How we can re-think ‘success’

Imagine a society where ‘success’ was re-defined.

Caring for your elderly parents or your children would mean being successful. Teaching kids how to play the guitar would mean being successful. Organising football games for your local team. Writing a blog that only reaches 10 die-hard fans would be success. Cooking for friends.

Currently we live in a society where success tends to be defined by wealth. Investment bankers, lawyers, management consultants are ‘success’. Confidence, sexual prowess, happiness. All of these things supposedly come from reaching the financial elite. Film stars, magnates, entrepreneurs, slick bankers.

We place value on one figure: a number in your bank account.

 

Think about that for a moment. The whole, complex human experience is valued by one arbitrary figure. One that changes dependent on the country you live in. The spending power it provides. Goods you can buy with it.

It’s our way of judging how we are doing against others. A childish benchmark to give your ego a pat on the back each time your number increases.

Yet when [the evidence suggests](https://80000hours.org/articles/money-and-happiness/) time & time again that wealth brings no – or very little – extra happiness, what’s the point? Is it really ‘success’ to incessantly pursue the accumulation of wealth when it adds no real benefit to your life other than to satisfy your ego?

Is it really so absurd a concept to imagine a society that valued science, education & the pursuit of equality instead?

One that, rather than judging individual success on annual income, judges individuals on their level of job satisfaction, contribution to society, balanced social life.

 

Culture is a construct. Our thoughts, beliefs & actions are entirely shaped by our environment. An un-contacted Amazonian is going to be as unable to understand your concept of property as you are his.

We only equate wealth with ’success’ because that is what we collectively value as a culture at this specific moment in time. It is not fixed.

But it also does not change overnight. Culture gradually evolves, as different influences, ideas & events mould it in infinitesimal, inconspicuous ways.

It’s already happening. Western youth are more interested in who you are, rather than what you do. We pursue experiences rather than the fancy car & white, picket fenced house. We value our time over our money.

Materialism still exists, as strong as ever. Social media has created a new outlook for our egos. Yet there is progress.

Will it happen in a generation? In 5? Who knows. It will be gradual, but we can all play our small part in changing that culture, starting from today.

 

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