During my late-night hospital shifts during my internship in Nancy, France, I pondered whether I was happy or not. I questioned my satisfaction grade and if I was okay with where my life was. I was looking at the bigger picture of my existence, wondering if that life brought me what I wanted.
It really surprised me that a few weekly shifts followed by many other work hours represented my definition of success at that time.
My more experienced colleagues, doctors or nurses, spoke about their hobbies, families, and investments. I always wondered how they had the time for all that. Over time, I understood that the proper scheduling and organization buy me more time for other activities. After my internship, I transitioned from an imposed schedule to one based on my own hours at my private medical. Still, I had many other things to learn about time management. And I reflect again on that question I asked myself years ago:
– What is success for you?
– (My younger self): Success is finishing my studies, helping people get healthier and becoming a good doctor.
– Do you already consider yourself a successful person?
– (My younger self): I think so. Look, I live in a great place, have a fantastic relationship with my girlfriend, and have a top-notch job. And I’m doing all of this in an environment where I can develop my intellectual skills.
– Nice; showing gratitude is fantastic! And what about your physical and mental health, spare time, hobbies, or friends?
– (My younger self): Okay, point taken.
I’m still trying to adapt all of that today and every day of my life. Every six months, I (re)ask myself the same questions. Are you successful? And what is success for you?
These questions lead me to consider two possible directions that mold the answers:
- How society sees success
- How I (you or we) measure my success
The current cultural paradigm defines success in simplistic terms. This holistic view may seem shallow, but it’s deeply anchored in our lives:
- School graduation. This part of success is assimilated to being a good student and putting in the necessary work hours for that. You’re expected to perform well in all your classes and have good marks. The laurel crown is earning a diploma that should represent success. Your and your parents’ egos should be pleased. However, you won’t feel a complete sense of satisfaction.
- Job achievement. According to the current paradigm, this next phase of success is doing what you must after graduation. You are expected to forego what you are good at or like. You are expected to ignore the domain that gives you creative wings, well and without pressure. Little variety and nearly no creativity annihilate your joy of life. At work and home. In your career.
- The amount of money you earn. Society has you constantly comparing yourself to others. Feeling good when you make more than others implies you have achieved success. Consequently, you will feel worse when your Facebook feed shows you an ex-high school classmate living a luxury lifestyle. Depression guaranteed.
- Build a family. This one is also about status. Can you become a so-called adult in today’s society without a family? Or maybe with one that’s too large? If you’re feeling judged, know that family is one of the lenses through which the conservatives gauge success. Your choices for your life become key performance indicators. Basically, other people’s satisfaction with your life dictates your happiness, measuring your success. Is this what your version of success looks like?
Yes, this is maybe a narrow image of reality, with some judgments and biases. But how would the effort to see things in another light feel?
- Good education. Instead of simply graduating, find a domain that you’re passionate about. Focus on it and navigate your way through its web. Understanding what truly matters for you during your formative years can be life-changing. Be the best version of yourself and create your own path. Make others understand what you feel when you do what you love most. Show them the force of a single-minded, passionate human being. But don’t neglect to learn the basics for each class in your curriculum because knowledge shapes your mindset.
- Do what you love to impact the society you live in positively. Your working hours are even more helpful if the work you love and your results help others. I mean, setting up your bakery and making mouthwatering bread is okay. But it’s more impactful if you do all that with a smile. The next stage of success could be creating your own staple product, such as a nutritious, albeit delicious, veggie bread for picky toddlers. Make your customers smile and focus on their needs. You’ll soon feel that positive impact pouring over you.
- Earn the amount of money you feel optimistic about. Investment experts like to use the term “to the moon.” This concept isn’t marketing glam. Earning money has no limit except the ones you impose upon yourself. It’s all about you, your desire, schedule, and lifestyle. Making money is about doing something great for yourself and bringing a positive contribution to the life of others. It’s about what your work and ideas are worth. Earning money is not about the number of hours your boss imposes and even less about how stressed you are; it’s about productivity and contribution. It’s on you how you choose to deal with that. Sacrificing your genuine joy to compare yourself to others is a shame.
- Allocate time for yourself and your hobbies. Your brain and body love variation. And your friends too! Consider the time spent on yourself and your hobbies as an integral part of your success. You can’t measure success only by your bank account. A great time with friends brings you the happiness you need to focus on your business and customers. Your weekend hobby is your anti-stress ball. Watching your favorite basketball team play isn’t a waste of time. If they win, your brain gets a massive dopamine rush that you can ride on to enhance your own work productivity. Even if they don’t win, watching their game gets you out of your head and relaxes you. Watching them play could be like praying or meditation. Not on the same level, of course, but the mechanism is not far from it.
- Maintain good physical health. We all know that physical health dictates our general wellbeing and comfort. Being healthy is about security and life certainty. It’s insurance for the future and the foundation for your dreams. Being healthy is the cornerstone of success. How can you feel successful if your physical health is not up to standard? How can you flourish your business if you have chronic pain or feel breathless after two minutes of walking? It’s not easy, but you can turn things around with a good workout routine.
- Have perfect mental health. And what about mental health? It’s arguably even more important than your physical condition. The current definitions of success don’t talk about mental health much. But how can you achieve success if your thoughts are running all day long in all directions or if you feel gloomy and down? Take care of your mental health first; it’s another crucial pillar of success!
- Build a family consonant with your own principles and lifestyle. The definition of family is your own definition of family. Human beings are social creatures, and we thrive in groups and families. Connecting with others is vital for us. But only you can choose when/if you want a more extended family. It’s not about what others want. It shouldn’t be about societal pressure, either.
I will finish here with this confabulation. To summarize, success is more complex than what our society would like us to have (and what sometimes it imposes on us). Look at the larger picture of success, and don’t forget about yourself on this short journey on Earth. Success is life itself.
To end up, I leave you with the idea that Marcus Aurelius expressed so poetically: “It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.”