Your definition of Success

“Your definition of success influences every other significant decision in your life.” I read this on a slide during one of Robert Holden’s workshops. Could this be right? Well, Robert Holden does have a PhD and seems to really know what he was talking about, I thought. I wasn’t sure of the answer for myself so I deferred to him and chose to accept it as true for me. However, the question remained and I began an inquiry. Was my life being guided by my definition of success? What even was my definition of success? I’d better figure it out if it is driving the whole show.

I thought back a few years and realized my definition of success at that time was wanting to wake up in the morning. Having spent over 20 years struggling with thoughts of suicide, simply wanting to be alive was huge for me. I could see that a desire to want to wake up in the morning did drive every other significant decision in my life. I was on a mission to heal myself and to want to be alive. This drove decisions to end my marriage, to change careers, to earn a Master’s in Spiritual Psychology, to be an advocate for others feeling suicidal. As I thought back, all decisions were driven by my definition of success– wanting to live.

My desire to end my life all those years was fueled by immense emotional pain stemming from the belief that I screwed up everything I touched, that I was worthless and had no value, and that I was unlovable. I was desperate to escape the pain of feeling like a liability to the world and death seemed the best and only option. My definition of success not only kept me from taking my life, but also helped me find the path to true healing of the misunderstandings about myself. As I healed the pain, my desire to live intensified. The more I wanted to be alive myself, the stronger the desire became to help others also find the will to live.

As I set out to help others struggling with suicide, I realized just how much I was not alone. I found out from the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention that in 2010, suicide took more lives than war, homicide, and natural disasters combined. I wondered why in this day and age so many people wanted to die. I wasn’t alone in asking this question either. David Myers wrote in his book The American Paradox: Spiritual Hunger in an Age of Plenty,

“We are better paid, better fed, better housed, better educated, and healthier than ever before, and with more human rights, faster communication, and more convenient transportation than we have ever known. Ironically, however, for 30-plus years… since 1960…the divorce rate has doubled, the teen suicide rate has tripled, the recorded violent crime rate has quadrupled, and the prison population has quintupled.”

Robert Holden addressed the same issue in Authentic Success stating, “Accompanying the increase in wealth and consumerism, there has also been a significant increase in recorded depression, mental illness, violence, drug abuse, and suicide.”

What is the deal? Why are we so unhappy? Does this have to do with our current definition of success? If the definition of success influences every other significant decision in life we must be off track on our definition, right? Is our definition to go faster and gain more? It seems that this is the message I often receive. I hear people almost competing for how busy they are with almost bragging rights as to how many hours worked per week and how many emails they receive. Yes, people are very, very, very busy. To keep up with how busy we are we are making everything faster. You can now buy cereal to go, along with just about every other product. Where are we in such a rush to go? Where are the 5 minutes we saved by eating our cereal in the car as we drive? What are we saving all this time for? I think we are doing this all for more… more money, more achievement, and more things. Yet, we are unhappier than ever.

Maybe we need to rethink the definition of success as more and better. With nearly 40,000 Americans dying a year from suicide perhaps it’s time for a new definition. What do we really want our lives to be about? At the end of the day what really matters? Is it how many emails I sent? Is it how busy I was? Is it how much money I made? Or is it how well I loved today? Robert Holden suggests the definition of success is knowing who you are. I tried this on for myself and love the decisions it’s influencing. To me, success is knowing who I am. This definition has me showing up more loving with myself and others. I find my relationships improving, my happiness soaring, and my ability to be of value and of service to the world increasing exponentially. I’d like to ask you, what is your definition of success and is it working for you?