We’re defining success wrong, and it’s hurting us


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When we measure our success, it’s often a proxy for how other people view us. Status. Position. Relative rank to the rest of society. This constant comparison is a strategy for misery. The thief of joy. True happiness, real success, comes from developing your own inner strength and contentment.

Here are three ways you are defining success wrong and what you can do to help yourself stay on track.

WRONG: SEEKING EXTERNAL VALIDATION

As the youngest of five siblings, I desperately wanted to be noticed. As I unconsciously competed for my parents’ attention, I always looked for that attaboy from my mom or dad. This was before smartphones and social media. Now, in addition to feedback from our families and peers, we seek digital likes, follows, and emoji-filled comments from people we may not even know.

Happiness is an inside job. It’s not to say we don’t care what others think. We do. But our true happiness, true freedom, comes when we focus on ourselves, on our own journey. Instead of looking to the outside, we develop inner strength. We have self-compassion.

Here’s a black belt-level self-compassion exercise to try. As you’re getting ready in the morning, look at yourself in the mirror. Look in your eyes. Placing your hand on your heart, say “(your name), I love you.”

Yes, it is harder than posting and getting likes. But, by making it a daily practice, the effects last longer and are more real.

WRONG: OVERIDENTIFYING WITH YOUR CAREER

Often when we’re first getting to know someone, we immediately start talking about our work. Our own identity and self-worth are often linked to our place on the career ladder.

I’ve found that moving up the professional ladder didn’t make me any happier. In fact, some of the career choices I made damaged my long-term relationships. Our careers, our status—these are things that often impact how we think the outside world measures our own success. I’ve come to understand that the job that we’re so obsessed with right now, the one we’re sacrificing everything for because of the stories we’re telling ourselves, will likely be reduced to three bullets on a resume or a LinkedIn profile in 15 years.

On our death beds, we won’t wish we’d focused more on work. Ultimately, we will measure our success by the quality of our relationships. What we wouldn’t give to have just one more day with the people we loved?

Yes, we still work. Yes, it’s important. Don’t confuse net worth with self-worth. Realize that relationships and connections make us happier than status.

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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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