The lost metric of success
It is far too easy in modern society to feel as though we are failing, and popular scales by which we measure success are to blame.
Wealth & status have long been the most common metrics. Thankfully, many people dismiss the idea, mostly due to the fact that we have learnt that these things are, on their own, unlikely to bring us happiness.
So, instead, perhaps we define success in healthier terms: Finding fulfilling work, a meaningful relationship, or having a positive impact on the world. It would be fair to say that I myself am seeking such things.
However, I think we are living dangerously if we choose to measure our self-worth, or to somehow track our progress in life by how well we are doing on these scales.
I think, in our society, what is really sad is that we find ourselves in a job we don't enjoy, or if we have a tumultuous love life, or if we have struggled to put our personal strengths to best use, we may conclude that we are getting it all wrong.
But whilst attainment of these worthy goals is, for many, entirely possible, it is by no means easy.
I would like to propose a perhaps less widely acknowledged metric for success - one that is perhaps not talked about enough nowadays - that of simply trying to be a better person.
Are we honest? Do we keep our promises? Are we compassionate and forgiving? Do we make the effort to support our friends and family? Are we respectful and kind to those around us? And, perhaps thinking in more global terms, do we give to charity, consume responsibly and consider the impact we have on the environment?
Now, we are all flawed humans. Success in these areas will always be a work-in-progress, and, as with any aspiration, we must forgive ourselves when we fall short.
However, we at least have control here. Happiness, fulfilment and achievement can come and go, but we can always try to do the right thing.
When I think about life in this way, it can be greatly consoling to me. If I find I myself ruminating over times when I could have worked harder, or when I backed away from a scary but potentially valuable opportunity to advance my career, I find I can take comfort in the fact that I am on a genuine pursuit to be a good person, and that popular opinion amongst my friends and family is that I am kind and honest.
"Everyone in a developed society is constantly being bombarded with messages about how to save money, or earn more money, or look better, or gain status - all of which reinforce the assumption that these are the things that everyone is pursuing and that really matter."
Peter Singer, The Life You Can Save
I think this is bang on. We must be aware of these messages so that we can avoid buying into them.
I believe that if we can encourage people to consider success as simply being the best person you can be, the world would be a better place. Both because people would, by default, be kinder to one another, and, by setting themselves heathy and achievable aspirations that are within their control, be kinder to themselves.