No One Defines Success but You

To be truly successful, you have to know what you want and work for it.

Photo by Bruce Christianson on Unsplash

My dream life involves chickens and body painting. Living in a hippy community with a bunch of polyamorous anarchists. Being surrounded by people, finding ways to live together. I want to be involved in activist work, skilled at Muay Thai and aerial silks, and writing books and blogs that people read and that have an impact. I have so many dreams and desires, and not just in my professional life.

The thing is, since what I want doesn’t really correspond to society’s definition of success, nice house + nice car + nice husband + nice kids + nice salary + nice gadgets, I sometimes feel like I am unambitious, like I should be trying to reach the “top” of my field.

It’s tempting to follow well-trodden paths because if you go off-road you never know how far along you are. You have no points of reference. This may seem more important than enjoying the journey. And you may not even ask yourself if there is any point in getting as close as possible to somewhere you don’t want to be.

For a long time I wouldn’t admit what I actually want from life, even to myself. “I don’t even know what I want,” I would think, except I did really, I just didn’t know it was possible, and I didn’t know that I was allowed to want it.

This is a call to love yourself and your weird ambitions, to know that when it comes down to it, if you follow them, you will be a happier person, and help make the world a better place.

The dreams society has for us are limited and uninspired. And they are based on the fact that only a limited number of people can achieve them. They serve society’s interests, by which I do not mean the interests of the “common good”, I mean the interests of the capitalist system in place which benefits a select few.

Measuring our value against the criteria defined by the elite prevents us from questioning the status quo. We are in competition for places in a hierarchy so that those in power remain in power, so that the racist, sexist and classist society we have is never threatened.

Let’s start with careers. We often equate success with money, even though it has been proven that the usefulness of a profession to the population is actually inversely proportional to the salary. Ie: the more you help people, the less you get paid.

We have reached a point where being rushed off your feet is valued. Working 12 hour days is seen as virtuous, really going for it, because work is supposed to be the most important thing. How can that be a successful life?

We are supposed to be defined by the sole criteria of our profession. It’s one of the first questions we ask, what do you do? by which we don’t mean any one of the myriad things a balanced person should do, we just mean, what do you get paid to do.

But there are other types of work that are unpaid, and yet vital to society and an important factor to individual happiness. A lot of charity work is voluntary and yet it is critical work, especially in a context of austerity where public services are being cut back. Many people invest a lot of hours in social causes, set up amazing projects, but since it isn’t done for money it isn’t supposed to define them, nor does it enter into society’s judgement of their success.

As for our personal lives, the only “successful” situation, especially when you are a woman, is to get married and have children. The only relationships to which our society gives credit are the “endgame” relationships. We don’t value people have deep and meaningful relationships that end when they are ready to end. We don’t value people having incredibly successful friendships. The only measure of success is ending up with someone, settling down, starting a family in the most conventional sense ever.

It is hard stepping out of the road society makes for you, to decide that you can define success for yourself. Especially when you lack self-confidence, and feel the need to meet society’s standards to have a boost. When you do something different, you are all alone in evaluating yourself and determining whether or not things are going well.

Thing is, you are more than capable of being the judge of your own success.

You have amazing dreams and qualities and so much to bring to the world, more than society’s limited visions of success could ever imagine. Know that you don’t have to measure yourself on anyone else’s standards but your own.

Know that when you follow your dreams, when you are doing what makes you happy, it is amazing how quickly you forget to care about what society thinks about it.

Joke’s on them.

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