Society sends conflicting messages about success and well being. We’re told to consider internal happiness as our most important commodity, but we’re also told that no one succeeds by simply working 8 hours a day. Success comes to those who climb above and beyond the efforts of their peers. But once this is realised, the bar of how hard we must work is inevitably raised. One only needs to read stories of Steve Jobs, Hilary Clinton, Nelson Mandela or even Beyonce to know that success doesn’t rest easy in the face of aspiration.
Maybe it’s true that nothing worth having comes easily. If we want a career that maintains our soul or relationships that move and change us, we must work hard to find, earn, and maintain these things. However, as human beings, our end goals are never just tangible. Many of us don’t even realise that when we strain ourselves to achieve a personal goal, we aren’t seeking the thing itself. All bigger goals and dreams relate to feeling a certain level of fulfilment, accomplishment, success or compassion.
When we invest great personal importance upon our future, it is inevitable that we place greater emotional strain on achieving our goals. If we become overly stressed, anxious, or even depressed in order to achieve our goals, it is obvious that the feeling we crave from our goals has been shortsighted. But it becomes so difficult to decipher success when we become addicted to the euphoria of accomplishment, of productivity, of wealth, of connecting with people.
Some people make their lives rich through giving charitably. Others enrich the world by pursuing their passions and improving the ways we think collectively. Some can improve the world by finding people they love and simply spreading an infectious, kind attitude amongst those they touch. Each of these has its value. This is particularly relevant when it comes to finding a career as opposed to a job, a source for our empathy as opposed to a source for our sympathy, or for finding a life partner as opposed to a lover.
We are the measuring sticks of our own aspirations – the deeper we dream, the greater the personal sacrifice is required to achieve those goals. The person who dreams of building houses all over the world has more to lose when it floods. Those who aren’t overly concerned with the bricks they build with won’t worry as much about a crumbling wall if it can be replaced with something similar.
If we don’t know how hard we’re working, how can we measure success? People view the concept of hard work very differently, simply based upon their own experiences. All of us believe in different levels of personal sacrifice for various types of goals. Some people are willing to forgo sleep, or temporary happiness in order to achieve a longer lasting sense of fulfilment later on. This makes the notion of ‘working hard’ ambiguous.
All we can do is hope that the path towards ‘success’ doesn’t leave us searching aimlessly for feelings that remind us of what we imagined years ago, before we began working towards a goal. It’s for these reasons that it’s often hard to know if there is light at the end of the tunnel, or if our eternal search for more inevitably leads us to find happiness elsewhere. So we must find the happiness we seek amongst the journey.
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