I've seen several posts on Instagram this week that highlight the concept of success and high-achievement as being directly tied to numbers, perfectionism, and/or climbing higher. It's probably because Instagram is a platform that lends itself to that mindset, but I can't seem to stay away from it because there's just so many fun and beautiful things on there that make me happy - which means I have to navigate the brain-sorting process - you know, take in what resonates and ignore what doesn't. (Sometimes that's easier said than done. The times when I can't ignore it, I write about it.)
Anyway, this topic of "success" does seem to be a theme on my feed right now.
And I think these people mean well. They are trying to inspire us all to be our "best selves" and in some ways it can be inspiring.
But it can also be downright frustrating when your life isn't turning out like theirs. You follow their "formula" but you get different "results."
The influencers that are sharing their "success stories" and then implying (and sometimes even flat-out declaring) that "you can do it too because they did it" are quite honestly ignoring the fact that the human experience is multi-layered and complex.
What works for one person is not going to work for another.
Each person on this planet has layers and layers of "stuff" to navigate.
What about the single mom who can barely manage to get food on the table for her three young children?
What about the college student that is navigating mental illness and is struggling to even get out of bed?
What about the middle-aged man that just got the life-changing diagnosis?
What about the refugee that is simply trying to survive?
Are these people "unsuccessful" because they don't have the metrics to prove it or because their success looks more like digging deep internally, rather than climbing higher externally?
I don't think so.
And I'm inclined to believe that the number of people who are achieving high levels of "external success" is much, much lower than the number of people who are not. It's just that the "successful" ones are the ones with the platforms and microphones.
It's kind of an upside-down world.
Some might say that the people who are struggling to "achieve" have "chosen" their lots in life or are just "not working hard enough" and to that I would say that's (mostly) bullsh*t. Sure, they are choosing some aspects of their lives (we all are), but they are not choosing all that life has handed them. Life is a mixed-bag and does not hand out challenges and privileges in equal amounts.
It's the "you choose your own suffering" message that I believe to be one of the most heartless of all human messages. Sure, we can certainly make our own suffering worse, but we don't choose all of the heartbreaks that come as a result of just being human.
So what do we make of it?
How do we create lives full of meaning and purpose without relying on any outside definitions of "success?"
Honestly, I don't have the answers for anyone else but I have had to personally redefine what success means to me. I happen to feel the most "successful" when I manage to:
Quiet the voices of others and pay more attention to my own personal wisdom and insight and how it relates to the details of my own life.
Consistently highlight the little joys in life. (These are the things that have nothing to do with Instagram type "success.")
Pay more attention to and more fully appreciate the details in life that are free, universal, and not reliant on other people's responses.
Lead with self-compassion.
Continually seek to better understand myself, my goals, and my dreams and be willing to let go of things when they are creating more chaos than peace and joy.
Allow myself to feel and process all of my feelings, frustrations, and heartaches. I do this through walking, journaling, playing the piano, making art, talk-therapy, and listening to music that validates my feelings.
Take baby steps to work through my challenges in ways that make sense to me, my life, and my current circumstances.
Consistently seek to bring joy, light, and love to myself and others in simple ways - ways that don't break me personally.
Develop and cultivate gentle systems of creativity and growth in ways that are mindful, careful, and flexible.
Enjoy the "process" of creating, more than the "results."
Cultivate a "love mindset "over a "ladder mindset."
Live my life with integrity and authenticity.
Accept when life hands me challenges that are out of my control.
So that's "success" to me now.
And it feels so, so good when I can stay in this mental place (which isn't always easy, but is always worth it).
(By the way, I want to clarify that I don't think that the more "visible" versions of "success" are necessarily bad. In fact, I think that the people who have achieved this type of success and are using their platforms to make the world a more honest and compassionate place are honorable and noble. I just don't think that's the only way to be successful.)
Also, for anyone navigating the complexities of REAL LIFE (which is probably everyone in one way or another), this song is for us.
Lots of love,