Success on our own terms

Aug 16, 2019

Success. It’s a sweet-sounding word. Optimistic, buoyant, confident. Our lives are full of occasions of success, big and small. A day is successful when everything goes smoothly. We had a successful meeting. The bid at the auction was successful. The party was a great success. We want our relationship to succeed. These are personal successes, the fulfillment of our goals.

Then there’s the more worldly definition, according to my online dictionary: “the attainment of position or honour”. This success is defined by the approval of others. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be successful: to be the best, to win the medal. The striving, the effort, can bring out the best in us, be the source of incredible satisfaction, and can inspire others. Praise and accolades are marvellous, but if they become the criterion of success, we’ll remain bereft.

On the other hand the pressure to maintain this success can be unbearable: the top chef who kills himself, the tennis player who despairs when she loses one match. These extreme highs and lows have no bearing on the reality of their ongoing achievements.

We mightn’t win and lose at these levels, but deep inside all of us there’s the assumption that unless we receive approval, we’re not successful. We might be really good at our job but unless we’re seen to be good and praised for it, we won’t be satisfied. We might be a brilliant musician but unless we receive the accolades, we’ll actually think we’ve failed.

We might receive huge praise, every accolade there is in our field, but believe we don’t deserve it. Marilyn Monroe was praised by millions, yet was utterly unfulfilled.

So, what is the key to success? A bird needs two wings: wisdom and compassion. Whether we want to be a mother of ten children or a multimillionaire, fulfillment starts inside us, nowhere else: the wisdom wing. We need to know our own minds: become our own therapists, as Lama Yeshe puts it, by acknowledging our good qualities, taking responsibility for our failings, and gradually growing our marvellous potential. From this, just naturally, we become hugely fulfilled, content, satisfied.

Then we can extend ourselves, our activities, out to others in a clear, compassionate way. We all live in this world together, utterly interdependently. Knowing that everything we do and say affects others, we will only want to make it useful, beneficial, successful.

If we don’t receive praise, it doesn’t matter; we are fulfilled. And if we do, we use it to nourish our hearts and continue to benefit others.

  • Be delighted to achieve something without anyone else knowing about it.
  • Rejoice in someone else’s achievement.
  • Receive praise with gratitude and use it to nourish you heart.
  • Be glad for the person who got the job instead of you.
  • Rejoice every day in your good qualities.
  • Determine success by your efforts, not the outcome.

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