Within the past five years or so there has been a term that has popped up called redefining success. It’s a trend that started right around the recession that began in 2008. This is when a lot of people lost their homes, their jobs, and their businesses.

Material success became harder to achieve.

Because of this recession, some of us are realizing what we were taught about success is all wrong. The myopic view that success has to do with material possessions, prestige, and fame is beginning to ring hollow. Even more, we are starting to realize when we pursue the wrong type of success it causes problems for us. Stress, unhappiness, debt, and health and mental problems to name a few.

It’s a trend that has grown slowly over the last decade. After 9/11 and the deep recession that followed, people had to look at their lives differently. As we started losing our jobs, businesses, and homes it became clear that material success can come and it can go.

I recently wrote an article sharing how I began to redefine success around this time. It was a bittersweet lesson which lead me down a road of self-discovery. I started to question everything I learned about success and wealth. This path created a need for me to understand success and what really makes us happy. Especially when it comes to our careers.

How success is traditionally defined.

Success is the attainment of a goal, financial or otherwise. The definition of success is not limited to material or personal gain. There is no set level or height determined. It’s purely subjective. When we think about a millionaire being successful the millionaire is looking at billionaires as being even more successful. Who determines when we are successful enough? And, once we reach this mystical level of “success” do we quit working or do we keep striving for another goal?

So, what is causing us to re-evaluate success?

I believe it’s a combination of shifting values, cultural changes, and quality of life issues. There comes a point in our lives where we assess how far we’ve come and where we are going. This calls into question the need to acquire more material goods and career success.

The movement to redefining success has been a reaction to the stress that people have felt from being overworked and their focus on achieving more financial or career success. While I agree with these thoughts, ours go even deeper. We think that redefining success has more to do with finding a stronger purpose in life. What we value brings joy to our lives. What we don’t, causes stress.

My research revealed a number of cultural reasons for our shifting priorities:

1. Backlash against the media’s portrayal of success.
Whether it is movies, music videos, ads, TV shows, and news reports we are exposed to other people’s portrayal of success. That portrayal of success is created to sell you something. Psychology Today has an article on how Hollywood’s portrayal of thinness and success is affecting women.

2. Research on Health Problems/Stress.
Chronic stress is one of the leading causes of illnesses. It can cause a loss of memory, heart disease, depression, and more. There is a growing concern that our lifestyles are beginning to ruin our quality of life.

3. Our growing disbelief about how money makes us happy.
Money buys happiness only to a certain point. Researchers have found that after we achieve a certain level of security by having money,  happiness begins to plateau.

4. Women and work/life balance.
Arianna Huffington began a movement to redefine success with her The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power because women are becoming stressed and overworked in their pursuit of success

5. Career Dissatisfaction.
Psychology Today questioned our pursuit of success, pointing to stress-related health and mental problems from overworking. Success Magazine featured an article about balancing career and family life to ease the burden.

6. The rise of the Millennial Generation.
The millennial generation is beginning to change social norms. They are set to transform traditional beliefs about marriage, careers, politics, and religion. With those changes they will re-evaluate what makes them successful.

7. Children are becoming more stressed and unhealthy.
According to a 2012 article by Alina Tugend in the New York Times, the pressure we place on kids to be excellent at everything and to achieve great success is putting unnecessary pressure on them.

 How do we go back to the idea that ordinary can be extraordinary? How do we teach our children — and remind ourselves — that life doesn’t have to be all about public recognition and prizes, but can be more about our relationships and special moments? Alina Tugend

What may cause people to redefine success on a personal level can vary.

The most likely reasons are when we face an emotional/physical problems and/or personal loss such as:

  • Mental or physical exhaustion
  • Illness
  • Financial failure or loss
  • The loss of close family or friends
  • Natural disasters
  • National, regional or local tragedies
  • Connection

It’s time we all collectively take a step back and think about our pursuit of success.

Does a mindless pursuit of a lifestyle that serves no real purpose make us happy and fulfilled? Once we have our basic needs met, how do we fill our time?

I’m not advocating that we stop buying material goods or trying to climb the career ladder. I’m asking that we all make life decisions on what we value. I want to begin a discussion about of living a life with a purpose that is beyond ourselves. Where forming connections with our families, friends, and community is highly valued. Where sharing our successes is a part of life. Life is short. We are here to positively connect with the people in it. Our connections to each other is what forms the culture we live in.

Creating our lives on purpose not only makes us happier, it leaves a legacy behind that other generations can model.

In order to redefine success we need to focus for a second on what it is not. Success is NOT defined by:

    • Our parents
    • Our bosses
    • Our neighbors
    • Our friends and family
    • Our Facebook “friends”
    • Mass media
    • Schools and Teachers

We can start redefining success by:

    • Sharing our wisdom.
    • Giving a helping hand to those that need us.
    • Find innovative ways of solving issues.
    • Talk with our kids about creating a better future.
    • Finding work that is fulfilling.
    • Forming a stronger connection to our world and the people in it.
    • Chose to be successful on purpose.

What Can YOU Do?

Be bold. Define for yourself what success means to you. What are some of the ways you can create a successful life that fits you?

To learn more check out podcast Redefining Success in a Social Purpose Culture.

Tell us what you think in the comment section below. 

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