What is Success: How to Lead an Enriching and Successful Life

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Hi, everyone! Hope you’ve all been having a good week!

Today I want to talk about the way we perceive success.

In last month’s reading list, I pretty much raved about Chris Hadfield’s book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, and how my Kindle highlighter went into overtime, marking down every sentence or phrase that I thought I could definitely learn a lesson from. And one of the things Hadfield wrote that stuck with me most was his perception of success. Sure, he was an incredibly successful astronaut who went to space three times and achieved worldwide fame through his social media videos of life on the International Space Station. But what happens after he retires and the spotlight moves on to other space trips and other astronauts?

“A high-octane experience,” wrote Hadfield, “only enriches the rest of your life – unless, of course, you are only able to experience joy and feel a sense of purpose at the very top of the ladder, in which case, climbing down would be a big comedown.” He continued to explain how it’s important to see value in the smaller, behind-the-scenes tasks and understanding life isn’t just about the big spotlight moments. In the many years he had been an astronaut, he went to space three times (and in that, he was also very lucky as some astronauts don’t get to go to space that many times or even at all), but even if he didn’t go to space, he didn’t feel that that alone would have defined him as a successful astronaut. What also mattered to him was all the other behind-the-scenes work he participated in on earth, including long, potentially mind-numbing hours of repetitive training, paperwork and Russian language classes, and all the other little things that would help make space exploration safe and successful for all astronauts, not just him.

“If I’d defined success very narrowly,” Hadfield wrote, “limiting it to peak, high-visibility experiences, I would have felt very unsuccessful and unhappy during those years. Life is just a lot better if you feel you’re having 10 wins a day rather than a win every 10 years or so.”

That was something that stuck with me very much, especially as an unpublished writer. In my head, being published was the pinnacle (or maybe being on the New York Times bestselling list would be the pinnacle), that if I never was published, I would never be a real writer and everything I else I did along the way would be worthless. But that’s not the way to view success. The way to view success is to concentrate on delivering your best work (and to take joy in the process of delivering your best work) and being proud of all your accomplishments, big and small, rather than allowing yourself to be defined only by visible, public success.

This was brought home to me again while reading an article with some of the stars of How to get Away with Murder, where Karla Souza talks about the advice that Viola Davis, the more experienced and older actress, gives her.

“I remember her telling me that it’s all about the work,” Souza recalls. “All the noise that comes from it can be distracting. You shouldn’t block it out, but take it for what it is. Sometimes they’ll recognise you and sometimes they won’t, so if you take that attention as you being successful, then when they don’t recognise you, you’ll just be lost again. Awards [are] temporary, but a career is a lifetime.”

So work hard and concentrate on giving your best. Don’t worry about the fame, the money or even the critical acclaim. Measure yourself up only against yourself and how far you’ve come since the beginning. Strive to do your best in everything, even if it’s something as simple as preparing a cooked meal for the table or weeding out the flowerbeds, for every task has its importance, no matter how small. Whatever you do, do it well. Allow all experiences and accomplishments to enrich your life, not just the big and visible ones, for that is truly the way to a happy, fulfilling and successful life.

And finally, I’ll leave you with this one final quote by Hadfield: “Success is feeling good about the work you do throughout the long, unheralded journey that may or may not wind up at the launch pad.”

Image by Death to the Stock Photo.
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