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Success & Misperceptions of Success

They say that, ‘beauty is in the eyes of the beholder’. I say, so is success.


Recently, I had conversations with two friends – one male and, the other female, in which success, perceptions of success, or the lack thereof were common themes. In these interactions, both friends shared their views about their own successes vis-a-vis other people’s perceptions of their success. One struggled with the feeling that she was not measuring up to the usual indicators for success established by society, which she had adapted as her own yardstick. The other strongly defended his own success against the assertions, and perceptions of others that he had not achieved much success. Both sounded frustrated and unhappy. As I listened to their different perspectives, and weighed in on some of the issues they grappled with, I couldn’t help but conclude that – when it comes to determining real/true success, the verdict is out.

For instance, think about your own perceptions of what success is, and by extension- those you believe to be successful or unsuccessful. What for you, are the primary indicators of their success or  lack of success? Is their success determined by the size of their house? Whether or not they own or rent property? The size of their savings or investments portfolio? The type of car they drive? The brand clothes they wear? The circles in which they socialize? The credentials behind their name? Or, is it their relationship status (Married, single or divorced)? Their professional career /job title (or the corner office)? The number of children they have (or don’t)? What are the factors that decide? There are no simple answers to any of these questions, except to say that, each society has its own set of ideals, which are presented as the “model” to which people should aspire, and/or work diligently to achieve.

imagesCAZ87BSOThese ideals are further are  reinforced by the images of success generated by the mass media (especially social media), and other agents of socialization. Collectively, they all serve to influence and shape our thinking about success. Adding to that, powerful social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (to name a few), reinforce materialistic definitions of success, by the images they present of “successful people,” posturing and sharing their “successes” within their varied networks. And while some of their friends cheer them on, their “less successful friends” struggle to deal with their own feelings of failure in achieving those ideals. This in turn can lead to self-induced pressure, resentment of self and others, and also produce feelings of anxiety, inadequacy and /or depression.

Another other part of the issue to consider is – who decides if a person is successful or not? Is it their circle of friends? Their family? Is it their peers or colleagues at work? For if like beauty, success is in the eyes of the beholder, it stands to reason that you should decide for yourself. If it is fool-hardy to leave it up to another person to decide if you are pretty or beautiful enough, then it would be equally ill-advised to let another decide if you are successful or not. After all, with all the stereotypes of beauty, some women will always be seen as more beautiful than others, and some men- more handsome than others. So it is with success. Ultimately, only the people themselves can truly decide what success looks like for them.

Like it or not, the world around us is evolving, and some of the symbols we commonly associate with success are no longer valid. Men and women no longer stick to the clearly defined roles of traditional relationships or families. Women are exercising their choice to get married, and have children later or not at all. A stay at home mom might easily be the holder of graduate degrees. Some people chose to be single while pursuing “creative relationship” arrangements. As for the corner offices as an indicator of status, organizations are shifting away from walls to cubicles (cubes), and open floor plans regardless of the  job title. In fact, some people are walking away from six figure salaried jobs to pursue more altruistic missions. So, if a picture does tell a thousand words, the images on social media probably tell trillions. But, these pictures and images can say everything and nothing all at the same time.

imagesCATK2N52Real success is not measured by the image a person presents, the status a person attains, his/ her possessions, wealth or associated privileges. Were it so, some of the celebrities we know and love would enjoy happier and more fulfilling lives. Instead, an individual’s success is better assessed by examining the person’s character, work ethic, value system – how a person lives or lived, how he/she played the game, and less on whether he/she won or lost. The truth is, true success is within all of our grasps but it requires effort, and commitment. Some helpful points to note along the way of your personal journey are:

  • Set meaningful goals which bring more than just monetary rewards. These goals should reflect your passion, skills, and interests (yours and yours only).
  • Value yourself, people, and your relationships. Don’t sacrifice your health, family, and friendships for false success.
  • Be confident in yourself, and all that you bring to the table. However, practice humility and modesty in your interactions with those around you.
  • Strive for excellence in all your endeavors, and take pride in what you do. Keep learning and growing too.
  • Remember, the road won’t always be straight. There will be many detours and bumps. Embrace the challenges, value the experiences, and cherish the lessons. Because for with every tear shed, or painful moment, you are building muscles that will make you stronger, more resilient, and better able to help others.
  • Find that happy balance in love and life – love God, love yourself, and love others.

Images Courtesy of Google.

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2 thoughts on “Success & Misperceptions of Success”

  1. I guess that is why Maslow puts Self-Actualisation at the very top of his pyramidical hierarchy. It must be noted though, that self actualisation can only be truly achieved when one is not bombarded by the yearning for the physiological. Niyi Osundare’s “Not my Business” encapsulates man’s penchant for protecting the yam firmly lodged in his own mouth at the expense of empathising with his neighour’s suffering. Essentially, man’s success is always going to be measured against his neighbour’s perceived happiness. So, maybe we need to take a step back from viewing others’ glow with UV lenses so we aren’t blinded into thinking our perpetuity of peace lies outside our two ears.

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