Have you ever felt success is an enemy in disguise? It can raise your expectations and then send you on your way, plummeting back down to earth.
Upon achieving a certain level, we think we should be able to reach that standard again. At least. But then it doesn’t come so easily and it feels like we’re back where we started.
Yet, I think there’s a far more significant flaw with success. Or at least success in the way we tend to see it.
Society celebrates a certain kind of success. It usually involves a competition, in which only a select few will be successful.
Society measures numbers. Fast times. Big dollars. Followers. And so, when setting goals, we naturally create them around the same things. Success and failure, in our eyes, comes down to numbers.
We value what we measure
If we’re realistic in our goal-setting, we find that more often than not, we’ll achieve what we set out to if we keep close track of our progress. Maybe not straight away. But sooner or later.
But here lies the trap. We get sucked in. Once we achieve our goal, we set another more ambitious goal. And then another. And the cycle continues.
Satisfaction is brief, and the chasing for one better, can make us unbalanced. Eventually we reach our limits, and the ‘success’ dries up. Despite all this, success itself, I feel, is not to blame. But it is time to redefine success. Have we been pursuing an imitation of the real thing?
Here’s an illustration: How could I measure success when it comes to my drive to work? I could measure the time it takes. But this may become a problem.
It will eventually lead to breaking the law. Once I reach the limits of what is possible, the only way to remain successful (to continue getting quicker) is to speed.
Another, and possibly better, thing to measure would be fuel consumption. This measure of success would lead to a completely opposite style of driving.
When we measure, we improve. The difference in the example above is what we measure. Both can bring satisfaction, but eventually, one may lead to disaster.
I recently set a new goal for the distance I run each week. I’ve found measuring distance closely has led to improvement, but also some interesting side-effects. For example, I’ll choose to run on flatter, faster routes to maximise the distance I can run in the time. I’ll also forgo strength exercises in favour of running more kilometres. If I get behind, I try and catch up, which can cut into time meant for other things.
The quest for better can lead to imbalance.
Schools can easily become too focused on grades and test scores when they are the only thing we measure.
What we measure is important. And perhaps what society says we should measure is not helping anyone.
It’s not just success that will hinge on what we’re monitoring. In the end, we find our whole life will centre on those things that we measure. When our communities start to measure different priorities, we see a change in culture.
As I realise the power of keeping track of something, I’m keen to find new things to measure. I may have to be creative about it, but I think reimagining success will be well worth it.
Tom likes Indian spices, French cars, British drama and Japanese gardens. He goes running nearly everyday, but early in the morning so that he doesn't miss time with his wife and two young kids. In his spare time, Tom is a Special Needs and Technology teacher.
Tom’s other articles can be found at https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/tom-anderson.html