Forget Materialism: Your Definition Of Success Should Come From Within

by Mo Waja

You look across the crowded room and see her, standing with her friends at the bar.

Instantly, you are smitten. It might be that flyaway strand of hair that just refused to be put up and now whispers with her lips as she talks.

It might be the way her dark eyes light up in coffee-toned merriment when she laughs. You’ve never met, but you want to; you have been swept up in a rush of intrigue and desire.

Now as you walk towards her, you look around the bar and catch the half glances and sideways looks of a dozen others like you, just as smitten.

You look back at her and you feel your heart pounding, not for her, but because you know one, three or five other men are thinking just precisely the same thing as you.

Welcome to the social arena: a world steeped in competition.

The ticking of the clock set high on the wall seems astonishingly loud. Your résumé quivers slightly as you tap your foot in unconscious impatience; you bite your lower lip. Five minutes until you’re called in; five minutes to determine how poor you’re going to be a week, two weeks or a month from today.

Finally you tear your eyes away from the clock and look around the room. You wonder, has time actually slowed down since you arrived? Your eyes lock on the only other person in the room and his on yours.

Welcome to the professional arena: a world of sharks hungry for blood, steeped in competition.

“You may now begin the examination.”

Instantly the room is filled with the scratching of those number two pencils dancing frantically across the paper. You half glance at your neighbor; his nose is nearly touching the page and he's scribbling as fast as he possibly can.

Your applications are in; the last of the reference letters sent. All that remains is this and a couple more exams and you’re ready for a summer abroad before the semester begins again. But first, there is this exam.

First, there is every other student looking to graduate and be accepted into the law school of his or her choice, which just happens to be the law school of your choice.

Welcome to the academic arena: a world where every friend is, in a way, also your enemy; a world steeped in competition.

Let us accept a certain reality that, in a way, might be undesirable. We live in a world based on competition. For each and every object of our desire, whether it's a car, a job, an education, a man or woman, there are hundreds of other individuals who share that same desire.

The differentiating factor that separates the winners in this world is that some people are simply willing to take what they want and ignore the consequences. Now, don’t get me wrong, in no way do we say that this is right or a good reality in which to live. Instead, consider this as a statement, a general comment on the nature of the world.

What it really comes down to is that age-old statement: To the victor go the spoils.

Think back to that moment in the bar and consider the man or woman you found attractive, yet were afraid to talk to. In that moment, you accepted fear and allowed it to control you. You have played the game of life and love, and you lost.

Of course, this reality paints a very bleak outlook for our future. It creates a Machiavellian, materialistic perspective of the world, where our gains can be measured in zeros and objects. Moreover, it creates a world where the very idea of happiness or success can only be determined by one’s material wealth.

So let us take a moment and examine this concept of "success."

According to Dr. Mehm Tin Mon:

"Success is accomplished with satisfaction, joy and happiness, one may wonder whether worldly success is necessary for happiness. Actually the happiness that accompanies a success does not last long; it quickly disappears like dew in the sunlight. So, if success is necessary for happiness, we shall have to strive for success after success throughout our life … we know that life is not a bed of roses, but a series of struggles."

If we consider the idea above, taken from Theravada Buddhism, we can immediately see a critique of the idea of success as defined by materialism.

Let us instead suggest that the true expression of success comes not from the validation of others, but instead from our perception of self. Instead of looking to success as a function of how we are seen by those around us, let us look in the mirror and ask ourselves one simple question: Do I like what I see?

Only when we can look into that mirror and truly like who we are, what we are and what we have become, can we begin to understand ourselves as truly successful. This moves the idea of success beyond the scope of vocation and the balance in our checking account. It becomes, as said by Dr. Mon, a function of satisfaction.

In a world steeped in competition, however, how can we reconcile success as satisfaction if we have an intrinsic need to compete? In competition, to be victorious is, and always will be, defined by materialism, but that should not be our true definition of success.

To compete in the world, we must know where we stand in an outward sense, relative to all those individuals who surround us.

When we sit in that room waiting for a job interview, we must be able to make that competitive analysis of the other potential employees.

When walking through a bar, we must perform that threat assessment of the other prospective suitors around us. We must also balance this against a perception of success that comes from the mirror, from within.

To analyze the true nature of our successes, we must know our level relative to the hierarchy of our peers, but only judge ourselves against a better version of ourselves.

Know where you stand in relation to those around you and what steps you must take in order to surpass your competition. Yet, at the same time, do not let that competition define you.

Each and every one of us is born into this world with advantages and disadvantages that we can seek to leverage, to overcome or can allow them to pull us down, to distract us and hold us back. And so, as you look to the people around you and make that competitive analysis, realize how you can be greater and learn how to play the game of life and win.

When you look into the mirror, ignore the reflections of those who stand around you and behind you. Instead, look into your own eyes and only define yourself and your success, by the vision of what you can become.

Photo Courtesy: Dina Belenko/Flickr