My Take

Society…’Success’…Stress: How to Redefine Success

AAAAAAAAAAAH! Am I right? When did we sign up for this? Oh wait…we didn’t. I guess we’ve gotta figure this out before our heads explode!

Are you getting asked about your career goals? Hearing from everyone and their third cousin twice removed about their opinion on success and good jobs? Or are you more at the stage of hearing; “we went to (insert fancy travel destination) and oh my God you should have seen…” or “you haven’t paid off your mortgage yet? (Insert bragging hidden behind fake sympathy.)”

Beyond those annoying, self-proclaimed successes who are instagram-worthy and the envy of…well…me for example, society itself is a HUGE problem. I could go on and on about society and I most likely will in another post, however I’ll focus on how it applies to what I’m getting at.

Success, Stress & Society

I wrote about success and what it means to me for a practice exam in Secondary 5 English. (I had no idea what was in store for me!) I heard a lot of my classmates speaking of wealth, high paying and prestigious jobs, getting an expensive car, a big house and lots of material stuff along those lines. This was during the group discussions. But let’s take a look at Websters’ definition of success: “The degree or measure of succeeding: favourable or desired outcome. Also: the attainment of wealth, favour or eminence.” (Eminence referring to superiority and prominence.)

The first one seems like an adequate, concise and simple explanation, while the second is…WOAH. Let’s back up…

I’m definitely not alone, but I think the widely accepted definition of success needs to be redefined! Why would success mean the same thing for everyone? Not to mention, why does it seem like society is telling us what will make us successful? Consequently, it fosters a toxic distinction between ‘successful people’ and ‘unsuccessful people’. What is the opposite of success? Failure. What do we call someone unsuccessful? A failure. How does wikipedia define failure?; “Failure is the state or condition of not meeting a desirable or intended objective, and may be viewed as the opposite of success.” Therefore why does society act like it has the right to judge? So we always achieve our desired result on the first try? And before I seem all pious, I make these mistakes too by thinking that one persons’ job is more important than another’s. I hate it about myself and want to fix it. Also perhaps if we train ourselves out of that mindset, we will be able to better ignore that attitude from others.

To put this in our context of mental health, societally-defined success is a recipe for illness! Even if it doesn’t full-on cause a disorder, how could anyone be truly happy that way? (Psst. Wealthy people with yachts and private planes are unbelievable stressed and distressed- under the makeup of #goals of course! Yuck…excuse me while I throw up from using that…) What a high level of anxiety though! For ALL of us! Plus the need to put forth a certain image along with the obligation to live up to the standards of others! (I think it’s in our nature by the way. I wouldn’t be surprised if the caveman with the most stone tools was seen as more successful!) Kidding aside, I’ve lived under this pressure for years and I haven’t even been an adult for very long which is just scary. The pictures of success are framed all around us and both demonstrate and reinforce our own collective view of things. Very. Very. Damaging. If you were a kid, how could you not buy into it? It’s EVERYWHERE!

Moving on, it’s easy to see how flawed things are. I have a gift for being a realist who leans on the pessimistic side until descending into fatalistic/cynical thinking. So how do we beat the trap of what I’m going to call ‘SuccesStress’? I would need to write a book…but here’s my personal short version. (Once again, I’m sure more articles on this subject are baking in my mind, particularly society’s impact on eating disorders.)

We must define success for OURSELVES. Enough with the stress from society! We may have to bite the bullet and accept that higher schooling is pretty much a must to support ourselves in life. However to me, success is highly individualistic in that personal goals, dreams, aspirations, desires and much more come together in one precious package that if achieved will leave us content and without regret on our deathbed. Maybe that’s just me. That’s the end result of a well-lived life. In the meantime, living for a ‘someday’ when you’ll finally feel happy and successful… it’s just no way to live, right? I see it as a constant quiet desperation…feeling against the wall in what many people have termed ‘the rat race.’ In other words I’m trying to move towards what I want for a change. If something isn’t your thing but everyone sees it as something successful/impressive so they encourage you, it’s probably not worth it! Focus on a few goals that you really want to achieve. Something in the near future, something years away, whatever you choose. Does it feel close to your personality? Will it feel like you’re barely working? Are you interested and passionate about it? Also does success mean freeing up your time for family, volunteering, travel or extreme sports that make you feel alive? The world is only limited if we are.

The Bottom Line

It’s too easy for society’s definition of success to corrupt our minds and bring about a stress and anxiety that chokes us to a point of paralysis or a depression brought on by the confusion, desperation and hopelessness of this fast paced and materialistic/competitive world. When we hear that we have to make a choice now, remember that we do have time to evaluate things and learn. To explore and grow and self-educate to a point where we have a semblance of our own truth. Making choices before you’ve lived a little is a great way to wake up 30 years from now and wonder what happened. Live, learn, explore, make mistakes, reinvent yourself!

Ignore the alleged success masters unless you define your success similarly and need inspiration.

Remember that no matter how amazing the photos look on Facebook or Instagram or wherever, they’re mostly orchestrated to show only one side of the person; the side they feel is best and will be admired the most. This doesn’t show their entire reality!

Money is necessary but how you choose to make it is up to you.

If you’re happy with a job and enjoy it despite others trying to put it down…ignore them!

“You won’t be successful if you take time off between college and university” I raise my middle finger and choose to care for my mental health rather than join this sick and pressurizing society.

Have the courage to walk out your door without having chosen the matching mask for the day ahead.

If one wants to look back later and see a happy past, one must focus on the present.

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Crafting Meaning for Yourself- An Intro

What's YOUR take?