How do you define success?

From infancy, we face tremendous pressure from well-meaning people; parents, siblings, teachers, relatives, friends. The pressure to be successful! 

To aim for the stars as it were. This breeds the question, if we could invent a success-meter, what would be its unit of calibration? Salary? Net worth? Neighbourhood? House size? Cellphone brand? Children’s school? Farm size? Brand of personal vehicle? Quite a good number of people are caught up in the raging maelstrom of the aforementioned illusive success factors. Businessmen and corporate executives alike! Do all these factors translate into true success? It would take a staggering degree of a tenuous relationship with the truth and harrowing intellectual indigence to respond in the affirmative. Reflect on people whose wealth has been whittled away. Most of them have long denounced the pedestrian definition of success. Forced to acknowledge that enduring success cannot be equated to wealth! Sadly, some of them, reeling from being deeply wounded by the world, were hit by the truism uttered by Margot Barber, “One day you’re a cock in the walk, the next a feather duster.”

The problem with defining success in tangible assets is that, such a narrow definition is bound to change with time. For instance, there was a time when not so much value was placed on farm ownership. Now, it happens to be the one thing that separates men from boys. We need to tread carefully in our definition of success. Would it not make more sense to define success in the context of happiness and fulfilment?

That money can never be equated to happiness is an irrefutable fact. Some of the world’s richest men have failed to find happiness at home. Two examples are in order. Jeff Bezos with a net worth of close to $200 billion and Bill Gates whose net worth comes close to $130 billon have both failed to derive happiness at home. Their combined net worth exceeds the GDP of several countries put together (as a matter of interest, Botswana’s GDP is under $20 billion). Despite that phenomenal circular success, both men have failed to fulfill the marriage vow. They lost their wives, not in death, probably to other men! Corporate mandarins, who at some stage directly wielded immense power over thousands of employees and were in many ways perceived as a model of success in retaining the best of brains in their workforce dismally failed to retain their mates! Can we say a man who is not happy at home, though generating oodles of money in his business interests, is truly successful? Unfortunately, the same rugged path to success has been followed by people we know and love, some of them currently serving as charismatic politicians, business savvy heavy-weights and distinguished corporate executives.

The latest craze for ‘successful’ parents in Botswana is to take their primary and secondary school-going children to institutions of learning outside the country. The ‘highly successful’ ones would take their children overseas, and the ‘reasonably successful’ ones to regional international schools. Imagine losing your child to the world from about six years of age! At what stage would such parents gain their children? How does the natural bonding between parents and children take place? Do such parents fulfill their most important responsibility, that of guiding their children navigate their way through the rough terrain of this world? Is it true success for parents to abdicate their divine responsibility and leave the guidance of their children to their equally immature contemporaries, their teachers or the whims of fate? Is it reasonable for such parents to be in shock, when after many years, they realise that they do not know their children or they have unwittingly contributed their hard-earned monetary resources towards raising community rejects, societal misfits and twisted miscreants with a misguided sense of right and wrong? Of what value is millions of dollars, if they cannot contribute to a truly successful family life?

The danger in using material assets to define happiness is that undiscerning individuals would be tempted to compromise crucial societal norms and values in their relentless pursuit for ‘success.’ In the process, their fragile business ecosystem would be compromised as morality, ethics and integrity are repeatedly blown off-course, simply because egged on by sheer force of will, destination success would trump all else, including the route to such success. Owing to the controversial nexus between wealth creation and corruption, the morally and ethically dark zigs and zags towards destination success would be dismissed as inconsequential in the bigger scheme of things.

They would yield to the trickery of their perverse heart, reasoning that their personal brand equity demands a sinewy resolve towards acquisition of wealth by all means. For these reasons, it is senseless to envy the so-called successful people of this world. We can never know if they carried themselves honourably. Did they pay the right price for the land they own? Are they remunerating the people at the coalface of production reasonably? Do they adequately reward small entrepreneurs for benefiting from their services or are they simply using such individuals as stepping stones to their slippery success? Are they paying their taxes? Do they sleep well at night or are they often harassed by nightmares, mentally tortured by the potential of seeing themselves walking the perp?  

Salman Khan, an Indian actor advises, “Think about money as command of resources to make the world a better place.” Add to that King Solomon’s wisdom; ostensibly the richest person to grace planet earth. He despised the value of misguided wealth in these words that are loaded with profound meaning, “I saw that everything was futile, a chasing after the wind.” This calls on all of us, to ever so often pause and introspect, “What am I doing to make the world a better place?” Have you realised that poor people do not run foundations? This is the preserve of the wealthy. Even those with a checkered past!

At some stage in their life, they choose to untangle themselves from the trappings of the barmy straitjacket of acquisitiveness. Material assets cease to be the only important thing in their life as a greater calling for meaningfully contributing to the upliftment of the vulnerable and the underprivileged motivates them to infuse humanity into their business interests. Along with that, they tend to derive a deep sense of fulfillment, for a man who was every inch an intellectual powerhouse and a voluble advocate for modesty, once uttered this sobering aphorism, “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.”

We need to ensure that we never conflate material prosperity with success. Unless we want to make a complete mockery of success, we cannot measure it by quantifiable assets, but qualitatively, through a purpose-fueled lifestyle infused with healthy doses of contentment, peace, lasting happiness and generosity. Let’s do the right thing; decisively flip on its head, the phony narrative that we can only be truly successful if we are positioned at the highest point in the socio-economic space.

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