People are always talking about success. It's a word we hear often and an idea that seems to be constantly dangling in front of our faces -- just out of reach.
But what does it mean? How, exactly, does one measure "success?"
We read articles that promise to enlighten us on "How to Be Successful." They always tell us to work hard, ask for that raise, be innovative, not to waste time being unproductive, not to surround ourselves with those loser friends who have no interest in climbing the proverbial ladder. Someday, these articles promise, enough hard work and the right amount of luck will make us successful. (In other words, very rich and very powerful).
Attend any high school reunion and the quiet whispers amongst the crowd will be about (other than who got fat, who got divorced, who died) who turned out to be really successful. (In other words, who has the most impressive paycheck and/or job title.)
It seems that great achievement always correlates to money, power, possessions, and impressing other people.
Is that it? Is that all we can define success as?
When our skin wrinkles around our eyes and our bones grow weary, will money and power alone warm our souls and allow us to think, "I've lived a good life?"
There are plenty of people who have millions of dollars in their bank accounts, and yet, not a single true friend. Are they a success? Of course, in an ideal world we would all have both -- tons of money and tons of friends -- but why is it that our broadly accepted idea of accomplishment revolves around materialism?
A conversation with a friend of mine who spent a year living in an impoverished village abroad got me thinking about cultural ideals. Her views had certainly changed through her experience, and our discussion set my mind going about what, exactly, defines a successful life if money is off the table.
Of course, who doesn't hope to be financially secure? Most of us probably do, but to make money, power, and possessions your sole goal in life is to ignore the deeper purpose of the human experience.
Here are 18 components of living a successful life.
1) Know who you are, what your values are, and what you stand for.
2) Have a small group of people -- or even just one -- around whom you can be 100-percent yourself. These are the people who know the most genuine of your smiles and your long list of dreams, but have also seen you eat an entire sleeve of Oreos (in one sitting) and wipe your snot on the sleeve of your sweatshirt as you cry. (They may or may not have also seen your interpretive dance to "The Thong Song," but no one would ever know because they've sworn to take it to their graves.) If you have even one of these people in your life, you are fortunate.
3) Have a circle of people who, though you don't see them as often as you'd like, are still the first ones celebrating your victories and listening on the other end of the phone line when your world is crashing down. These are the kind of friendships that time and distance and different life paths don't change -- and they require nourishing.
4) Understand that life is precious and tomorrow isn't guaranteed. Continuously remind yourself who and what you're grateful for, and show them your appreciation often.
5) Recognize that there is pain and suffering in this world beyond your comprehension. Still choose to see the good in life.
6) Be generous with your soul. Be compassionate and empathetic towards your fellow human beings. Give. Don't expect anything in return for your generosity -- the camaraderie you will feel for a fellow human being is reward enough.
7) Always strive for personal growth, but accept your smaller imperfections and love yourself regardless. If you demand perfection, you will only be exhausted.
8) Love. Love deeply. Love fully. Don't ever let fear prevent you from experiencing the greatest feeling in this life. Love your family, love your friends, love your partners, love children, love strangers, love yourself. Immerse yourself in love -- it's worth it.
9) Find something you are passionate about and something that always brings peace to your soul. These two things might be the same thing. Do them often.
10) Have a collection of memories. Some that make you laugh, some that make you smirk, some that make you cringe, and some that make you cry.
11) Have the courage to draw your own road map for life. Live only according to your own expectations, and nobody else's.
12) Know when to close your mouth and listen. Everybody has something to share.
13) Overcome toxic habits and say goodbye to toxic people. You only get one shot at this life -- so why let anything hold you back?
14) Learn from every single experience you have. Allow these lessons to guide you in the future. Share your wisdom with friends, peers, strangers and younger generations. (And don't ever think you're too old to learn something new!)
15) Constantly seek out new experiences with no fear.
16) Regard every one of your fellow human beings as equals, regardless of race, culture, socioeconomic class, age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc.
17) Remember that if you have health, shelter, clean water and food you are luckier than most. Keep your perspective.
18) Never take yourself so seriously that you've forgotten how to laugh or be silly. Never get too old to see the world through the eyes of a child -- with wonder and awe. Maturity and playfulness can coexist.