The Elusive Meaning of Success

What happens when you take money out of the equation? 

I was having lunch at an open-air restaurant recently and a man in his 30s, at an adjacent table, was sporting a t-shirt boldly declaring: READY FOR SUCCESS. I thought how sad that wherever this chap is currently in his life’s journey, he’s still striving for success. 

I bet you ten to one that his idea of success is based on money. In fact, I’d go further and suggest he’s been making money most of his life, but never reached an amount that meets his definition of  “success”. In other words, he thinks of himself as “unsuccessful”. 

A Different Kind of Rich

In this day of billionaires, sprawling mansions and exotic cars, if we took money as a measure of success out of the equation, what would that look like? It’s hard to imagine because our western minds are programmed to think in terms of material assets. Yet, at the heart of non-material success lies personal fulfilment. This form of success is measured by reaching individual milestones, overcoming challenges, and personal growth and self-improvement. 

Importantly, success is also defined by the quality of our relationships and the social connections we nurture, i.e. the love, support and shared joy that enriches our lives. Success, in this respect, is about being part of a community, contributing to it, and feeling connected to something larger than oneself.

Another dimension of success is the impact one has on society and the world. It’s about making a difference, however big or small, and knowing that one’s existence has added value to the world. This can be through acts of kindness, volunteering, mentoring, or any personal contribution that makes the world a better place. 

In my retreats, I often lead participants through a moving practice that calls on them to visualise their memorial service, paying attention to 

what others say about them. What they envision hearing about themselves are things like: “They were always there for me”; “They made a difference in their community”; “They showed immense kindness and compassion”; “They were a loving parent, partner, and friend.” 

What never comes up when reflecting on what they’ve heard about themselves (even if it’s true) is their skill at making money, their prowess in wheeling and dealing or their knack for ensuring their personal needs are satisfied.

Becca Williams is an emotions therapist and clinician who helps people free themselves from emotional burdens, traumas, and limiting beliefs to live more fulfilling lives.


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