What is Success?


“I lost feeling in my hands.” One of my friends revealed over lunch. He is an entrepreneur who built his company since he was a master’s student. For years, he worked year round on his business with minimal breaks. One day he lost sensation in his hands and it hurt him to use them. I cannot imagine losing use of my hands because of pain that would be felt doing simple everyday tasks that we take for granted. The doctor told him that he over worked himself and needed to rest. He is healthier now and has moments of pain, but took a year to rehabilitate his health.

“When I learn something new, I can’t remember something that I already learned,” a different friend stated when we were out for a walk. This friend, also an entrepreneur, spent three years building his business. He sought medical help for his brain and the doctors found nothing wrong. It was concluded that his brain was being over worked. He told me that the brain is like a muscle and needs rest. He was advised to do activities that he already knows so that his brain can rest during those activities.

“It will take a year to get my adrenal glands working properly,” a third friend revealed.  This particular friend is a hard worker, moved up quickly in her career and never lets you see her sweat. She ended her career to focus on her health and train as a yoga instructor, prior to getting sick. In the process of her studies, she learned about the power of thought and how it affects your health. She went to the doctor to look into her issue with fatigue and sleep and learned that she holds in stress. As a result, her energy levels fluctuate daily. Her method of treatment is to rest and listen to her body more.

Three amazing people in my life have health issues and are in the process of healing.  What concerns me is that these health issues (like most health issues) were preventable.  The cause of these each issue is work, working too hard and pushing themselves too far at the cost of their health. Who else in my life is sick in this way?

When I was 13 years old, I was very involved in school and very studious. I pushed myself to excel in all areas of my life and it caught up with me. I missed a week of school because I was sick. I had borderline bronchitis and phenomena, which was even worse because I have asthma. Once I recovered from being sick, I hit the ground running with my go, go, go schedule and I got sick again. I had borderline bronchitis and phenomena again, which was worse than the first time and I missed school for another week.

I learned that I needed to listen to my body and pay attention when I am tired and need rest.

To this day when I am tired and even if I have plans, I will most often cancel them to take care of me.  Or I plan a weekend or evening of rest or me time. This practice has spilled over into my focus to maintain a work life balance last year because I was tired all the time, wanted more from life and I started to resent work (Redirection: 7 Lessons from Living Differently).

As I pondered these stories what came up is a universal truth. Success is a social construct. The society that we have been born into and sustain has blinded our focus from why we are alive. We all seek to be successful because it’s how we are socialized. Society admires and applauds those who are successful.

My friends weren’t working hard to work hard, they were working hard to be successful.  Though our society places a lot of importance on success, life isn’t about success.  Life is about helping others. Rather then think of the extend that you are successful, it’s better to ask what is your circle of influence?


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