Success Versus Fulfillment

March 5, 2017

“The worst suffering of all is to not allow yourself to do what you truly love.” -Abbie M.


The vast majority of people define success as one of three things: wealth, power and/or fame. According to the first measure, the level of success is proportional to the amount of wealth one accumulates. The second measure is how high a position one holds in a company or in society. The higher the position they hold in the hierarchy, the more successful they are considered to be. The third measure is fame; are you a TV star, or a celebrity? If yes, then you are successful; if not, then you are just an average person with little significance.


There is nothing wrong with these three measures if that’s what one wants to achieve. But limiting success to only these three have caused many people to spend their life pursuing goals that might label them as successful in the eyes of others, but offer them little happiness, if any at all. This has created many successful but unhappy people. They are unhappy because they feel that what they have achieved is not really what they want in life. So why do so many people pursue careers or goals that don’t lead them to happiness? After all, the basic conventional wisdom says that we should follow our dreams.


I once read an article posted on “TeenInk” titled “Pursue Your Passions”, by Abbie M., a college student. In her article she shared a conversation she once had with a college friend. Her friend, whose passion was photography, switched major because as he put it “There is no money in it.” When I finished reading it, I couldn’t stop reflecting on my early career life and how it would’ve been different, have I read her article back then when I was deciding on a college major.


There are no shortages of people around us who are constantly trying to influence our choices to conform to their views of success. Each tries to sell us their version of success. They could be family members, our friends, our colleagues, and most of all, the media, which relentlessly tries to convince us that success is the fancy cloths we wear, the slick cars we drive, or the vacation we take. And if we are not armed with our own definition of success we become vulnerable to adopting theirs.


Once during a family gathering, my older sister asked me “, what do you do at work?” I started to explain my job as a Organizational Consultant. In the middle of my explanation, she interrupted me by saying “, how come you are not a manager?” I was dumbfounded to say the least. Frozen in silence, I couldn’t think of a single thing to say. It was an awkward moment. Finally, I broke the awkwardness of the moment by replying jokingly “, maybe because I am not smart enough.” We all laughed and moved on with the various conversations. Later that day, I reflected on why she asked me that question. “Of course,” I thought “, she loved me and simply wanted to see me successful.” You see, her definition of success is being a manager—a positional power.


I remember after finishing high school, I was faced with the question of what do I want to major in college. I consulted with my brother, who was a civil engineer. I asked him to help me to decide on choosing a major. Being a successful civil engineer himself, he quickly directed me to the path of civil engineering. Civil engineering was his definition of success. “There is plenty of money in civil engineering,” he explained. Like my sister, he too loved me and had my best interest at heart, but that was his own definition of success, not mine.


There is a huge difference between success and fulfillment. Though they may sound the same, they’re chock and cheese, for success without fulfillment is failure.


So I ask you, dear reader, what is your definition of success? If you don’t have your own definition, you will come across many people who will try to impose their own definitions of success on you.

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