During a recent trip to London, I had the chance to visit an amazing exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The exhibition was called "David Bowie Is." The genius of this legendary singer was to be a chameleon by allowing many of us to find what we needed in his work and persona. Everybody projects something different onto him. David Bowie is, period. You will have as many answers as fans. Being undefinable can be uncomfortable in the beginning, but it is also the opportunity to never be limited or labeled. That's a stairway to freedom.
One of the most pressuring labels we have to deal with in our society is probably "success." Surprisingly enough, not only do we never question the label, but we all feel the same pressure to fit the definition. I live in a place, the Silicon Valley, where people love to reinvent everything. "Disrupting" or even "revolutionizing" are omnipresent in everyday conversation. But success is like work, we never truly question the definition even in the hubs that thrive on imagining what's next.
Let's be honest, many of us still envision success as this spectacular achievement where you are rich, famous, loved and respected not only for what you created but for the image of wealth you represent. The vicious circle is perfect. Looking at the "perfect" picture, we can dream "one day, I will do the same."
Alain de Botton, a Swiss-British philosopher, explored the ravages caused by our customary vision of success in a recent TED talk.
One of the interesting things about success is that we think we know what it means. A lot of the time our ideas about what it would mean to live successfully are not our own. They're sucked in from other people. And we also suck in messages from everything from the television to advertising to marketing, etcetera. These are hugely powerful forces that define what we want and how we view ourselves. What I want to argue for is not that we should give up on our ideas of success, but that we should make sure that they are our own.
Being successful cannot be defined by society. It has to come from a certain alignment between who you are, what you do and how you impact your community. Nobody can decide this for you. You are the only one in charge. And what a relief this is.
When we start to change our vision of success, or actually when we stop worrying about what it is supposed to mean, we can enjoy the ultimate lightness: freedom. Free to draw your life on your own canvas. I do not know if being successful gives you a pure feeling of delight, but I know that being yourself, free to act in accordance with your own set of values and priorities is terribly satisfying.
What matters is feeling fulfilled, learning, exploring, growing with your actions and beliefs, not simply obtaining the end goal. Why is the path walked more important than the destination? Because happiness is not necessarily found in success. It is actually the other way around.
There is no doubt that having access to a comfortable lifestyle is important to our overall happiness, but having a meaningful life seems to bring even more reward. It's even what makes us human:
Humans may resemble many other creatures in their striving for happiness, but the quest for meaning is a key part of what makes us human, and uniquely so.
Forget about success, enjoy your human condition by finding your calling.
Arianna Huffington is exploring what she has dubbed The Third Metric in an effort to redefine success beyond power and money. I believe this metric needs to be personal, individually defined based on what makes us feel meaningful. This starts by respecting ourselves and our needs, taking the time to not only to recharge our batteries but also to discover who we really are beyond all the noise and any social decrees.
Redefining success, as redefining work is not a gimmick. It should be one of our main focuses in this new era of meaning. No innovation makes any sense if progress is just based on the tools we build and not the wellness of the ones using them. I love to say that if you are passionate about what you are doing, it never feels like work, just being who you are. In the end you are the only one who can finish the following sentence. Success is...
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