What does success look like and how do we know when we’ve made it? So often we keep chasing goals yet once we reach them, we realise that we’re not any more fulfilled than we were before. So how do we define success?
When we think about the word success, the first themes that come to mind are often relating to money, work, power, fame, beauty and material achievements. But what is the foundation for these commonly presented views of success? As often stated by the Dalai Lama, the true goal that each of us seeks is to find happiness. Where each of us finds this happiness varies between individuals, yet as humans, we all have basic needs that need to be met in order to to reach a truly happy state. So whilst most of us like to believe that we’re beyond superficial and material measures, there is some truth to these common themes of success around wealth and power. The key is to find a balance and a purpose beyond the foundation required to meet our most basic needs.
This concept of building on foundations is brilliantly reflected in Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which talks about the minimum requirements needed for an individual to reach their full potential and maximum level of wellbeing (self-actualisation).
When looking at this hierarchy, we note that the key themes around success – power, career, money and beauty, are mostly related to the second rung from the bottom – Safety needs. Vital for our ultimate wellbeing, yet only second on the list of five key areas. So why are these so widely used as measures for success, and not other factors relating to love or esteem, e.g. measuring success in the number of true friendships, or level of self-esteem we have, or connection to others? Probably because these latter measures are much more intangible, harder to grasp and measure, and therefore set as goals. So rather than trying to form intimate friendships, and work on improving our inner character and integrity, we might instead indulge in some retail therapy to meet our immediate Safety needs to acquire items and a resulting false sense of status. Or perhaps we go the other way, and seek to meet our need for Esteem, reaching for power and status, before we’ve worked on building true connections (Love and belonging), leaving us on shaky ground once our position is questioned.
But no matter which way we view this hierarchy and question the value of material goods, we realise that happiness is an intangible measure, and is deeply personal. Once we realise this, we can be more free to question what we consider to be achievements versus failures, and what the purpose of our life is. Success, as defined by Oxford Dictionaries is – The accomplishment of an aim or purpose
This idea around success was put to me when I was asked last year with CIIARA, how do I know when we’ve made it? What does success look like? To be honest, I couldn’t answer that question concisely at the time. Was it once we had our website? Once we made one sale, many sales, turned a profit….or when we became a global company? On reflecting about why I started CIIARA, to empower women and change lives, I realised that success was really defined for me, in each moment of this journey, rather than one ultimate benchmark. When I considered the aim of this business, I realised that success could be measured in every step of building this business: one more person educated about sex trafficking; one more girl rescued or fed for one day; one more woman feeling beautiful in our clothing; and one more friend inspired to live authentically for themselves.
The realisation that there is no universal measure for defining success allows us the freedom to pursue the life we want for ourselves, knowing that as long as it’s meaningful to us, we are in fact shining beacons of success. Perhaps someone else’s measure of success is defined by the need for safety and shelter, due to their own personal experiences; or they believe that romantic love is more important than all other purposes in life.
Yet the truth remains, whatever the aim or purpose, no one can define what’s in our own hearts and minds but ourselves. Success is truly within our grasp every day.
Chiara is the Melbourne-based founder of CIIARA.