Success doesn’t equal success. Success doesn’t guarantee success.
Outward success has nothing to do with internal success. And, ultimately internal success is what leads to happiness, contentment, fulfillment; the things that make life valuable to most of us.
We see examples of this theory often in celebrities. A performer like Kelly Clarkson has talked often and openly about her struggles with relationships, fame, and loneliness. She has chosen to live in her home state, Texas, away from the limelight of stardom in Hollywood. She is famous and successful in a career she dreamed of and loves. She is respected as being a talented singer. She certainly has wealth. She has what most people seek; a successful career in a field she loves, respected by others, and earning money to buy herself most things she would want. She probably also meets people all over the world; talented and connected people. How does her overwhelming external success not automatically equate to internal success?
Whitney Houston was a tragic example of the same scenario; unworldly talented, known and respected through-out the world, successful in her craft, and exceedingly rich. She was exceptionally beautiful, as well. Most of her adult life included a struggle with addiction, but one could certainly argue that she struggled with feelings of inadequacy, doubt, and sadness. Whitney House: Inadequate, doubtful and sad? The external success didn’t automatically equate to internal success.
There are people in my family, or friends I have known for years; some of them have achieved success in their career, often a “dream” career doing something they love. Just the same, they struggle with all of the things I struggle with. They struggle with the things I hear so many other people struggling with. They even dislike or have frustrations with their job, even when in a dream or desired chosen career.
I think it’s a great lie of our time this thing called “success.” It comes and it goes; just like happiness. Like I have heard celebrities refer to fame, success also seems like an illusion. Success is somehow determined by select criteria that “somehow” evolved in our society. Many people believe it comes wrapped inside the big and beautiful home, or new cars, or prestigious job titles, or the prestigious career path. We all assume it comes with wealth, and often with fame.
Part of the dilemma is this obsession with following ones “dreams.” And I don’t say that to be a negative Nancy. There is nothing wrong with dreams; in fact, I’m sure they are at the heart of most wonderful things in our world. We all have dreams and we all need dreams. Some come true and many do not. But, this new age drive to always chase ones dream at any cost seems to be more pressure we put on ourselves and each other. But, the problem I see is not inherently in the “dream,” or drive towards ones dreams. A dream, at its core, is a healthy and positive pursuit. The illusion lies in the belief that chasing or achieving ones dreams equals success, which then equals happiness, contentment and fulfillment. Along with that illusion, is the fallacy of respected dreams which should line up with outward societal success in select careers, or in acquiring a set amount of material wealth. Does our society value or applaud the pursuit of dreams even when they don’t equate to the normal parameters of external success? I wonder….
When I was young and just out of high school my dream was to move to California. And I did it, I moved to Santa Barbara and later Ventura, CA. I loved the experience and still have a lot of sentiment in my heart for that beautiful state; however, the issues that plagued me moved right along with me. I had some very fun, exciting and happy times, but I also had a great deal of heartbreak. I guess those things often come with dreams. And though my time in California may have not garnered external success; I didn’t have a high paying job, or live in a kick-ass California home, the experiences of growth that I recognize years later show me the real value in the years I spent there. Where living in California once was a dream, it ended up really being more about my own personal healing and growth. For those things, I’d gladly sacrifice my previous illusions of grandeur.
Happiness can come along with living ones dream, or even achieving ones dream. But, like happiness and success, dreams also come and go. And so the illusion continues further, as the dream is a moving carrot. We see a lot phrases and books encouraging folks to “live your dream.” And all of that is great in theory, but it’s not always attainable for many, and beyond that, many live their dream or get their dream and find out they are just as lonely and filled with holes as before, and sometimes even more so…
I know my thoughts are a bit counter to the self-help generation that spends more time memorizing the tools to “The Secret”, then actually defining their internal success. I see aspects of this self-help craze parallel the diet craze; everyone wants a magic pill, or the fast bullet. With health and weight, there is no secret formula; eating healthy, in moderation, and exercising is the secret. And happiness and fulfillment are no different; there isn’t a secret path which only one book will dispel.
I certainly don’t have any concrete answers to what brings internal success to each person; it’s safe to say we are all unique souls bouncing about. But, from where I sit, it seems apparent that the outward trimmings of success don’t do the trick for most people. One can certainly be an outward “success” as our society defines it, as well as a happy person with great internal success. It’s just most likely that the outward success didn’t create the internal success.
A life filled with external success which is mostly self-gratifying, which doesn’t help others, usually doesn’t provide contentment and fulfillment to the person that has the success. A lot of “successful” people who also achieve fulfillment and contentment along with it, are people that manage to find ways to do things for others; they become successful and use their platform to help other people.
It seems apparent, but also important, to admit that real contentment, or real success, comes from an internal place. The internal place hopefully is one of peace, self-confidence, gratitude, and compassion. For me, internal success is defined by the joy in my life and the joy I bring to others. Although I can’t control the happiness of others, nor please everyone all the time, part of my journey must include people outside me.
So, instead of asking you what you “do” (for a living), or what you drive, I’ll ask you something more important. I ask you this, what is your path to internal success?