How to measure success?

Picture credits: Customer Success Association

If I ask you to google the meaning of a word ‘success’ I am sure you’re going to find many definitions of it. 

  1. the accomplishment of an aim or purpose
  2. a desired outcome of an undertaking
  3. the attainment of wealth and eminence
  4. or put simply, excellence

Success has become a very important part of our lives. And that’s why we are so fixated on becoming successful. It’s linked to how much money we earn, how powerful we are, how many powerful people we know, what university did we go to, how multi-tasking we are, what clothes we wear, what devices we own, etc. Alain De Botton, who is a brilliant philosopher (and one of my favourites) has rightly said that the most iconic question of the 21st century is nothing but “WHAT DO YOU DO?” and by that question we are obviously pointing out at each other’s careers. People who have all the things I have mentioned earlier in the paragraph leave no stone unturned in flaunting their success while people who implicitly believe they haven’t got the best job in the world try avoiding that question in every possible way. When we look at celebrities we tell ourselves ‘This is exactly what I want. These people are so successful. They have the best life ever.’ When we look at billionaires or millionaires we start believing that is what success is all about and therefore we make it our life’s purpose to accumulate as much wealth as possible. The thing is no one has an idea what success is like and what it should look like. Our biggest problem is that we decide if we are successful based on an the external things. We let societies, money, power, etc. define our life as successful. Guess what? We never feel successful. And sadly, we never will as long as our metrics of success are faulty.

Inner V/s Outer Scorecard

Warren Buffet who is an American investor, philanthropist, business tycoon and the CEO and chairman of Berkshire Hathaway once said, “The big question about how people behave is whether they’ve got an Inner Scorecard or an Outer Scorecard. It helps if you can be satisfied with an Inner Scorecard.” Majority of us look at an Outer scorecard, not an inner one and that’s exactly why we never feel satisfied or successful in our lives. We are constantly focused upon money, power, other people’s validations to define us; to define our levels of success. C H Cooley and Han-Joachim Schubert gave a name to this phenomenon and it’s called “Looking- Glass- Self”. They summed it up by a wonderful line: “I am not what I think I am. I am not what you think I am. I am what I think you think I am.” While it is important from time to time take into consideration other people’s good pieces of advice it is not an entirely good idea to rest our whole lives on what the world thinks how successful we are. If we are earning $1000 lesser than our friends and relatives does it mean we are poor and our lives are not as good as theirs? If we own only a single car or no car at all does it mean a vehicle is going to become one of the metrics of our success? Maybe we want to use public transportation because it saves up a lot of our time and contributes in saving the environment. It’s like we are always chasing what the next person has and until we get it we are a failure. 

Potential metrics of success

Since time immemorial it has been told to all of us that a successful life means good quality education, a good job, a happy marriage with lovely children and having caring and supportive family & friends. That’s true. I couldn’t agree more. But humans seem to have no appetite when it comes to success. Therefore, we are always doing ‘something’ yet we want more and more of it.

So how should we define what a successful life should be? A life can be defined in terms of:

Well being

We sacrifice our health (both physical and mental) for a better project at our jobs so that we climb ladders of success instantly. Sadly, we forget the age old saying, “Health is Wealth.” Just imagine, if you are not physically fit and mentally serene do you think that life is worth that bigger project you’re chasing. Prioritize health because when you’re healthy you’re way more successful than someone who is digging his/her own grave by making ‘work’ everything. By being well you’re giving yourself more opportunities to do your best work. Having tons of money in your bank account with an ailing health doesn’t account for a successful life. You are still miserable. 

Family

A loving, caring and supportive family is the biggest blessing of one’s life. A blessing we often take for granted because we are busy measuring our lives through other external means. Someone with a great family support can withstand everything life will offer and we don’t think of it as something to be grateful for. We care more about what our bosses, colleagues, strangers think of us that we miss out on how much our family loves us. Their love gets shadowed in front of other people’s constant approvals. We are always trying to please everyone other than our families yet no one gets pleased enough. Is that the kind of life we should be striving for? Would you call that a successful life because a successful person clearly knows his/her priorities. Having a great family is a sign of a successful life no matter what everybody says. 

True fans

Kevin Kelley, founder of Wired Magazine coined a term called “1000 true fans”. He believes these are the people who will buy anything and everything you will make because you have earned their trust. He further believes these 1,000 people will be enough for you to have a decent living standard (according to Kelley’s math).These are the people we must focus on. They can be our close friends, family members, spouses, colleagues or even complete strangers. What everybody else thinks should be of no concern to us. When we start caring about our true fans we will start feeling successful too. 

Autonomy

We all want to land prestigious universities and companies so that one day we have a prestigious life. There is nothing wrong with wanting something ‘better’ in our lives. It’s human nature after all. But sometimes we are so desperate that we often forget when everything should be enough. We are so desperate that we are even ready to lose our autonomy to reach the stars. Look at celebrities for instance. They have luxurious lives. They have a lot of money. They go on vacations all over the world as if it’s like taking our dogs for a walk every evening. They have the best cars and the best houses. Yet they feel something is missing in their lives. That’s probably their ‘autonomy’. Ryan holiday, a best selling author of The Obstacle is the Way has said that the definition of success is autonomy or independence. If we are not free, if we are always being told what to do (the way celebrities have to comply to their PR agents, lawyers, managers, etc before uttering a single word) then I am sorry but I don’t think that’s success. And even if that is what success looks like then it’s not worth it. We should do big things but autonomy should never be compromised with.

I think it’s time to re-define the definition of success. Probably it is going to help us become more content and happier.

If You’re Blessed. Be a Blessing.

Picture credits: CNN.com

No one ever became poor by giving.” – Anne Frank

Anne Frank was a German- Dutch diarist, a Holocaust survivor who posthumously gained fame with the publication of her all time famous book “The Diary of a Young Girl”. For approximately two years she and her family lived in a secret annex to avoid getting caught by the Nazis. However, they got caught and only her father , Otto Frank managed to survive. The times she and her entire family was going through is completely unimaginable for all of us. In spite of living in such ordeals Anne Frank did not stop being optimistic and the best version of herself. While she had nothing to give to anyone outside that secret place she was living in, she believed in the power of giving. She said that no one in this world has ever become impoverished by giving to other people. 

Why you must give?

We all talk about giving. We all say if we have so much to be grateful for we must never back down from helping others. In other words, if we have so many countable blessings we must become a blessing to someone else too. I think that’s appropriate because life is not a life if it is lived not in the service of others (please mind that living in the service of others doesn’t mean we should forget our own selves). Many pundits and philosophers also believed in this and made the best usage of words to express themselves:

“The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity.”Leo Tolstoy

“We make a living by what we get, we make life by what we give.”- Winston Churchill

And finally…

If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap.  If you want happiness for a day, go fishing.  If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune.  If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.”  –Chinese Proverb

Is this enough? I mean is this the only reason we must give to other people? No. While poets and philosophers were right, science has now ample amount of data to prove that giving is a good thing and it adds meaning to our lives. 

In the year 2008 an interesting study was conducted by researchers at Harvard University and University of British Columbia on the benefits of giving. In the study they found that spending money on others lead to lasting improvements in people’s overall happiness levels. Another study was conducted by Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University and in one of their annual studies ‘Women Give 2017’ it was found that there is a connection between charitable giving and life satisfaction. In other words, there is a relation between how satisfied we feel in our lives and how charitable our attitudes are. Economists Bill Harbaugh & Daniel Burghart and psychologist Ulrich Mayr conducted a study in the year 2007 which was published in a prestigious journal Science. They were interested in observing the changes in brain activities when donations were voluntary or mandatory. Every participant was given a sum of $100 and were told no one would know how much of it they had kept with themselves or donated. The participants were kept under fMRI machines while they made decisions whether to keep some money or donate it. Their brain activity was measured by an fMRI. Sometimes subjects had a choice to choose if they were willing to donate some money to a local food bank while other times tax was levied and some of the money was sent to a local food bank without seeking the permission of the participants. Researchers found that when the participants chose to donate, the areas of the brain were lit up that release pleasure chemical called dopamine. These are the same brain areas which respond when we are involved in activities including eating and sex. On the other hand, when subjects had to donate in spite of their choice same brain areas were lit up but the activity was slower than in the previous case. 

These experiments are only a drop in the ocean. There are tons of other studies that clearly demonstrate that giving to other people is a good thing. Bill Gates is one of the names that is cited the most when it comes to philanthropy. His wealth is estimated to be nearly $94 billion and he has given away approximately $50 billion over the years to various charities. Other well-known philanthropists include Warren Buffet, Oprah Winfrey, J K Rowling, etc. They all seem to have understood that by giving no one becomes poor. Ever. 

What can you give?

Now we know donating money to charities is an excellent practice to boost our psychological well-being. Even science agrees. But is it really about money? Does it always have to be about dollars or pounds or euros? Is it really that only if I am donating a part of my income to various charities and people in general then I am contributing in uplifting the society? Was Anne Frank merely talking about money when she said about ‘giving’? 

While it is true that it’s money which often comes to our minds whenever we are talking about giving something, we need to expand our perspective. Not everyone is in a position to help someone financially. Sometimes you’re helping someone if you are being kind and understanding with them. You’re also helping someone if you’re guiding them correctly so that they stay on the right path throughout their lives. Moreover, you’re helping someone by being the best version of yourself. They may not be given much worth but they are definitely worthy. Currently, I am not earning any money and I cannot help someone money wise. I cannot buy anyone any gifts on their birthdays. Until that day comes I am trying to help people with everything else. I am trying to become a better person each day so that my goodness is out there in the world.