ALC English Journal Topic November 2014

What is Success?

What is the definition of success for women? I wanted to live a life like my mother did, and always thought I would – until recently. But now I’m over 40, single, and have no kids. Am I a loser or what?  


There’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting to grow up to be like your mother. But keep in mind that she lived the life that you aspire to in the last century! She got married long before Google, and her phone was connected to the wall by an electrical cord. Do you really want to judge your success today based on last century norms?

Who is Defining Your Success? I know many people who have gotten married after the age of 40. And, through the miracle of modern medicine, some have had children when they were nearly 50! But before you log onto the nearest dating website, redefine success in your own terms. One very successful businesswoman said:

  •  When I was 20 I worried about what other people thought about me.
  • When I was 40 I didn’t care what other people thought about me.
  • When I was 60 I realized that other people weren’t thinking about me!

As I grow older I, too, realize that my own definition of success matters more than how others judge me. Beware of being pressured to conform to other people’s idea of success!

Success is Relative. My mother often told me “There is always someone better than you and there is always someone worse than you. Don’t compare yourself to others. Just be the best YOU that you can be!” Unfortunately neuroscience has shown that human brains naturally crave status relative to others. But often when we compare ourselves to other people we feel inferior to them. This is mainly due to the fact that we aren’t aware of the difficulties that other people face in their seemingly “successful” lives. You might feel unsuccessful because you don’t have a husband and children until you find out that a friend is divorcing her jerk of a husband, or that your neighbor’s 30-year-old children are still living with them.

Making Different Choices Doesn’t Make You a Loser! I love kids, but I chose not to have any. Making a choice isn’t the same as being a loser. You might claim that you haven’t chosen your life. Nonsense! Each person has made many choices leading to the life that they are living. But often there is a discrepancy between what we say we want and what we actually do with our time. For example, unless you’re planning to marry a coworker, you can’t find the love of your life while working 80 hours a week. Do your choices match up with your stated goals for your life? If not, then either change your choices or change your definition of success.

Redefine Success as Happiness. Human beings are notoriously bad at predicting what will make us happy. You are not a loser. Life is messy! If you want to compare yourself to someone, compare yourself to the 1 billion people on Planet Earth who don’t have access to clean drinking water. Compared to them you are wildly successful, and extremely fortunate! Celebrate being who you are, and don’t let other people define success for you.

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