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Redefining Success in a High-Pressure Society

Written byDesiree Smith

We live in a capitalistic society that tells us the more we have, the happier we will be. This approach promotes the idea that we can experience true happiness and success — but we have to earn it. 

But the question arises whether or not success is something that can and should be universally defined. Is it possible that our current definition of success isn’t true success? And if that’s the case, then what does success really mean?

Society’s Definition of Success

Society tells us that the more stuff we have, the better off we’ll be. This mindset has trained people to do whatever it takes to have more things, even if it hurts them in the long run. While having a lot of stuff isn’t bad, using it as the standard of success can cause us to doubt our self-worth if we lack material significance.

But the path we take to gain material possessions rarely leads to true fulfillment. We’ve been taught that good grades in school are the only way to secure a good job. Once we start our careers, we’re told that longer days are the way to get a promotion and earn a pay raise. We’re also told that, in order to excel, we have to know how to deal with pressure, and how we deal with it can make or break our careers. The problem is that people rarely stop to think about the damaging effects of that constant pressure.

For better or worse, these expectations have become the societal norm. The ability to work through insurmountable pressure is seen as a badge of honor. Pushing through the pain for the sake of success is praised, and mental health is rarely prioritized. We spend so much time focused on achievement that we forget what we really want in life.

The presence of social media exacerbates our need to conform to societal norms. People display the best parts of their lives, boasting about their success but rarely ever admitting failure. We get tempted to compare ourselves to these digital highlight reels, which only makes us feel more inadequate and anxious. We fear rejection and strive for social acceptance by aligning with social norms, even if they conflict with our personal values. But no matter how hard we try, society’s standard for success seems impossible to reach, leaving us constantly feeling as though we aren’t good enough.

Not only does a universal standard of success not make sense, but it also can have lasting negative effects on our well-being. The constant pressure to meet society’s expectations can lead to burnout. We’re made to feel that perfection is necessary, causing us to set unrealistic expectations of ourselves. We then become overly critical of ourselves and our inability to meet those expectations, leading to self-doubt and feelings of unworthiness. 

While hard work shouldn’t be discredited, happiness that’s contingent on our performance is not true happiness. We must learn to balance working hard and prioritizing our well-being. 

How To Redefine Success and Prioritize Your Well-Being

If we stop and think about what success means to us, we realize that we all want different things. Success is not defined by wealth and power — it’s defined by the things we are passionate about and put value in. For some, that includes wealth and power, but it’s naive to assume that the same standard can be applied to everyone.

We live in a culture that praises perfection and values external achievements. The pressure to be perfect creates anxiety and a constant fear of failure. Failure isn’t seen as a chance to learn from our mistakes but rather something that should be avoided altogether. We shouldn’t strive to fail, but we also shouldn’t live in fear of it. Redefining success starts by redefining failure. We should see it as an opportunity to grow and learn. It gives us a chance to reassess our goals and strategies so that we can continue moving forward toward our version of success.

Rather than focusing on what society tells us we should want, we should shift our focus to personal fulfillment. Take some time to identify what brings you genuine joy and satisfaction. There is freedom to be found in finding contentment outside of societal expectations. But standing up to society’s standard of success is easier said than done. 

We must develop resilience and embrace individualism. Doing this teaches us to embrace personal authenticity over social conformity. As you work to achieve success, be compassionate with yourself. Avoid blame and negative self-talk and instead focus on self-care. Taking the time to consider your needs will help you bounce back quicker from failure so that you can move forward and grow.

Ultimately, redefining success requires us to challenge the societal definition of success. Success is personal and should be measured as such. Your values, aspirations, and passions should be the benchmarks, not external achievements. If we don’t actively go against the grain and figure out what success looks like for us as individuals, our mental health will inevitably suffer. For that reason, redefining success isn’t just a nice idea; it’s a must.

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