Success is a word that is used frequently across the globe. Almost everyone wishes to experience a great amount of success all the time. We are constantly bombarded with images of success through the internet, mainstream media, and social media. These images often depict high net worth, lavish possessions, luxurious lifestyles, impressive titles or achievements, exotic travel, and more. However, data shows that this appearance of perceived success is not always synonymous with true success. Just appearing successful is not enough. The concept of success is often used too loosely, and there is constant pressure to achieve more. The parameters for success are constantly changing, and traditional career paths are becoming obsolete. Despite working hard and smart, many professionals feel lost and are unclear about what true success means.
CB is a 27-year-old med student who is actively seeking coaching and mentorship. CB wants to understand what success means and considers three examples from her circle of acquaintances:
- KN is a 52-year-old academic urologist with a well-recognized and well-funded research program.
- BK is a 58-year-old university president and previous vice-president with an educational background and international reputation.
- LM is a 43-year-old CEO of a private investment firm that acquires and expands medical practices.
CB wonders which of these individuals she should consider the most successful. However, the information provided is not sufficient to conclude this. CB learns more about these three people:
- KN is separated twice, works until 8-9 p.m. most days, and considers work to be worship. While her income is substantial, her financial health is not optimal because she never focused on financial management. She hardly has time for hobbies, except for playing the piano. She wishes she had more time to volunteer in her community. Her children are very close to her, and she values those relationships. KN is concerned about how long she can continue her research program, and she already has significant irritable bowel syndrome.
- BK shares some of his recent frustrations about “administrative handcuffs” and difficulty making change. He appears fairly satisfied with his career and has stable finances. He is well-respected in the community and volunteers a lot of his time. He continues to pursue his hobby and is considering early retirement. He is working on developing his own educational programs for teachers and students. He is in good health and is active.
- LM is a millionaire, but his focus is primarily on monetary gain. He is very stressed and unsure of what is next, or whether he wants to continue his job. He is aware of the frustration that medical staff experience when their firms acquire practices and apply performance metrics. LM is single and misses his old friends and good times. He has focused on his work for the last two decades. He occasionally enjoys horse riding, but he is now obese and rarely exercises. He has had to start taking antihypertensives and anxiolytics.
Based on this additional information, it is not possible to conclude which of these individuals is the most successful. Success can be measured in many different ways, and what may be considered successful for one person may not be the same for another.
Once all of this information has been presented to us, suddenly the notion of who is successful seems quite different. BK is the only person who appears satisfied and fulfilled with an optimistic outlook for his future. CB realizes that there is a need for a comprehensive definition of success. There is a need for a clear definition and vision for success. This is particularly urgent, as there is currently rampant evidence of job and life dissatisfaction, burnout, and unhappiness.
What is success? Most yardsticks for success are based on external parameters such as net worth, possessions, titles, and achievements. These are relatively easy to measure and, therefore, to compare. It is difficult to dispute a net worth of $5 million. However, the intrinsic parameters of success are far more complex. It is difficult to measure and standardize the feeling aspects of success, and even harder to compare them. Therefore, contemporary measures of success are often skewed and flawed.
It is important to emphasize once again that this feeling aspect of the process is critically important. You can achieve a level of material and external career success that people will consider impressive. It can be pleasant to receive the validation and approval of others. However, no matter what it appears to be externally, you know in your own heart whether or not you feel happy, successful, and fulfilled. That is what matters the most. If you do not feel this way, there is no amount of money, resources, material possessions, or even power that will tip the balance.
We now live in a culture that is deeply ingrained in comparison. This whole culture of comparison and criticism detracts massively from a growth mindset, because it distracts people from simply pursuing their own authentic goals.
True success is not just one single goal or achievement. It needs to be sustained and long-lasting, rather than a conflict between happiness and achievement. The reality of a successful and happy life is that it looks more like a rich kaleidoscope or holograph of various factors, where the part fits into the whole. So, you have a colorful experience over a long period of time. Success is about identifying and achieving your own personal balance in the areas of happiness, achievement, legacy, and significance in your personal and professional lives, as well as in the community and the world at large. That is why there is an almost intrinsic relationship between self-improvement, self-awareness, and success.
Furthermore, the concept of success is constantly evolving and needs to be revisited periodically. You will not likely think of success similarly at 25 and 45 years of age. Similarly, success is not a lone pursuit. Positive collaboration and connection with those you interact with and influence is key.
In our achievement-driven world, lasting success really requires a reasoned pursuit of enough. Highly successful people realize when they have achieved enough in one area, and then are able to switch their focus to another area. Therefore, they maintain a rich pattern in all areas of their life.
In conclusion, if you examine the life of anyone who has achieved great success, inevitably they will have faced massive challenges, and even periods when it looked as if they had made terrible decisions. Successful people always have both eyes firmly trained on the long game, based on their personal version of success. It is your choice, movement, fluidity, speed, experience, pattern, and structure that brings the pieces to the whole. Feeling successful is as important, if not more important, than appearing successful.
Ketan Kulkarni is a physician entrepreneur.