“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” – Maya Angelou
As humans, we are wired for comparison. It’s an inevitable fact of our being. We are constantly trying to gauge how we measure up to those around us. Our success only makes sense in comparison to those in our sphere. We say things like that guy drives a better car than me. She is taller than me, but I’m prettier. I wonder how much money Sam makes and if his wife spends it all. Gosh, I wish the people at work listened to me the same way they listen to Godfrey.
Comparison and the drive for status are innate parts of our nature and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. But what we can change is the basis of those comparisons. What yardstick are we using? We may not be able to stop measuring ourselves against others, but we can decide which yardstick we use to measure.We may not be able to stop measuring ourselves against others, but we can decide which yardstick we use to measure. Tweet Me
A simple example: I don’t make as much money as most life coaches in the industry. By one metric you could, therefore, say that I am less successful than they are. And in fact, if you put me next to one on an aeroplane, in a fancy restaurant, at a business conference, or in an expensive nightclub, those environments would reinforce my inferiority. By those yardsticks, I would clearly not measure up.
But I make a comfortable living helping people improve their lives. I’m not up in first-class extorting money from thousands of people around the world with hired Lamborghinis and fancy designer suits. I’m just a simple African kid with a drive to see purpose fulfilled in everyone I meet. So, first-class or not, I am going to feel like I have achieved success.
I don’t measure my success by displays of monetary wealth. I prefer to measure it based on social and global impact. Is that totally self-serving and biased? Absolutely. And that’s the point: You get to choose how you measure success.
Most of us are never told this. It’s not something we pick up in school or church. In fact, most of our social systems are built with their own metrics of success built into them which we are then expected and sometimes forced to follow. Get good grades. Make tons of money. Go to church. Buy nice things. Raise a nice family. Watch football. Feign shock when Kim Kardashian shakes her bum on TV.
Many of society’s metrics are useful measurements for us. Many of them are not.
It’s vital that we remember that they’re not absolute. We shouldn’t limit ourselves to them. Money is nice, but one can choose to see it not as the absolute measure of wealth, but as a useful tool to help achieve true wealth. Religion gives billions of people’s lives moral direction, but that doesn’t require one to believe in religion to be a good, moral person. Relationships and family are important, but lacking them doesn’t make you any less valuable as a person.
Again, we get to choose (I mention this to a friend often). And the beauty and the frustration is that we’re all different, so most of the time our metrics will be different. Like I said, I grew up middle class in Zimbabwe, my definition of “mama I made it” is different from someone who grew up middle class in Australia.
So this raises the question: How will you measure your life? Which metrics for success will you choose for yourself? This is not an easy question to answer. I have seen a lot of men who had poor metrics for success in their dating lives.
They wanted to judge their “success” based on how many women they slept with, how attractive the women they dated were (often utilising a 10-scale to do so), how young of a woman they could date, and so on. It’s no coincidence that men with these metrics of success are the same ones who struggle with relationships.
These metrics of success are problematic because they make harmful and unattractive behaviours appear economical and rational. For instance, if one’s metric for success is to date someone who is rich/popular, then lying or faking one’s identity may become a rational strategy in order to achieve that success. But these strategies are demeaning and also lead to poor relationships.
For men like these, I researched and found something I call “Happiness Hypotheticals,” which I’ve found to zero in on the utility of a success metric.
For instance, to these men you would often say:
“Let’s pretend you had a choice to date one of two women. One is stunningly gorgeous but is immature and not enjoyable to be around. The other one is average-looking physically, but you are always happy when you are around her. Which one would you choose to be with?”
Or to men who have a fixation on their number of sexual partners, you would say:
“What would you rather do? Sleep with 10 girls who don’t excite you? Or sleep with the one who blows your mind night after night?”
The answers to these questions are blindingly obvious to most people. But people who have unhealthy fixations in their dating lives experience a lot of cognitive dissonances when trying to answer these hypotheticals.
The reason I bring these up is that once you move beyond dating, you find that these hypotheticals apply wonderfully in most areas of life. For instance, here’s a classic question for you to chew on:
“Would you rather be rich and work a job you hate, or have an average income and work a job you love?”
This one is a little bit deeper:
“Would you rather be someone famous and influential for something that doesn’t matter (like, say, being on a reality TV show), or be anonymous and unknown despite working on something that is insanely important (like, for instance, researching cures for cancer)?”
The Happiness Hypotheticals are powerful tools because they can show us what metrics of success actually matter for us. Many of us think relationships will make us happy, but emotional health should be the goal and relationships the side effect. Many think popularity will make them happy, but one should do something important and noble and let fame be the side effect.
As humans, we’re all driven by happiness and meaning, but we often get caught up in unnecessary status concerns and superficial comparisons. When we create hypothetical either/or situations between those comparisons and happiness, it can quickly sort our priorities out for us. Tools such as these show us ways in which we can measure our own success.
I’m not famous, but I improve people’s lives. That makes me successful. You’re not married right now, but you’re happy and proud of yourself. That makes you successful.
We must take care in choosing the way in which we measure success because the metrics we choose will determine all of our actions and beliefs.
For instance, if you decide that watching 12 hours of Netflix per day is your life’s ultimate purpose and your greatest metric of success, then within a few months you’ll find yourself fat, lonely and miserable (and successful). If you decide becoming the biggest drug dealer on your block is your definition of success, then you may find yourself shot.
The metrics of success which we choose lead to long-term, real-life consequences, and they determine everything.
I challenge you to take a moment and set up Happiness Hypotheticals with some of your biggest drives and desires in your life and see what answer comes up. What you’ll notice is that bringing your yardstick off of external measures of success and onto internal states of happiness and meaning will lead to a more purposeful and fruitful life.
Here’s a recent example of mine:
Earlier this year, I found that I was getting really hung up on how many people were reading my book and my blog. I was getting frustrated because my readership had plateaued. And I found myself tempted to pander to the lowest common denominator just to get more traffic. I had to ask myself, “Would I rather be read by a massive audience for something I don’t care writing about or a smaller audience for something I do care writing about?”
That quickly put things in perspective. I need to write about the things which are important to me in my life first. Then look to cater that information to help others second. That’s the only way that what I write will feel true. It seems selfish but I believe you cannot take people where you have never been.
So you may feel like a failure after decades of massive material success because your metric for success is a superficial one: being better and more popular than the next guy. But what if you instead choose happiness as your metric? What if you decide to measure your success based on how widely and enthusiastic your gift is received by people. And how well you feel expressing yourself purposefully? That would change everything.
As always, hope you and yours are safe! Get in the comments section and let us know what success looks like for you. Be it in business, career, relationships, health, you name it.Tweet Me