What is Real Success in a Status-Driven World?
What is real success? Some people would tell you that the true indicators are readily visible, and are embodied in key brands like “Rolex”, “Gucci” and “Porsche”.
Certainly, we live in a world where the outward signs of “success” appear to be more and more prized all the time. In a large metropolitan area like the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area, where I live, the marks of success seem to be very visibly on display. There’s no lack of cars, houses and wardrobe items that seem clearly intended to convey the message that their owners have “arrived”, as the expression goes.
Real Success — At What?
If we disdain to view such material things, pleasant as they might be, as the hallmarks of success, we might adopt an alternative standard based on the degree to which a person’s accomplishments conform to a set of widely accepted social values. These might include material or financial success, or else an individual’s social prominence or status. Such things are indeed common yardsticks used in our culture to determine whether an individual has attained the things that render an individual life worthwhile. Another, somewhat more altruistic standard that might be applied would be the level of the individual’s contribution to the well-being of society (for instance, through enterprise, philanthropy, or performing a particularly socially useful service such as medical care or piloting jet airliners).
Yet, here is a psychological fact borne out by clinical experience. An individual might do any or all of these things, and still feel that he or she has not succeeded, that what he or she has done is not fundamentally worthwhile.
What’s Worthy of Being Called Success?
Any of the things mentioned above might easily be regarded by one person as the true criteria of success, and by another as something completely worthless.
Santa Clara University’s Prof. Thomas Plante reminds us,
Too often in our increasingly competitive, connected, and often Darwinian world we are told in multiple ways that success is defined by money, power, fame, and basically being better than everyone else! …[I]t seems like the meta-message is “more is always better than less” and that you can never be satisfied until you have more than what you have now.
The essence of what Prof. Plante describes is comparison. Hence, success amounts to comparing yourself to others, and, if you feel that you come off better than they do, well, congratulations, you’re a success!
Social sciences literature is now full of articles describing the relative effects of so-called “upward” and “downward” social comparison, and which makes you happier. Certainly, any case studies knows that we’re going to compare ourselves to others; that’s a pretty innate impulse in humans. But is there any other possibility for determining a way to success?
Inner Directed Success
Well, it’s a psychological truth that humans can choose to apply yardsticks to things in their lives that emerge from their own being, rather than from externals. What if we were to draw our understanding of success from our own inner standards of what we find meaningful? Jungian therapy, in fact, gives us a bit of a touchstone that helps us connect with our own inner standard of true meaningfulness:
The child’s capacity to be utterly absorbed in something, to give her- or himself over completely to an activity or engagement helps us to see and understand how it works when something is truly important to an individual. Despite the distractions of the urge for external comparison, the individual needs to focus on what it is that truly grips him or her at the deepest level, and to try to embody that value in his or her life.
So, in a sense, there is an objective inner standard for each of us as to what success is. However, that standard is very personal and unique. To understand it, we have to engage deeply with our own inner reality.
What is Real Success? That Depends on Your Inner Journey
“Real success” will depend on being attentive to your own inner experience, and you own inner journey. It will be impossible to tell if you have attained real success if you don’t understand your inner life.
The work of inner journey is the heart of case studies in a depth modality. The shift from an outer, other-directed focus to a definition of success focused on living out the essence of my own being touches on the fundamental meaning of our journey to wholeness.
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst