Give up the idea of success to be successful

Our modern culture values success. You see our media glorifying ‘self-made’ men and women who have made it to the top of the social ladder. The top of the income ladder. And the top of the personal brand equity ladder. These people are talked about in social gossip magazines or a polished version of this is in business magazines or the educated elite version of this is TED talks. Whatever the means, appearing on these platforms gets one the status of “having arrived”. Becoming successful has become such a disease that people go to any extremes to be recognized and appreciated in society. A case in point is Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos. Theranos went on to become one of the most fraudulent bio companies of all time.The sad part in that most of us have lost the ability to recognize people for what they are. Business magazine extolled Holmes as a “Successful young woman entrepreneur”. Some of the brightest investors, did not ask the most simple questions. This is not an exception, but a growing norm these days. The same is reflected in our politician. We have grown to appreciate grandiose “I know it all attitude”, “Self-made man” trumpian statements.

Why have we got here? Why do we value success at any cost, even at the cost of our own happiness? Why can’t we recognize the true worth of people and get carried away by the sham that the society and media potrays?

One, ‘self-made’ people are extolled in our cultures. Little do we realize that the so called self made people have got a lot of help and luck their way. Their life stories could have been very different, had they a disabled parents or a child that needs special attention. What if they were born differently, in a different part of the world, went to ‘lesser’ schools. We do not realize the host of good factors that we stand on to become who we are. Today’s culture teaches us that we are islands. But this isn’t true. We are more like connected archipelagos – we derive so much value from our experiences and people that have shaped us in life. Modern culture teaches us not to express humility. The brash, the brazen are the ones who we think are most capable to lead us. We have therefore placed these people at the top of our social pyramids. Think of the movie stars and our grandiose politicians.

The summer sun sets over the Sabarmati forests. Gandhinagar. April 2020

Second, as a culture we have lost the connection with ourselves. We seldom ask ourselves, “What is it that I truly want in life?”. Most people, even at the age of 30 or 40 are unable to answer this honestly and effectively. This represents a huge concern. Most children, if you see, are very clear of their innermost likes and dislikes. The children that do not know or do not express are the ones who have had dominating parents that enforce their unconscious thought patterns on the child. And this is what society does to us. It makes us lose sight of who we truly are. We are taught to conform to the rules of society. This is not bad in itself. All societies need a shared set of rules and values. But when this starts coming at the cost of our own self-development, it can totally confuse us and destroy us. The usual response to social pressure is to either slip into a depressed state of being, where you crush your voice to gain social acceptance or you do the exact opposite – you rebel. A rebel is exactly similar to a conformist. How? They derive their identity from the same thing – the society – but in the opposite direction. Instead of discarding social pressures mentally, emotionally and spiritually, they do it external in the world of form to show that they are different. This too doesn’t solve the problem. And so the confusion of what we want continues.

The key here is not to internally identify with what society calls successful. The idea is not to rebel against that either. Simply seek who you are and what brings you joy. Now, I have seen that most people also do not understand the difference between joy and excitement. Excitement takes us away from ourselves. It is world focussed. Joy is a deep undercurrent of peace and “being” – an “isness”. We are so caught up with ideas of social success that we have lost the attunement to our feelings. This is such a dire situation that people no longer even recognize their emotions anymore. And since everybody is busy is adhering (or defying) the external social paradigm, nobody actually listens to people anymore. Our society has denigrated into a society of talkers. Everybody competing for air space. It’s just that the air space is now web space on social media applications.

What is the way out?

Start by connecting to yourself. Do things – alone. Do things that brought you joy as a child. Do things not to just post it on instagram, not to show to your friends and neighbors. Is there an activity you can do and even if no one in the world appreciates it, you would be joyful? That is it. Find it. And you begin finding it by reducing the noise that we engage in externally.

List down the most important external interactions – your job, your family, your important social interactions. Make sure you do this. If you find yourself always filling in your time to meet someone or to do something, this is an indication that we have become habituated into external societal focus. Take the attention back to yourself. This is very unsettling at first. It causes great chaos, great sense of unease. This is because we have constantly derived our sense of who we are from the external. And this new perspective makes the ego feel threatened. We feel out of place and uneasy. Therefore start small. Start slow. Take an hour a week to be with yourself – away from all social impressions. Whether it is painting, drawing, playing an instrument, or just being alone. Just be.

As you gradually start getting acquainted with who you are – thoughts, emotions, the innermost drive and then the presence of who you are start bubbling up. Clarity emerges. Wisdom arises. You know what must be done intuitively. You need no books or gurus to tell you that. A deep sense of certitude based in awareness arises. And that is a state that is worth reaching. It is incorrect to use the word – reach – for we already have this (and had it as children). All we need to do is to remove the mental barriers that prevents us from looking at ourselves.

Once you are in tune with yourself, the paradigm of social success starts losing its meaning. You do things because of who you are. An effortless ease dawns into your actions. Actions no longer drain you because ‘you’ are always connected to yourself no matter what the result is. The ‘You Presence’ takes precedence over the action itself. The action becomes an extension of who you are and not the other way around. These actions have a qualitative difference in them. Such people have something different about themselves. You can sense it when you are around such people. At this state success matters very little. You redefine success as being at home with yourself. And that is indeed a beautiful state to be in.

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