employees with respect? Were you fair?
Take a minute to really think about what you would like to hear from the person you worked with.
The last you will speak about what kind of a member of a society and community you were, be it your church, sport club, living community, or anything you were involved in simply due to alignment with them in some aspects, and chose to join voluntarily. He will know how you acted in the group. He will know what role you played there. He will know what you chose to get involved in. He will know what you were willing to do without compensation, simply due to your genuine passion and interest. And he will know how serious you were about it.
What would you like to hear about yourself from this you? What did you get involved in? What impact have you brought? How committed were you? How did you interact with other members? How much unpaid work did you put into it? How genuine was your commitment?
Take a minute to really think about what you would like to hear from the member of your community.
Why does it matter?
Since every speaker was you, they will truly talk about what you've done and achieved, and who you were. They have an insider insight. We should begin everything with the vision of the end. You must have ideas of what you would like you to say about you. Not other people, but you. This exercise is supposed to help you gain a better insight into what you truly care about. You will determine your true core ambitions. You will determine who you want to be. Your true values. The true you. And your definition of success.
What success is for me?
In my understanding, success is the satisfaction with yourself, living by your rules and according to them, having a clean conscience, and bringing the kind of impact you'd like to bring to the people around you. What you truly care about.
Money can be a measure of success for you if it helps you achieve your true goals, for example providing for you children, achieving financial independence, being able to donate to the causes you care about.
Power can be a measure of success if you use it for good, to push forward something you care about- change lives of people in your community, help groups you care about, close the gap between some people you feel sorry for and those you feel do not deserve the benefits they have.
Sex, or more actually, love, is the measure of personal success. You life partner, and later children and their happiness, are probably, according to people who are older to me who I listen to, an ultimate goal of life. Having that one person to share your life with, and being happy together, supportive of each other, is what you should strive for.
For me, personally, I value few other qualities very much as well.
Independence, Satisfaction, Clean Conscience
For me, at this stage of life, and probably will remain so, it is important to be able to do my own thing regardless of what I am told I can or cannot do. I value ability to achieve my goals regardless of limitations and against all odds. I hate being told what I have to do, especially if it does not align with my own ambitions, beliefs, and values. For that reason, I have always admired entrepreneurs, business owners, and have been interested in Startups for a long time. Building your own business allows you to align your work with your own beliefs and values, and make decisions you think are right. This value is sometimes more valuable than a higher salary. But now I do not have a family to take care of yet. I do not need to worry about feeding anyone else. Maybe my thinking will change as time passes. At the moment, I am proud of being able to say that just recently, I became fully independent and live the life my own way, regardless of limitations that are imposed on me, against all odds.
I also like to achieve what I want to achieve, not what someone else is telling me I should be doing. I may want different things at different times. When my goal was to get accepted to the certain school, satisfaction came from enrolling there, not from the high grades my parents told me I have to have- grades were always a tool, not the goal for me. And so it remains until today. I also take pride in my involvement in Hult Prize, and the trust people put in me when I was appointed the Community Director for Hult Prize Taiwan. I feel extremely proud that truly exceptionally individuals from top universities agreed to work with me, and now I am a part of a 7-people team who will be pushing great things into Taiwanese universities- moreover, I am extremely honored to be leading this team. I am proud that when I talk, people listen to me. I go to speak to students of various universities, including the top ones in Taiwan, and I have people older, more experienced and more educated than me listening to me. This really gives me a great deal of satisfaction. My status at my university, when school officials and other students often value my opinion brings me satisfaction. Landing an internship in a big company gave me satisfaction. The impact my team and I have on Taiwanese entrepreneurial education through bringing Hult Prize to more and more schools gives me satisfaction. I do not have a thick wallet. I do not live lavishly, I may not have the best grades in my class (even though I think even the best students in my class occasionally come to ask me about some class content... That's how great the education system is :P ), I may not do things people expect me to do. But I do not care. If these things do not bring me satisfaction, it is not something I will worry about and spend efforts on.
What I also care about, is living accordingly to my values and rules. I value not violating my own code. I value the fact I do not resort to immoral means of achievement, even if this causes things to be a bit tougher. I value that I can retain some pride, and not chase money regardless of my preference of the source of income. However, sometimes something needs to be done against one value to achieve something bigger. I take no satisfaction in teaching English, for example, but it is the only way for me at the moment to remain in Taiwan and be able to finish my studies and pay for my expenses while living here. As soon as I land another job in the field I am interested in (and something is on the horizon), I will abandon the teaching, and do things that satisfy me.
I am proud of my loyalty and love to my girlfriend. I know of disloyal people. I know of some who give up on their partners if things go south. But I have a strong relationship based on mutual, genuine love. It's not perfect, we do argue. But at the end of the day, both of us are able to live by our own rules, do what we value, and be happy together.
I am also proud that I am able to say no, regardless of outside pressures. I am proud that I do not follow my friends to the bottom of the bottle every weekend, since it does not interest me. Some people do not like it though, may call me boring. But I do not tolerate lavishness, brainlessness, and lack of responsibility. And I am proud that I am able to say no.
Are you successful?
You define your success. What you would hear from the 4 yous at your funeral will be your definition of ultimate success. If deep in your conscience you can tell yourself you are on your way to deserving the speeches you would like to hear, then you are successful. Richness, Power, and Popularity with other sex are not measures of success. Do not let society define your ambition. Know what you want, and be true to yourself, this is success.