When you live in a modern western country, genuine problems are rare. Yes, you can go broke, get sick, lose a loved one or go through a nasty divorce (that’s three out of four for me), but the truth is, you’re more likely to run behind on your credit card payments (couldn’t resist that sale, could you?), or fret about your butt looking big in last season’s jeans.
You won’t contract Ebola in the office lunch room, lose a leg to a land mine on your way to the store, or land in prison for calling your President a bloated orange (at least not yet…).
So because of this gilded life – with its running water, warm bedding and 97 TV channels – we create pretent problems to stress over. For extra fun, we then compare our problems to our friends’ problems. We strive for better problems – more interesting, fashional, FOMO-worthy problems.
We say, “I’m so busy at work, I don’t have time to get a massage anymore,” or “I have to get around to finding a new cleaner – our current one keeps missing the area under the sofa.”
We hate our phone the minute a new one comes out. We fear our car isn’t as flashy as it seemed three years ago, or we envy our friend who has a personal trainer while we still schlep it to the gym every Tuesday. Damn, life is hard!
But these are the gripes of small thinkers. They’re for people who work just enough to make it to the weekend; who save just enough to buy something else they don’t need but never learn how to play (invest for) the long game.
Since you’re reading this, I’ll assume you’re not one of them. Or if you are, you recognise it and want to change it.
I’ll admit I used to shop my problems against other people’s. I wanted problems so amazing, they’d wish their life was that good! Meanwhile, I struggled to make payments on my brand new Mercedes, and I laid in bed each night with eyes like dinner plates, worried about the $1.3M I’d borrowed to build my real estate portfolio. I fake-whinged about my workload when what I should have done was cut the bullsh*t and have a stern talk with the ego in the mirror.
I was making the same mistake most of us make at different times in our lives: I was playing to an imaginery audience. I was acting as if:
a) People were watching and judging me
b) Those people actually gave a sh*t
While the first one was true (we all do it) the second one wasn’t – rendering the first one moot. All the people whose opinions I believed mattered eventually experienced their own failures; some quite spectacular. There were financial meltdowns, acts of repeated adultery, divorce, major health scares, and a few deaths for good measure. Failures left to right.
Which brings me nicely to the subject of success, and how we’re making the same mistakes with striving as we are with problems. One of my earliest mentors, Charlie ‘Tremedous’ Jones, used to say, “If you’re gonna go nuts, you’d better make sure you have a good reason!”
Chasing success based on other people’s metrics will drive you crazy. Worse still, you’ll go crazy for nothing. It’s a sickness that cuts across socio-economic, religious and geographical planes. It affects everyone. Everyone, that is, except the ones who make a deliberate decision to do something else: to set their own metrics.
I’ve talked about the scourge of advertising before (and the 3-5,000 messages we see each day), but something else I’ve noticed is a theme from social media influencers on the subject of success:
- Unless you bleed out of your eyes, you’ll always be average.
- To be successful, you have to push and push and push.
- You must ignore the other aspects of your life if you’re serious about your goals.
- Never pause to savour your achievements; never quit striving.
- Success is REALLY hard.
- 10x it or go home.
I understand the spirit of these messages, and I respect many of the people who promulgate them. However, they miss a handful of critical points.
- We experience different seasons in our lives – each with unique priorities. There was a time when I’d work 24-hours straight because I was hungry for money. Today, I value my sleep too much.
- Our versions of success (if we’re truly honest with ourselves) vary wildly. For some, it’s a C-level role in a Fortune-500. For others, it’s 1,000,000 followers or owning a seven-figure business. For me, it’s knowing my bills are paid, doing something I care about, and having time for those I love.
- We value things differently. I love cars, but I have no interest in owning a Ferrari or a Lamborghini. If you gave me one, I’d sell it. Likewise, if you offered me an extra $100,000 a year to sit in an office and attend lots of meetings, I’d decline. I know this because I’ve already done it.
- I’m in no rush to achieve my dreams – after all, the life I have now is one I dreamed about many years ago. I also had a heart attack in my chaotic 30s, so I’d rather not tempt a second one.
So what is success, then, and what does it take? The best definition I’ve ever come across is from Earl Nightingale:
“Success is the progressive realisation of a worthy ideal.”
The beauty of this definition is it acknowledges two important elements:
- It’s not an outcome or a destination. It’s a ‘progressive realisation.’ In other words, so long as you’re on the path, you are already successful.
- The object of your striving is up to you. Whatever you deem a ‘worthy ideal’ is good enough.
The bottom line is, you don’t have to kill yourself to be successful. You don’t have to look like anyone else, behave like anyone else or think like anyone else. Your version of success is perfect – for you.
While they run around playing the comparison game, you can bat them away with one hand, turn on your heel and go another way. It’s fine.
And so I challenge you to grab a pen and paper, or open up your notes app on your phone, and come up with your own definition of success. If no one was watching; if no one cared, what would a good life – something you’d be proud of – look like for you?
I’ll leave you with my personal definition.
Success for me is living authentically, doing work that matters, serving my family, and having the time and resources to live fully and experience the magic of my brief time on Earth.
By my calculation, I’m doing just fine. How about you?
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