One of the toughest lessons and behaviors to modify is to avoid comparing yourself to others. Look around and see people who are extremely visible and seemingly successful, yet you are treading water. See people who have all the trappings of wealth: fancy, new cars; big houses; toys and vacations every year, and because we see what they do we think “they are more successful than I am.” We see all these outward signs as achievements and all too often we equate these to happiness.
Yet we only have to look around and see that most of these same people are striving for more. They are not that happy and may be feeling the exact same emotions we do. They are just as likely to make a comparison and judge themselves as not “enough.”
Look at the successful, glamorous and/or famous people. They don’t automatically have perfect and long-lasting relationships. They aren’t immune to tragedy and death, illness and addictions. They aren’t even necessarily wealthy! Often spending to fill voids in their lives and to show everyone that they are successful leads to massive debts and other financial issues.
I was once told by my parents that we are who we are, and it is what we do with our abilities that matters. There will always be someone more or less than us: smarter or dumber … prettier or uglier … taller or shorter … thinner or fatter. None of that matters unless we let it.
The one thing that does matter is how we live our lives. If we are constantly looking for more, and saying “I’ll be happy when…” then we spend our lives unfulfilled, unhappy and discontented. It is fine to reach for goals and to pursue our dreams, but not at the cost of current happiness.
One of the hardest parts of life for me to accept is that people who act unethically and use other people often reap “rewards.” These people have more in terms of material things, but I have to remind myself that things accumulated are not the measure of success and don’t mean happiness. For me, success is measured by the people I help, and behaving ethically even when others aren’t. It’s important for me to be happy today…not sometime in the future.
Today is all we have, so living it well is the successful way to live. When you feel you don’t have enough, stop and take a minute to think about what would happen if you lost everything you currently have. Then wouldn’t you be grateful to have what you lost back? Imagine that you are alone in the world, penniless, without a roof over your head or food on the table. Imagine that you can’t do the things you like to do: you can’t take a walk because you have no legs; you can’t read a book because you are blind; or you can’t hear the rain splattering against the window or pattering on the roof because you’re deaf. Now be silent and see your surroundings, hear the sounds, smell the air … move around. Give thanks for what you have.
Now let’s be clear: wanting more isn’t necessarily bad, but letting “more” keep you from moving ahead and achieving more happiness is. Success comes from the ability to accurately assess where you are today and a drive to achieve your goals. It is about building on the foundation of where you currently are and having the passion to go after achievement. Money and things may come with it, but they will never be enough if that is what you life is all about.
When I was working at a Fortune 500 company, I was once ordered to do something I didn’t believe in (actually this happened more than once and at many different organizations). I refused. The response was “if you don’t then there will be consequences.” I still said no. I could get another job. I couldn’t get another soul. I said, “No my family comes first.” I also said that St. Peter standing at the pearly gates of heaven wasn’t going to ask about some silly corporate thing, but he would ask about why I did something unethical and cared more about what “people” might think versus living life with the right priorities and principles.
When you look at your life and set priorities and decide what your accomplishments will be, will you decide to place more emphasis on what “people” you don’t know will think or what people who you know and respect will think? Is it about others or is it about self-respect and being strong enough to pursue your own dreams and goals? Personally, I believe the happiest and most successful people are those who can define and measure success on their own terms.
Author: Lea A. Strickland, MBA CMA CFM CBM GMC
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