What Even is Success?
Turning 30 & A Midi-Life Crisis
So it’s official – I am now in the dirty thirties! I’m not gonna lie to you, I did kind of make the build up to the big day slightly more dramatic in my head than turning 30 actually was, but since turning 30 is the next big milestone after turning 21, societally, it did get to me more than I thought it would. But hey, we’re here now and I didn’t spontaneously combust, get a tattoo and/or buy a plane ticket to nowhere – so all is well!
Anyway, although I now sit here a few of weeks after turning 30 questioning why I was making such a big deal out of it, I still come back to the questions that continued to keep cropping up for me in the months before I hit the big 3-0. These were mainly centred around my own ‘success’ in life and whether I was deemed as being ‘successful’ in the eyes of others. In Pakistani communities, and probably in most communities, success is generally measured by wealth or status – it’s like, when people ask you your job title as soon as they meet you, it’s kind of a way to determine how much respect they should afford you. Quite disturbing really, but it’s the truth and probably an every minute occurrence all around the world.
As you may know, my life didn’t quite go the way I planned, having wanted to have built a solid career in journalism, media and the arts before settling down, getting married and having kids. Now, aged 30, with a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old under my belt (sometimes quite literally), you can probably guess that things didn’t turn out how I had always thought I wanted them to.
Nevertheless, it is what it is, and in my 30 years so far I have done and achieved what I think are some pretty amazing things (kids in tow, for the last 5!) – even if they don’t match up to the things in my head that I thought would have happened by this age. Because of that whole ‘not matching up to the picture in my head’ stuff, I was feeling really quite shit in the build up to my thirtieth birthday. I definitely had a good bout of comparisonitis and imposter syndrome going on, and my self-worth was undoubtedly pointing towards the lower end of the spectrum because I simply felt I hadn’t achieved enough thus far in life.
In a desperate bid to try and get my head around how I was feeling, I took to social media to ask friends and strangers on the Internet what success meant to them (you know, as you do) and the responses that I got… well, for me to read at a time like that, were pretty amazing.
10 Definitions of Success
Here are my top 10 favourite replies (in no particular order) that I’m sharing in the hope that they can lift you up, too, and show you that although society sets certain standards, not everyone within society thinks the same.
- “Real success happens when you use yourself to your full potential. Life will give you challenges to evolve; when you go through them, you grow through them. This is my own experience. God bless you with more abundance and success.” – Neena, shared via Facebook.
- “It is really important to determine what success looks like to you. I feel that this is where people go wrong when trying to achieve success. Quite often, and especially in those early years when we’re starting adult life it’s all too easy to chase after things that other people need to feel successful, rather than what we really want. I now define success as self-satisfaction. You can’t expect the next item you buy, the next relationship you have, or the next destination you visit to make you feel happy and successful. Once you are truly happy with who you are and how you spend the majority of your time, becoming successful in other areas of your life will come easy to you.” – Luisa Kearney.
- “To me success is when you’re truly grateful for all that you have and all that you’ve achieved. You can acknowledge there’s still work to be done but also recognise that once upon a time you prayed (or wished) for all the things you do have today.” – Lordine Marie.
- “I think a person becomes successful when they don’t view success in monetary terms. When success become less linked with money and more with achievement and happiness, I think that’s when a person becomes truly successful.” – Madiha from mevstheodds.com.
- “1. To live with authenticity. 2. Spending my time active in the things I love. 3. Staying true to myself within my practice/art.” – Hafsah Aneela Bashir, shared via Twitter.
- “My definition of success is making all those tiny advancements you make every day in business count. When you move forward you learn, and when you learn you grow either emotionally, professionally or mentally. Success isn’t alway financial.” – @nowtponcy, shared via Twitter.
- “Success is really to attain what you once prayed for… It is so unique, and that is why if we chase what others chase, we remain unfulfilled. If we have a dream, a goal, a target no matter how small – and it brings us happiness and others happiness and joy and no one is hurt by anything intended as malicious, then you can say you succeeded. Success to me covers a huge spectrum of many personal things and so I apply the rules above and keep moving forward…” @hennabyasmaali, shared via Instagram.
- “Being able to choose the work/life balance that I love. Going out to Crossfit in the middle of the workday to get away from my desk & exercise or, taking a day to network at a food show are things that I have flexibility to do when I choose to.” – Charlotte Moore, Smoothie PR.
- “Success for me is collecting bags and bags full of goals you have set, making sure they have not cost you your soul.” – @rudie_c, shared via Twitter.
- “Success doesn’t mean all that to me if you’re counting followers or numbers of likes. As long as whatever service I provide or whatever I sell puts a smile on someone’s face and I get the appreciation for my hard work… that’s success to me.” – @busymumscreations, shared via Instagram.
Upon reflection of all these wonderful responses shared here and more that I received online, what I have learnt or rather, remembered, first and foremost is that when you strip away this whole illusion of reality that we have created, there is actually no such thing as ‘success’. Success is a human and socially made construct, which pits us against one another, creates competition and somehow makes us feel that we are never enough. If used in the correct context – for us to only get better individually and being in competition with no one other than ourselves – then I do think success can be a wonderful way for us to personally measure our own achievements in whatever area of our lives we wish.
Secondly, what I have realised more through conducting this research is that there is no one or true definition of success – it is relative from person to person. I’ve shared above the responses I got that resonated the most with me, however other people did share that success to them was financially based, or to do with their career or business, which just goes to prove this point. I guess the main thing here is that no one can define success for you – you must and should only define it for yourself.
Finally, and probably the biggest thing that I took from all of this, is that IT REALLY DOESN’T MATTER. Who gives a flying fish whether Aunty Shagufta from No.49 or Mr. Smith that you met at a networking night last week thinks that you are ‘somebody’ or thinks you are a ‘nobody’? It really doesn’t matter – what matters most is how YOU feel about YOURSELF.
For me, success truly comes down to happiness and joy, and living a life filled with purpose, connection and serving humanity. And you know what? In those terms, I really am living my best life and I know it will only get better and better. I hope and pray the same for you.