18 October 2009

Einstein and the Meaning of Success

One should guard against preaching to young people success in the customary form as the main aim in life. The most important motive for work in school and in life is pleasure in work, pleasure in its result, and the knowledge of the value of the result to the community. - Albert Einstein

Good old Einstein. Well, he said it.

What is this perfectly ambiguous term we call success anyway? Success in different societies means so many different things. Having many children in some African and Middle Eastern cultures is a form of success. Having a high paying job, a large house and being able to travel regularly for leisure is a symbol of success in most Western societies. Smaller circles also have their own measures. Featuring as a lead in a high grossing film is the first sign of success in Hollywood. Getting a promotion is a sign of success in most organisations.

This idea of success is a pain in the ass. So often I think, it forces us to give away our lives and spend effort on things that we believe are prized by other people, in an attempt to impress them or even just to confirm to ourselves that our life has been well spent. These things we eventually acquire or give ourselves cancers and heart attacks acquiring may have nothing to do with what we truly want. But they are worth pursuing either because advertisers tell us that they are worthwhile, or because our family tell us nothing else will do or because we feel guilt in relation to those self-imposed goals that elude us, or shame in relation to other people, if we do not pursue these aims.

I've had plenty of success.
Well, that depends on what you mean by success.
I've had wealth. I've owned property. I've had boundless travel experiences. I've had a degree of power and responsibility in a well paid job. I've had a stable and happy marriage.
So I suppose in Western terms, I've had plenty of that thing called success.

But I'm learning. Slowly. I think success for me is moments. Moments when I feel free and my own person. Moments when I love or feel loved. Moments when I complete a gym workout and feel fucking awesome about myself. Moments when I find self-expression in an idiotic Facebook status or rave about my obscure ideas in an equally obscure blog called Les Nuits Masquées. Moments when I know I'm going to publish my novel, a creation of my very own that no one else could have written and that has been born of my own mind and no one else's. Moments when I enjoy tasting and experiencing new food. Success for me is being able to tell someone to piss off when they are obviously out of line rather than being servile to them and compromising my own integrity. Success is making my own choices.

I want to call this thing, "contentment", not success.

Contentment for me is those moments when I wake up and recognise that the commonly known concept called success is an elusive, virtual reality. It's a commodity created to wade through existence and obtain some measure of self-satisfaction for our progress in this lifespan. It's true. We fabricate our own reality about what success means because we are doomed to the anxiety of existentialism. We need to fill our lives with some meaning. We need a benchmark without which we fall apart anguished by this overwhelming meaninglessness. Without which we believe we would feel useless. Who wants to 'just live'? No, that would be too frightening. Life must have a purpose. And the only way we know we have reached that purpose is to create a measure, the measure of success.

But life is not about success. It's about enjoyment. And Einstein was right.

Enjoy nature. Enjoy learning. Enjoy creating. Enjoy art. Enjoy helping others. Enjoy dancing. Enjoy sex. Enjoy food, love and healthy competition.

Success comes in those moments.

1 comment:

fRANK d said...

more and more I see how we live trapped in the western society by material success. Nice to have things, sure it is. But sometimes having things is everything to the point where it becomes to hostile. Changing your perspective of success is a good idea. I've had to change mine and put away many things that I was pursuing with some brain washed idea of what success was. Now I know that living my life and enjoying it is my success. For there are many people living richer lives who aren't enjoying them. Just like many people have many things but never get to use them because they are always working to buy more things that will never get used.