It is no secret that we live in a materialistic world: one where having possessions often dictates how highly we are regarded in our society. A world where the zeitgeist of our era has come to be defined by a hashtag – #LivingMyBestLife – which tends to praise material gain more than the hard work it takes to get there. The enlightened among us have tried to counterbalance these forces, preaching uplifting messages like, “You can be your own version of success” and “you don’t need money to make you happy.” However, when social pressures dictate that we need more and more things to be satisfied with ourselves and our lives, it becomes harder to define and pursue success in healthy ways.
Economic instability and a higher cost of living compared to 20 years ago also make it difficult for many people, especially the young adults of today, to build wealth or simply get to a place where we feel like “enough money making.” The competitiveness of the age requires us to have more advanced degrees and prior work experience to gain job positions that pay salaries incommensurate with our worth and contribution. As a result, more young adults are working longer hours, pushing side hustles, and living in constant anxiety to achieve more with the hopes of gaining the same or greater stability than our parents had at our age. And with these very real pressures weighing on our shoulders, how do we ensure that our aspirations, motivations, and actions toward the attainment of “success” remain healthy?
To answer this question requires deeper self-reflection. It requires us to be brutally honest with ourselves and acknowledge the ways in which our pursuit of success may have unhealthy undertones. It compels us to ask ourselves three main questions:
- What is my metric for success?
- Why do I need to have these things? And,
- How am I going about attaining them?
What Is Your Metric for Success?
Do you desire riches, fame, advanced degrees, or upper-class status? Or do you want other things like a long-term romantic relationship, attractive body, and/or to take vacations in exotic locations? Or is your version of success something else entirely? Whatever it is, you need to pinpoint it and, more importantly, ask yourself whether your goals surrounding your metric are balanced, achievable, and realistic. Also, are the timelines you are setting for yourself appropriate? For example, nothing is wrong with wanting to travel the world, but if it means that you are going to break your bank account doing so in the short term it may be wise to make this a longer term goal. Wanting to gain financial stability is also an admirable goal, but maybe the amount you think you need to gain that level of comfort is much more than is actually required. In this case, doing your research so that you have a more realistic idea of what you need to achieve your goal becomes important.
Why Do You Need to Have These Things?
More crucial than the ways you measure your success are your motivations behind them. As a Clinical Psychotherapist, I often challenge my clients to dig deeper to discover the reasons behind their unhelpful thoughts and behaviours. In the discussion around one’s path to success, I would likely ask questions like, “Why do you think attaining X means so much to you?” Or, “How do you think getting Y is going to give you a sense of fulfilment that you don’t have now?” Or “How may you be letting others, and your comparison to other people you deem successful, dictate how you see your own success?” I may even ask a follow-up question like, “How much is your self-worth tied to your desire to have Z, scale 1-10?” Questions like these spark more in-depth conversations that help people explore the why behind the what. It helps us acknowledge those insecurities that occasionally push us to overcompensate with possessions.
How Am I Going About Attaining Them?
What are you doing to work towards your goals and what is this experience like for you? Is what you are doing bringing you joy? Is it safe and legal? Is the journey rewarding? Is it promoting your mental wellness? Or, are you doing too much too fast? Are you stressed all the time? Are you burning out? Note that how you feel mentally, emotionally, and physically in response to your actions is often a good indicator of whether your actions are healthy or not. If you are feeling depressed or anxious often, edgy, panicky, or constantly tired, these are red flags that you are going into (or you are already in) the unhealthy zone.
In closing, remember that success is relative. How you perceive it and define it has a lot to do with how you go about pursuing it. The more balanced, realistic, and achievable your definition and metric for success, the greater likelihood there is of you pursuing it in healthy ways.
Reycine Mc Kenzie is the Founder and Clinical Psychotherapist at UPWARD Counselling and Psychological Services and Counselling Coordinator at ParentingTT. She has also worked in the mental health field for several years, both in Trinidad and the US, serving persons with mild to major stressors, and other clinical issues such as depression, anxiety, and other psychological disorders.