Our Need to Redefine Success

Have you ever thought about our need to redefine success?

Who among us hasn’t thought of personal success in terms of the attainment of wealth and possessions or the achievement of position and power? Even the latest Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines success as “getting or achieving wealth, respect or fame.”

However, there’s something disheartening, even disturbing, about this definition today. Are we to consider ourselves “failures” if we don’t achieve notoriety within our field of study or find ourselves in the top 5% of wealth holders? Are we less successful than others if we don’t secure the corner office by the time we’re forty?

And, what about those persons whose success would appear to be the end-all and be-all of their existence? You’ve heard of students who cheat on exams to gain good grades and athletes who use steroids to bolster their performance. And, there’s always those few investors who employ Ponzi schemes to gain riches at the expense of others.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, a social researcher, recently conducted a study to find a correlation between success and happiness. What she found is that happiness and positive mood were actually precursors to success, not the consequences of success. Happiness makes for success. Success does not necessarily make for happy people.

Perhaps it’s time to redefine success? Maybe we start by rediscovering the origins and true meaning of success?

According to Noah Webster’s first dictionary published in 1806, a successful person was someone who was “prosperous, fortunate, happy and kind.” Success had little to do with what a person attained or accomplished on their own. Even the meaning of prosperity has changed over the past 200 years. In Webster’s day, being prosperous had very little to do with money. Prosperity was understood in terms of its Latin origins, “toward hope.” Prosperous people were hopeful people.

What if we were to return to the original definition of success and include some measure of happiness, kindness and hopefulness as indicators of our own success? Would it make a difference in how we viewed ourselves and others? Would it make a difference in how we lived our lives? Would it make a difference in what we might achieve?

At The Poling Group, we are committed to helping leaders achieve greater wisdom, effectiveness, integrity and fulfillment for themselves, their organizations, and the world-at-large.” For us, that’s one definition of success that we can believe in!

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