Rethinking What Success Means Today and Its Implications for Leadership Development
All leadership development experts concur that purpose is vital for human flourishing. In Millennials Matter, we discuss this in Section 3, Model an Impact Mindset. We learn about a Hebrew word – Avodah. This ancient concept invites us to live with purpose 24/7, in every aspect of life. Avodah leads to human flourishing.
Thus, I find this paragraph (about 2/3 of the way through the article) sobering:
“Instead of freeing us towards higher-value pursuits, our wealth has only led to us pacifying ourselves with constant entertainment and ever-increasing convenience. This might be fun for a weekend but the long-term impact is an increase in boredom, anxiety, and restlessness—all things which seem to be increasing around us.”
I ask myself – How might we make a positive difference during this Era of Exponential Growth?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the ideas in this article. Do you agree? Disagree? What would you add?
I look forward to hearing from you.
Title: Why Success Fell Out of Fashion and Why It Matters
Publication: The Epoch Times
By: Mike Donghia
Date: March 09, 2023
You can read the article here:
Wealth and power are shallow pursuits, but distraction and comfort are even less meaningful.
Google has an amazing tool that lets you see the frequency of a word’s usage over the years across a sample of 8 million books.
From the year 1800 until about 1985, the word “success” was surprisingly steady in its usage across each decade. But then, starting in the mid-’80s and continuing until today, the word began to fall more out of favor each year.
By 2020, the word “success” was used 85 percent less frequently than it was in 1985—a significant change in just 35 years, representing a fascinating shift in cultural values.
Possible Reasons for Disinterest in ‘Success’
I’ll speculate on a few reasons why success may have fallen out of favor over the past generation or two.
Changing Attitudes Toward Traditional Markers of Success
In recent years, the traditional markers of success—wealth, power, and status—have fallen slightly out of favor and internal and inward-looking markers have taken their place. We now see fulfillment, happiness, and personal growth as important aspects of a successful life, and we judge across this broader definition of success—which we no longer simply call “success.”
Greater Awareness of Work-Life Balance
The book “ was published in 2007 but epitomized a trend that was already picking up steam.
The book advocates for “working less and living more” by trading in the old concept of retiring in your later years, to one of achieving maximum freedom and flexibility throughout your entire lifetime.
This belief has become embedded in our cultural attitude toward work, and its influence was especially felt in what’s now being called the Great Resignation—a mass voluntary exit from the workplace in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Greater Emphasis on Self-Care and Mental Health
Another product of our relative prosperity as a society is the opportunity to invest more in taking care of ourselves. While not true across the entire population, a significant number of people are more invested in physical and mental health than ever before.
It’s no longer considered impressive to achieve great wealth and “success” in the traditional definition of the word while having your health and relationships lie in ruins.
A Societal Malaise And Pessimism
What’s been gained and lost in this cultural transition?
Overall, I think most of us can agree that the traditional markers of a good life were found wanting, to say the least. Money and power are nothing compared to close friends, rich experiences, and a sense of meaning in your life. At some margin, it makes complete sense to begin trading away money for more time to pursue what’s important to you.
While I’m not convinced our culture is quite on track with its definition of happiness, I welcome fulfillment and personal growth as new aspirational goals to pursue. I think they have the potential to open our eyes to a better way of living.
But, you can probably sense my hesitancy and unwillingness to embrace these changes as a complete success. It doesn’t take much looking around to see that, at least in the United States, our society is ailing from something. There’s a general malaise in the air, and a pessimism in our outlook that is uniquely un-American.
If we’ve unchained ourselves from traditional markers of success, why aren’t we thriving? What’s going on here?
The Dark Side of Convenience, Constant Entertainment
The underlying driver behind this shift away from the word “success” has been an increasingly prosperous society, at least for a large segment of the population. With their basic needs met, and many wants as well, people feel empowered to pursue more freedom instead of more money and power. Instead of working long hours, and climbing the corporate ladder, they’re taking the opportunity to live life on their own terms.
That’s the positive news. The challenge is the sobering reality behind where their free time ends up going. Instead of investing more in relationships, nonprofit work, faith-related pursuits, or even adventure, the vast majority of freed-up time is being eaten up by screens.
Instead of freeing us towards higher-value pursuits, our wealth has only led to us pacifying ourselves with constant entertainment and ever-increasing convenience. This might be fun for a weekend but the long-term impact is an increase in boredom, anxiety, and restlessness—all things which seem to be increasing around us.
Avoiding the Pitfalls of Selfishness, Complacency
While the old model of “success” had deep flaws, it at least gave us something outside ourselves to aim for. Our turn inward has had the ironic effect of cutting off our ambition while delivering no sustainable increase in the satisfaction we have with our lives.
Instead of trying to better ourselves, and serve those around us, it seems we’re now content to merely do no harm and to maximize our own pleasure. It has been the journey of my own life (and writing) to find a middle way between these two temptations—the selfish pursuit of status and a life of complacency.
There’s an inherent value in doing difficult things and a deep reward in pursuing a meaningful life built around doing what matters—with people that matter to us. If our definition of success shifts away from money and power but doesn’t grow to include more intrinsically important values, then real success is only slipping further away.