Redefining success

We often don’t realize that our present definition of success is not necessarily our own – it is imposed on us by the popular culture.

We may think: “Imposed? I don’t see any such thing imposed on me.”

But yes, if the imposition were done so obviously, we would all resist it. The definition of success on us is foisted on us so subtly that we often don’t even think that our definitions of success might not be our own.

Consider a young manager in a leading company having a good functional cellphone. A device-manufacturing giant launches a new expensive cellphone and marketing campaign appears all over the media – a smart smiling young man proudly parades it, with a cute girl glancing admiringly, while a colleague glares enviously. The manager’s heart burns with desire for this new gadget, which, he fantasizes, will bring him the respect and admiration that he feels he deserves but doesn’t get.

Though he doesn’t need the new gadget, he still purchases it. As he shows it off, causing heads to turn and eyebrows to rise, and as people admire his gadget (him?), he feels “Now, I am successful.” However, his success is agonizingly short-lived – soon another new gadget arrives on the market and steals all the hype away from his piece. Craving for the same attention again, he buys that new gadget and enjoys another spell of feeling successful – until the next gadget arrives and becomes the symbol of success. Thus the cultural hype keeps imposing an ever-moving definition of success.

Yes. The problem is not buying the device; the problem is buying into the underlying definition of success. If we don’t question that definition, it may well consume the time we had saved – it will impel us to spend that saved time in looking for newer gadgets in a never-ending cycle.

Buying uncritically into glamorized definitions of success can erode not just our bank account but also our leadership potential. These definitions push us towards impulsive action. However, leadership requires the ability to subordinate an impulse to purpose.  Let’s consider one among several surveys that suggest this.