Are you successful? Am I successful? These are good questions but, first, let’s define “success”. Webster’s Dictionary would have us believe that “success” is the attainment of wealth, respect or fame – great things to achieve!

But, you can’t put a bank balance on success. And fame comes with a downside too – imagine the pressure of never being able to just be “yourself” or age gracefully without onlookers asking if you missed your Botox appointment? We desire fame because we think it brings wealth but, more often, it brings temptation and overwhelming choices. If you ask a famous person what their greatest contribution to the world has been, it won’t be just selling albums or increasing network ratings. If there isn’t something deeper, altruistically guiding them, they are just a waste of tabloid ink.

Achievement is temporal and while some personal goals are worth striving for, most will pass and leave an empty space once you step off the podium. Growing your bank balance to pay the bills and put groceries in the fridge is essential but the attainment of greater affluence will never fill your love tank. I see examples, every day, of how striving for success, when defined in this way, is suffocating our society and imprinting our children with lives of deeper and deeper unhappiness.

Many of my patients express complete hopelessness with their lives. They have reached the end of their rope and have all but given up. They are looking for a solution, anything that will take away the pain that robs them of an innate sense of purpose, leaves their marriage strained and their family fragmented. These are problems that prescriptions or surgery will only temporize. These are genuine issues that the medical system doesn’t acknowledge as “real” and insurance companies don’t cover. I deal with women, mostly, but society expects greater external success from men who are, also, being crushed by the burden. I see women at the prime of their lives, feeling completely exhausted on all levels, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Heck, I was exhausted too!

My colleagues, the men and women in healthcare, are weary. If we aren’t careful, we walk through life with our eyes blurred, one foot in front of the other in unconscious motion. The goal is to get patients through the door and tasks completed, working tirelessly to stay “on schedule”, spending more time on charting and insurance than looking into the eyes of our patients. In all walks of life, it’s common to believe, “it’s not my fault” and feel victimized by the constant quest for more - to go from morning to night with a sense of not having enough. We crave more time, more money, more respect, more furniture, more cars, more in our retirement fund. It is becoming crystal clear that we will NEVER be satiated if we continue to be guided by this “pie in the sky” sense that one day we will have “enough”. This is not only impossible to acquire, it is directing our daily habits, influencing our buying decisions, stealing from our family lives and, truly, damaging our world. Some of the most authentically happy people I have met are living under thatched roofs in Africa – singing street-side while bartering their handmade crafts. While we strive for 6-figures, they pray for a bag of rice. While we run from soccer games to drive through windows, they cook and dance around a fire all day long in an inter-generational chorus of peace. It’s time to, more deeply, understand success and revisit what brings us joy.

Have you ever sat next to a sick or dying person and asked what they desire most? I bet it isn’t money or fame; they would ask for health and more quality time with their family. If you asked a rich person what amount they would pay to keep their children safe, the answer would likely reflect their entire net worth. So, when times get tough, priorities come sharply into focus and the things that matter are redefined. What if we all lived inside these values ALL THE TIME?

I envision a world of balanced people making positive, loving decisions, sharing their greatest gifts and talents toward the greater good of a peaceful and thriving world. But it all starts with you. How do you define success? I would love to hear your definition, please share in the comments section, remember you define your success!