What does the word ‘success’ mean to you? Do you think you are living a successful life, or missing the mark in some way?
Last Thursday night I attended a wonderful photographic exhibition in Surry Hills by photographer, Yve Lavine. The exhibition was part of the Head On Festival and was called Sweet 16. Sweet 16 is a powerful project created around the responses women over 60 gave to the question “What advice would you give your 16 year old self?”
A fascinating question, and one that was discussed in a panel conversation and further explored during a question time. During the discussions an important issue was raised; what does being ‘successful’ mean? This got me thinking, “What does success mean to me and is ‘success’ different from living a ‘successful life’?”
When I started out in my writing career my definition of success was forever shifting. It started with “I will be successful when I get published.” Then it became, “I will be successful when I get regular feature articles published.” Then it became ‘I will be successful when I get published in this particular magazine.” Now it has become, “I will be successful when I have a book published.”
As you can see, defining success by specific goals or events is problematic. When we define success by achievements only, our notion of success always changes and our ‘success high’ is short lived. It also means the deep belief that we are living a meaningful life can seem elusive as the bar is forever shifting.
There is nothing wrong with working hard to achieve goals, but there is another more lasting and meaningful way, to determine success in our lives that provides a solid point of reference.
Living a Successful Life
Some of the people in the audience put forward the idea that no matter what you do with your life, your life is a success when you can say the following things:
“I live in such a way that I make the world a better place”
“I am a good person”
“I live the best life I can, with what I have”
What a powerful idea that a successful life is a life lived with meaning, purpose and compassion for others. What an empowering idea that success is not what we achieve by others’ standards, but how well we have used the resources available to us.
I have written a lot about this topic, and strongly believe that a happy, successful and meaningful life begins by making the most of what we have, not allowing our limitations to be a barrier to happiness or success.
Added to this discussion was a great comment made by Alissa Thibault, one of the women on the panel. Alissa believed that we needed to reframe the word ‘success’ with ‘fulfilment.’ She explained that living a successful life should be about living a fulfilling life, whatever shape or form that takes.
Defining success in terms of fulfilment means we can be successful at every stage in our lives, not just when we reach major milestones. Seeing success and fulfilment as intrinsically linked frees us to consider our past, our present and our future from a new perspective. We can look at our life from a perspective that is based on passion, purpose and meaning before we look at other common ‘success’ indicators like job titles, big figure incomes or homes in certain postcodes.
Defining success in term of fulfilment, passion and compassion, means we can move through life knowing that we can always be living our best life. We can move through life never feeling like a failure or questioning the value of the life we are leading. It also frees us to follow a life that brings joy not only to ourselves but to others also.
What are your thoughts about success? What does living a successful life mean to you?
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