Pursue success at your own peril

Today another young South Korean pop singer took her own life. What would make someone so famous and popular take one’s own life? Why should a ‘successful’ person take one’s own life?

Today’s dominant cultural narrative is that of ‘success’. Success in itself isn’t bad. The crux is how we define success. Today’s society defines success narrowly on the basis of two parameters – wealth and fame. Wealth consists of material possessions i.e. the cars, the houses, the watches, the electronics, the fancy interior decor, & so on and non-material consumption of services i.e. exotic holidays, luxury spas, travel, expensive restaurants and the likes. These in themselves aren’t bad. They can be enjoyed every now and then. The problem arises when our lives are solely determined by how much of these two items we possess and consume.

Consumption brings short-term excitement, which we misconstrue to be the joy we seek. However, as all of us know, this is short-lived. And soon we are off pursuing the next thing that we can consume. This indicates our inability to love i.e. value what we have, cherish it, maintain it and have a deep appreciative relationship with the ‘thing’ or the activity. The only reason we want things is not for its inherent value, rather for the gain in social standing that we seem to get though these objects. And in order to achieve this we spend a lot of time, effort, money and health to get it – often at the cost of our well-being and our relationships. This is not a wise way of living.

As I said earlier, at the root of this dysfunction is how society has defined success. We need to re-evaluate this definition. To me, success is best defined as a combination of inner contentment and outer effectiveness. Inner contentment simply means that I am comfortable being myself, in spite of what I own, which clique I belong to or what services I consume. Who I am, fundamentally is not affected by what I wear, which car I drive or what fancy gadget I posses. Outer effectiveness is a function of discovering who I am, what my inner proclivities are and how I choose to express them in society. Understand that outer effectiveness has nothing to do with becoming a larger person due to a position accorded to you in society. Rather a natural, effortless expression of one’s own talents. It is a giving not a getting.

Often, modern people dislike the word inner peace. It appears to be a resigned state of being – almost indifferent to the world, its problems. There also appears to be a iota of selfishness – being indifferent to the suffering of others. But this is a mistake. Inner peace and contentment is a state of being that comes not from escaping the world and escaping one’s duties. Rather, it comes from a deep understanding of what one’s values are, what one must do in life and ruthlessly ignoring the rest. Let’s look at an example : somebody close to you buys their second house – perhaps a beautiful beach house. This piques a certain emotion in you. You may ask yourself “Am I missing something here? Am I being left behind? The emotion may not be expressed as words. It most likely is pre-verbal. But the emotion does exist. In those instances, we need to pause, reflect on our values. “Do I really need to buy a house? I already own a nice home and am comfortable. How does this desire align with my inner values. If your inner values suggest that you be a real-estate investor, then of course you might want to consider buying the beach house. However, if not, then we let go of this desire. This saves so much energy and time in the long run. This brings Inner Peace.

Outer Effectiveness comes about when we have understood our inner values (i.e. we are peaceful being who we are) and then we choose to express this contentment as curiosity in a chosen field of activity. Let be explain. Having examined one’s values i.e. what are the few most important things in life for me, we can begin to learn more about this ‘most important thing’ and eventually garner adequate skills so as to be able to express this as mastery over time. Let’s say we love music. We are naturally drawn to it. We look up various instruments online or at a nearby music school. We then decide that we are very drawn to the clarinet. We then look for a teacher, and start learning. Over time and though discipline we come to master the instrument. After considerable time, we can begin to play for audiences – friends and family at first and then slowly in the community and eventually across the internet and perhaps even the world. If we don’t become ‘famous’, this doesn’t bother us, because we never started out with the goal of being well known and appreciated. We simply learned the instrument out of love and curiosity. We might end up unknown, however we are happy, content for simply having learned and played the instrument. Several ‘geniuses’ weren’t appreciated in their own time. So talent, hard work and love needn’t necessarily result in fame and wide appreciation. This sort of outer effectiveness comes from a place of peace, love and contentment – not from a struggle to gain fame. In fact, I would argue that this is true outer effectiveness as it it is a sharing of the inner joy one has discovered within oneself. Most people can subtly sense this through what you do and would be naturally drawn to you.

If all of us can begin to incorporate this inner peace which over time would result in outer effectiveness, our lives would be pregnant with meaning, happiness and service. And even if earth-shattering fame comes to us, we would realize that while it is nice to have, it is not what drives us in the first place. We already have what we seek. We are content. Happy and yet effectiveness. Then there would be no question of taking one’s life. As a matter of fact, there would not be inner strife, depression and meaninglessness – things that are so rampant in our modern ‘success’ driven societies.

The magnificent Rockies. Somewhere en route from Denver to San Fransisco. 2023

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