by Stelio Verzera
You are alive. You didn't ask to exist, and yet here you are, breathing and thinking. Now, what do you stand for? What do you long and strive for?
We exist at many levels. There is our daily life, with the dreams, efforts, relationships, emotions, values and actions that make it complex and unique. At the same time, there is a level at which we are one as mankind, an organism that passes information through DNA, growing in waves that we call generations. We are also an amazing aggregation of matter that was generated billions of years ago, travelled for thousands of light-years and transited through millions of forms, and lives, and is now temporarily manifest in our body and individual consciousness. Stretching to a deeper level, our notions of space and time may just be local manifestations of a deeper implicated order and any form of matter and consciousness along with them.
These are just some of the "levels" at which we exist. And it's not theoretical thinking. It is reality. It is what we are, even though we seldom consider it. We are focused on the "superficial" level at which we perceive our daily life and individual existence, while our awareness of the deeper levels fades sharply as the distance grows from our individual perception. Yet, we exist at all levels, we're not just what we focus on. And this strong focus on the most "superficial" adds dysfunctionality to our own happiness, making us forget what we really are and misleading us to understanding our lives only at that superficial level.
One of the key concepts strongly affected by this dysfunction is that of success. It is an aspect of our lives tightly connected to our happiness, in many ways. Our achievements, our fulfillment stand in a crossroad between our inner and outer lives, our individual and our social perceptions. Thus how we conceive and perceive success is key to health. It is key to our happiness, both individually and collectively.
Now, coming from such reflections it may seem quite childish to consider success mostly a matter of achieved social status, in terms of money, power, reputation. Yet, you'll find few exceptions to this perspective in our society. Even our dictionaries define success in terms of wealth, prosperity, profit, fame and popularity. We deem a person "successful" if she reaches above-than-average wealth and social status. And, in doing so, we implicitly ask ourselves and our fellow humans to strive for these things.
I strongly believe that if we want to leave a significantly better world to our children or even just to earn the right to survive as a species, we need to change our concept of success. Fast and deeply. We need to wake up.
So, how do we wake up? How do we redefine success in a way that doesn't just take in account a focus on the most superficial levels of our existence? This is an open question, and one that I really hope to reflect on together.
- Happiness, way beyond emotions and as in understanding, purpose, authenticity, wholeness.
- Freedom, way beyond desires and as in growth, respect, flow, tao, oneness.
- Love, way beyond feelings and as in empathy, compassion, ubuntu, interbeing, unity.
What if success could be evaluated by how much of these entities we have enabled and catalyzed with our actions? Would then the success of a startup still be measured in number of active users, money valuation or exit price? Would an organization be successful for having a big turnover, or for working over many continents, and having a well-known brand? Would each of us be successful according to annual revenues, positional power, or number of publications?
If we change our evaluation of success according to how much happiness, freedom and love have happened, we shift to a completely different set of considerations, and thus to completely different criteria for action. In fact, we start looking for how much an organization, a manager or any of us are helping people in their growth, how much they're in any way supporting the path towards an authentic understanding of the person, the ecosystem, and life itself, how much they're contributing to collective value creation.
This shift in core values towards a deeper understanding of success is hindered by the very perspective we're currently focusing on. In fact, the counterpart to each and all of these three entities I'm suggesting, the main obstacle to their healthy flow is, interestingly, always fear. And we shall not overcome fear until we stop focusing our efforts on superficial factors like money and power and we stop striving to seize some of their scarcity.
On the very contrary focusing on the superficial amplifies fragmented and egotic perspectives, derails people from their natural path of fulfillment and cages them in prisons of fake necessities. All of these dynamics will result in new fear, which in turn will trigger more of them, in a vicious circle.
Nevertheless, we need to start this shift now, from where we are. And an important thing I've learnt in my work is asking myself what is the smallest thing I can do now that could set big things in motion and change the future. In this case, my answer was just writing this article and make you think about it.
So, the next time you are tempted to deem somebody "successful", please think twice.
Stelio is a curious and active contributor to the global community evolving the concept and practice of work in this decade. If you'd like to know more about him, start here. Other blog posts by Stelio are here. Credits: thanks Dawna Jones for precious editing support, and Njambi Ndiba for the header image.