Success vs. Meaningfulness

“Success” – what comes to mind? Money? Fame? Prestige?

Today, when I use the word “success,” I mean it in the most stereotypical and superficial sense – achieving some external goal, particularly in regard to fame and fortune.

(I’m using “fame” broadly to refer any type of prestige or status – such as having a well-respected career title, or accolades within your company, or a lot of social media followers.)

(And by “fortune” I’m referring to any type of monetary achievement.)

In other words, for the purpose of this article, “success” means outer achievements; checking off boxes that most Americans would normally associate with the word.

Meaningfulness is anything that actually matters to you, makes you feel alive, gives you strong emotions.

Meaningfulness can be passion, thrill, it’s something that feels significant to you; it’s chills from excitement, it’s warmth from connection, it’s beautifully bright, colorful, high-contrast, it’s musical and catchy.

When you wake up on a Saturday morning as a kid, thrilled to be alive, you’re not thinking about “success.”

You’re just doing what you love. Probably really excited to see people that you love.

Anyway, somewhere along the line we get scared.

And we get socially programmed; we start just doing what everyone else is doing.

Everyone seems to be trying to get money, and have the most prestigious job, and check all the right boxes in life – college, graduate school, secure respectable job, marriage, retirement.

And we figure we better do it too.

And maybe we’re just scared of what happens if we don’t. What if we don’t have enough money? What if we’re lonely?

Plus, success sounds so appealing. We start to get sold on all these things we could buy if only we could have enough money. Fancy cars. A fancy house – or three or four. A boat. Expensive clothes. And how cool is fame and prestige?? People will know and respect us.

And so, perhaps for a lot of us, we start to focus less on what really makes us feel alive – what’s really and truly meaningful and magical – and a lot more on “success.”

(It takes work to do this, and work to keep up the shift of focus. And you can stop any time you like. It’s just that everyone else seems to be doing it, and fear is a strong motivator, so we keep it up.)

But if you could just set down any fear you have for two minutes

Maybe shake loose any preconceived notions we have for just a second or two…

What’s meaningful to you?

What makes you feel alive?

(Not as a way of finding some job, to help you make more money and get more success. Step outside of the whole capitalist lens with which we have all come to view the world.)

What if we genuinely focused on what we love, and what if that were the end goal, instead of money? Instead of harnessing our passions to ultimately make money, maybe we’d harnessed the occasional “job” – when helpful – to ultimately live our passions? (I.e., “I’m not doing this for the money, but because being here gives me an excuse to do ____”)

So, just genuinely, what makes you feel alive?

What feels magical to you when you focus on it?

What = chills of excitement to you?

What would you really, deeply, rather be doing right now?

Can you dare to step outside of the world of “success” and live in the world of meaningfulness for a little bit?

I propose we can live our lives prioritizing meaningfulness over success. And I think it’ll make us much happier (and might even still lead to all the basic success we need).

Oh, and another thing – while “success” necessitates outer accomplishment in the future, meaningfulness can be practiced right now – for example, in terms of how you treat others.

You can have meaningful interactions with people – like people you love, for example – right now, by treating them well. You don’t have to wait for financial success to do that.

(Extreme, but powerful, example: Victor Frankl, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, describes his time in Nazi concentration camps – an experience utterly incompatible with our traditional notions of the word “success” – but one in which Frankl still manages to find meaning even in the midst of the camps, in how he helps and treats others. Ultimately, it gives him the will to live; it keeps him alive.)

There’s a powerful lesson to be learned there.

We’re only here on this planet for a little bit.

Let’s try focusing on meaning first, and success second.

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Published by Dolan

Relentless self-optimizer, biohacker, traveler, reader.

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