Why Being Successful Isn’t The Answer To All Your Problems

Apr 25, 2021
 Created by the author — original image from Pexels


For so long, the world convinced me that social status and wealth will make me happy but I’m not sure I believe it anymore.

Yes, you can define being successful in many ways but let’s not pretend it wouldn’t still make sense 99% of the time if you switched the word with “rich”. We delude ourselves into thinking success is something nobler because talking about money is dirty.

Deep down we want happiness but we don’t know how to get there. When you’ve watched enough adverts, success seems like the obvious answer but it isn’t. I’ve met enough miserable successful people to know better and realize I’ve had it backward for my entire life.

Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. — Albert Schweitzer

Fool’s gold

Would you rather dance on stage in front of thousands and hate every moment or in your bedroom and have the time of your life?

The problem with success is it’s all about external markers. Too much of my life has been spent polishing my outer layer to look good for people who couldn’t care less about how I feel. We assume the person with the best results is happier without ever bothering to confirm.

In my culture, it’s common for parents to push their children toward prestigious jobs so they can boast to their friends. Their child is miserable but it’s less important than their ego.

You might consider this outrageous but think about how many people inflict this on themselves without the need for pushy parents. Is it worth 100 hour weeks in a job you hate to impress those who don’t care?

It’s better to have a golden core than a false shine.


Luck is in all stories

I listen to Guy Raz’s How I Built This podcast religiously where he interviews extraordinary founders from all different backgrounds. The common thread I’ve found in all their stories is a knife-edge moment where the founder got lucky. This break then snowballed and led them to greater success.

Those who self-identify as successful often fail to see this in themselves. They put it all down to their hard work and grind without acknowledging someone else could do everything right and happen to not bump into Steve Jobs in the elevator.

We hear these distorted views and it pushes us to believe everything is in our control when it isn’t. My second article happened to go viral, if it hadn’t I probably wouldn’t be writing this now. Yes, I’ve done as much as I can to improve but I can’t deny this stroke of luck had a huge impact on my success.

When you appreciate this then you lose a sense of entitlement about being successful. Everyone thinks they deserve it. Seize the lucky break if you get one but don’t forget to be grateful. One day it could go the other way and if you believe all your success was your own doing, it’s destructive to think all your failure is too.


Quench your thirst

When your main motivator is more status or more money, nothing will ever be enough.

It’s the influencer’s dilemma. At the start, you’re amazed at having 1,000 followers but then you start envying those with 5,000. Once you get there then you want to be in the 10,000 club.

We realize each success hasn’t brought us happiness so rather than looking around at our other options, we charge further down the same path.

If you enjoy what you’re doing then you’re winning even if you don’t hit the targets you set yourself. Don’t let the need to hit arbitrary numbers or gain meaningless titles get in the way of that.

It matters way more in our heads than in anyone else’s. Few people pay so much attention to you to notice small changes. Whether you’re a manager or director or 5th place or 6th place, most people don’t care. Why should you?


Stress of success

Sport is full of people who went from rags to riches back to rags again because the pressure was too great.

Everyone wants to be their friend when they are at the top and extract their pound of flesh. Then there are those who take sick satisfaction in seeing someone knocked off their pedestal.

George Mumford worked with Michael Jordan on this exact problem. When you’re at the top, people expect inhumane levels of perfection. It can feel suffocating to maintain such high standards. Any failures are amplified by the number of people now paying attention.

Ironically, George helped the basketball great by telling him not to believe all the hype. After working hard your entire life to be successful, it’s insane for one of the key ways to deal with it is to try to forget it’s happening.

Basking in your own glory can lead to your downfall and most of us aren’t lucky enough to have a personal mindfulness coach to help us.


Give more time to the other balls

“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling five balls in the air. You name them — work, family, health, friends and spirit — and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back.
But the other four balls — family, health, friends and spirit — are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, or even shattered. They will never be the same.” — Brian Dyson

This is one of my favorite quotes but I rarely ever live by it. People who value success over everything else treat the balls the wrong way around and sacrifice all for work.

Now clearly you do need some level of income to meet your needs and Princeton suggests this is around $75k per year. More than this and the extra stress often isn’t worth the effort but most people can’t switch their mindset. They stay on their hamster wheel and let the other areas of their life suffer.

The hardest thing is knowing when you have enough success in the traditional definition and focus on the other things instead. Know when enough is enough and have the strength to take the less-traveled road to a happy balanced life.

I’m struggling to do this myself, will you join me?

Amar's Letter

Real talk on driving impact as an imperfect human.