Over the past year I have read a lot of self-help, reinvention, how to be happy, simple living and lifestyle altering books. Unanimously they seem to be written by people who have a few things in common. Firstly they are successful. They are on top of their game and have the money or the power or the fame or whatever it is they were after. Then they worked themselves into the ground and prioritised the wrong things and this resulted in some sort of ‘event’. Perhaps a breakdown, relationship troubles or maybe just a sudden realisation that they were wasting their lives or missing out on seeing their family, but whatever it was something made the sit down and re-evaluate what was important to them. They do this, and then they write a book about it.
Don’t get me wrong, I love these books. I have been incredibly inspired by these stories and as a result have identified which things make me happy and started trying to focus more on what is important to me.
I do wonder though, where are all the self-help books written by people that discovered these principals at a young age? People who dedicated their time and energy to the things that make them happy, eschewing our cultures standard measures of success, and are currently living their dreams? Can you be a CEO whilst maintaining work life balance? Can a highly respected journalist have achieved their success whilst insisting on decent holiday time, family leave, actually taking lunch breaks and not replying to emails after 9pm?
Perhaps the lack of literature produced by people with work-life balance and people who know what is really important is a direct result of their different priorities. They don’t want to be CEO. They know that happiness is not found in money and power. They don’t want to be a famous journalist because they feel that the cost of that kind of success isn’t worth it in the long run. They don’t write a book about their lives because they are too busy actually living their lives, playing with their kids or going on weekends away with friends.
For these magic people the whole definition of success may be different. Success might be the ability to take their kids on regular camping trips. It might be to cultivate a beautiful and thriving garden. It might be to create a supportive community around them. Success could be knitting a scarf for a friend, perfecting a bolognese recipe or harvesting a bountiful vegetable crop.
It follows on then that using the generic societal definition of success isn’t going to make everyone happy. Some people may enjoy nothing more than being responsible for hundreds or even thousands of employees, maintaining the entire image of a news network or being in possession of enough money to have holiday houses all over Europe. I have no doubt that there are people who get a real buzz out of the responsibility, importance and decision-making power involved in this and if this is you then fantastic. Pursue it with everything you have. The reality is though that most people don’t need this to find happiness.
What we need to do is create our own definition of success.