Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Many Faces of Success

There's a cartoon by an unknown artist that has been kicking around on Facebook for years now (see the top frame). Every year one of my friends post it, and I look at it and feel mildly encouraged, yet I know it is really not that black and white. So I started questioning what exactly it is about this cartoon that is encouraging, yet incomplete? The first thing I came up with is "I'll be happier if..." The I'll be happier if model of success is the thing I see most, the thing most patterned into our minds. We have many successes in life, graduating from college, quitting smoking, publishing a book, completing a film, falling in love, being good parents to our children, and yet as we reach each milestone it is never quite enough. While it is only natural to keep setting new goals for ourselves and pushing ourselves to achieve greater and greater things, the joy we should feel as we do this is often quashed by the internal mantra, I would truly be happy if... I had a house, if I had a better car, if my family wasn't so dumb and fartish, if I were creative and on and on and on... The success of reaching our goals is tainted by our feelings that we aren't actually successful at all.
The truth is, we deserve to be happy anyway even if our family smells and can only bother to talk about sports and even if we don't have the cool jobs, slim legs and creative genius of the characters we admire on TV. The "I'll be happier if..." cartoon is a model of success many of us are trapped in.
Then of course there is those of us who berate ourselves or sabotage ourselves and we struggle for our goal but it seems we never get there. We deny ourselves even the smallest successes (which are actually very important) like managing to eat healthy on a regular basis or making quality time for family and friends. We do pop out and have moments of enlightenment but then we are right back in the game, following the rules of play as we perceive them, and never feeling very good.
The last cartoon, "Redefining success," is where I think most of us, would end up, if we were only wise enough. Ideas about what success is, are very personal, but there is no denying there is a cultural definition of success that says our lives ought to look something like this:

You are young,  wrinkle free, have a cool apartment or house that you own and do not struggle to pay the mortgage on, a cool media approved job (architect, journalist, doctor, headhunter or spy for an elite agency etc...), a hot boyfriend or girlfriend or spouse, a nice car that consistently works, designer clothes,  ladies have 20 + pairs of high heels in your walk-in closet, women are thin, men are muscular, all are button-nosed attractive, famous or at-least semi-famous and earn lots of money.  

Once we come to our senses and understand we cannot quite attain all of those categories and in fact, realize that our obsession with one or more of those categories while fun for a while is actually destructive, we begin the process of making our own definitions of success. This step in creating our own story for our lives is not only important, but essential to happiness. In the cartoon I offer a few suggestion for what really counts, health, recognizing happiness and allowing ourselves to savor it, cultivating our friendships and knowing when we have our basic needs met, we really have enough, Everything else we might strive for is a bonus and we should view it as a fun challenge.  I ought to have also added KINDNESS to that new definition of success. If we are kind to ourselves, our family, and the earth that sustains us, there is probably no greater measure of a successful life than that.

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