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  • Melissa Sims

Redefining Success in a World Obsessed with External Validation

You’ve likely heard us talk about AI recently, and for good reason. It is everywhere suddenly - well, not suddenly but more obvious now. We frequently use AI at Work2Live to create images for workshops and blogs as it is incredibly difficult to find images that match what our topics convey. Which brings me to an interesting situation: how AI sees “success” which ultimately means how we see success. (Because, as you know, humans are the ones teaching AI.) I asked for a picture of "perceived success." This was the result:

There are so many things I take issue with in this, but I will hone in on just two things. First, I am not even sure what some of the things in here are, which is one of the problems with AI: accuracy. But secondly, I am kind of grossed out by it. Success means trophies, expensive cars, standing on top of the hill like you’ve conquered the world? Please, please, do not let this be how we all view success. If it is, we have a lot of work to do. 

The traditional metrics of success—wealth, status, and power—have dominated our collective consciousness, heavily influenced by external validation and the glossy veneer of social media.  However, this narrow view of success has led to an increase in stress, burnout, and a sense of inadequacy among many. It's high time we redefine what it means to be successful, emphasizing well-being, balance, and intrinsic satisfaction over societal accolades.

External validation has long been a cornerstone of how people measure success. From academic achievements to career milestones, society applauds those who reach the heights of conventional success. However, this reliance on external validation distorts our perception of what it truly means to lead a fulfilling life. The constant chase for recognition and approval from others can lead to a fragile sense of self-worth, where one's value is contingent on external achievements.

Social media has amplified this issue, creating a world where the highlights of others' lives are on constant display, meticulously curated to project an image of success and happiness. This can lead to unrealistic standards and a perpetual feeling of falling short. The pressure to maintain an image of success on social media not only skews our perception of what is genuinely valuable in life but also fosters a culture of comparison and competition rather than fulfillment and contentment.

The Myth of the Endless Hustle

I’ve touched on this lightly before, but the glorification of the "hustle culture" further complicates our understanding of success. This mindset advocates for relentless work, suggesting that the key to success is constant busyness and productivity. However, the endless hustle often leads to burnout, stress, and a neglect of personal well-being. It's a myth that equates busyness with importance, overlooking the value of rest, reflection, and deep work.

Redefining success means shifting from hustle to balance. It's about recognizing that true success encompasses not only achievements but also the quality of our lives outside work. Balancing professional ambitions with personal well-being, relationships, and leisure is crucial. This approach fosters a more sustainable path to success, one that values rest and recharge as essential components of productivity and creativity.

You know we are sticklers for self care, but again, self care must be rooted in a foundation of self-compassion. Incorporating mindful self-care practices is a pivotal part of redefining success. Mindfulness, meditation, exercise, and hobbies are not just leisure activities but essential practices that enhance our mental, emotional, and physical well-being. They allow us to decompress, reflect, and connect with ourselves on a deeper level, fostering a sense of inner peace and satisfaction that is not dependent on external validation.

Well-Being as the True Measure of Success

Ultimately, our overall well-being is the true measure of success. This encompasses physical health, emotional stability, mental clarity, and a sense of purpose and fulfillment. It's about living in alignment with our values and finding joy in the journey, not just the destination. When we prioritize our well-being, we cultivate resilience, contentment, and a deep-seated sense of success that external factors cannot easily shake.

Redefining success is a deeply personal journey, one that requires introspection, self-awareness, and a willingness to challenge societal norms. It's about defining what truly matters to us, beyond the noise and expectations of the external world. This process involves setting boundaries, honoring our needs, and embracing the idea that success is multifaceted, encompassing a wide range of experiences and achievements.

You may even need to sit down and journal to reflect on your current definition of success, and where you’d like to see that vision shift. Try listing out the things that bring you true joy, the things that you feel hold you back, and the things that stress you out the most. We all have stressors, but these are the things that inhibit you from accomplishing goals, and ultimately enjoying the success you deserve. Once you have it clearly laid out in front of you, and can make a plan to adjust them to bring balance. Do you love your work? What is holding you back from enjoying it? What is stressing you out so much about it that you can’t seem to reach that point of “success” you want? What does that “success” look like? What steps can you take today to eliminate some of the stress or roadblocks and bring in more of the joy? It's crucial to celebrate small victories, practice gratitude, and recognize the value in every step of your journey to redefine success. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that little device that brings you mindless entertainment may just be the same thing that is sucking your joy, and ultimately impeding you from success. 

We are human and by nature we compare and compete. But we don’t have to do that - we can simply shift our focus from external validation to intrinsic satisfaction, thus opening ourselves up to a more fulfilling and balanced life. It is a profound journey towards self-empowerment and genuine happiness. By not allowing societal expectations or the achievements of others to dictate our self-worth, we can be liberated from the burden of unrealistic standards. Shifting that focus internally is essential for cultivating a sense of inner peace and contentment.

One of the first steps in this shift is to recognize the impermanence and superficiality of external validation. While praise from others can feel rewarding, it is fleeting and often hinges on criteria beyond our control. Instead, turning our focus inward, we can begin to appreciate our intrinsic values, strengths, and efforts. Ask yourself: what is GREAT about you? Celebrating personal progress, no matter how small, fosters a sense of accomplishment rooted in self-awareness, not in comparison to others.

Cultivating gratitude is another powerful tool in this transition. By acknowledging and appreciating what we have, rather than fixating on what we lack or how we compare to others, we shift our perspective from scarcity to abundance. This mindset encourages us to find joy and satisfaction in our present circumstances, reducing the need for external validation.

Setting personal goals based on what truly matters to us, rather than what we believe is expected of us, is crucial. These goals should reflect our values, passions, and aspirations. Achieving these goals brings a sense of fulfillment that is deeply personal and immensely satisfying because it resonates with our core identity.

Shifting from external validation to internal satisfaction is a journey of self-discovery and growth. It allows us to live more authentically, aligned with our true selves, free from the constraints of comparison and societal expectations. This path leads to a richer, more fulfilling life, characterized by a deep sense of personal satisfaction and joy.

Redefining success is not about lowering our ambitions but about broadening our understanding of what it means to live a successful life. It's a call to prioritize well-being, embrace balance, and find joy in the present moment. By doing so, we not only enrich our own lives but also inspire those around us to reconsider their definitions of success. This collective shift in perspective has the power to transform not only individuals but also society at large, paving the way for a future where success is measured not by what we have, but by who we are and how we live. 

To your success! 


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