Success & Well-Being Defined

What’s the difference between success & well-being? According to the dictionary:

Success is the accomplishment of an aim or purpose; the attainment of popularity or profit.

Well-being is the state of being comfortable, healthy, and happy.

Success vs. Well-Being

Looking at the above definitions, would you rather achieve success or well-being?

I believe we often strive for success, when in reality we want well-being. This probably happens because we associate “the trappings of success” with well-being (money, popularity, status, etc.).

After all, the dictionary definition of success includes “…the attainment of popularity or profit.”

And society constantly reinforces this definition. Think of all the movies, magazines, advertisements, articles, and social media posts that suggest money, power, fame, sex, and materialism are “the ultimate state of being.”

Especially in America we hoist these things up on a pedestal. We admire the beautiful, the rich, and “the successful” for their perceived greatness.

But it’s important to remember:

Success ≠ Well-Being

(Success does not equal Well-Being.)

This is an important distinction to make, because the odds are, what you’re really after is well-being. And like so many others, it would be all too easy to spend your life pursuing success at the expense of your well-being.

Like Tony Robbins says, “Success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure.”

It’s Time to Redefine “Success”

I’d like to argue the dictionary’s definition of success is perpetuating misery and suffering for millions of people. By including “…the attainment of popularity or profit” in its definition, the message is basically:

“You aren’t successful unless you achieve popularity or profit.”

Which might as well be rephrased:

“Your fundamental value as a human being is lower, without the achievement of popularity or profit.”

And frankly, what a bunch of hogwash!

Time for a paradigm shift

We desperately need to shift our paradigm here. Let’s keep the definition of success objective and accurate:

“(Success) is the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.”

In other words, when you set a goal and achieve it – you have succeeded.

Furthermore, separate internal identity from external achievement

Moreover, let’s recognize we can “fail” in a given endeavor (in accordance with the objective definition of success) – but still be considered “successful” as human beings.

After all, everyone will succeed and fail at various points in their lives. This is being human and it’s perfectly okay!

It’s sad when people get depressed, become unhealthy, or even commit suicide because they view themselves as “unsuccessful.” Maybe they failed in business, lost their job, or had an important relationship end.

No doubt these things are extremely tough – but they’re even tougher if you fail to separate your internal identity from external achievements.

External factors are almost always outside of your control, so it doesn’t make sense to build your identity around them. Yet this is exactly what so many people do, and I really believe it’s (in part) because of our society’s unhealthy definition of success.

Hence the reason we must redefine “success” by keeping it objective, and by dissociating it from our identities and self-worth.

My Experience with Success

At the ripe old age of 30, it’s become abundantly clear that well-being is more important than success.

For many years, I pursued “success” like so many others. And interestingly enough, attaining “success” helped me identify the problem – because well-being didn’t always accompany success.

You see, I’ve been rather fortunate over the years. In terms of society’s definition of “success”:

  • As a kid, I did well in sports, skipped the 6th grade, and won all kinds of awards for this and that.
  • As a young adult, I got good grades, stayed in good shape, and dated attractive women.
  • As a working adult, I’ve earned six figures, bought the luxury car, and even outsold Donald Trump on Amazon.com.

Sounds pretty good, right? Well… coming from the guy who’s been there, I can tell you it’s not the answer.

Now, it sure seemed like these things would be “the answer” before I had achieved them. But in virtually every case, the effect wore off within a matter of days, weeks, or months – or altogether was more underwhelming than originally expected.

Awards faded into the background; the car didn’t seem as fast or luxurious anymore; and money didn’t buy happiness. I could go on – but for the sake of brevity, you get the idea.

To be fair, I have extracted some well-being from these things. Furthermore, there’s nothing wrong with becoming successful in society’s terms. But at least for me, seeking “success” in society’s terms has often been a hollow pursuit – especially in cases where I’ve put most (or all) of my energy into it for an extended period of time.

I think the key issue boils down to this: if the pursuit of “success” becomes a central focus in your life, then you may be at risk for decreased well-being. This is what my good friend and collaborator, Justin Foster, would describe as “Pale, Male, and Stale.” And he’s right!

Bottom line, even though there’s nothing wrong with success in itself, it might be smart to evaluate whether or not your relationship with success is healthy.

My Experience with Well-Being

By contrast with the above, what has given me a lasting sense of well-being? Let’s take a look:

  • As a kid (and adult), forming lifelong friendships with people who share similar values
  • At all ages, spending quality time with family, close friends, and colleagues
  • As a young adult, learning another language and culture when studying abroad (Madrid, Spain)
  • As a young adult, volunteering often and making a positive impact in my community
  • As a husband, marrying an amazing woman and deepening our relationship over the past decade
  • As a dog dad, looking after two of the sweetest chihuahuas on the planet
  • As a business owner, providing real value to my customers and helping them succeed
  • At all ages, playing music and enjoying hobbies like surfing, board games, and cooking
  • At all ages, eating healthy and staying in shape for purposes of health and wellness

You’ll notice none of these things are related to fame, fortune, or sex appeal.

Instead, the dominant themes are cultivating relationships, helping others, learning, creativity, and health (emotional, mental, and physical).

You could also include recreation and pleasant events (experiences), which are advocated for maximum well-being in cognitive behavioral therapy.

Putting it All Together: Success & Well-Being

Are you stuck in the “success” trap, marred by society’s constant reminders that you should be rich, famous, and good-looking? Be honest with yourself. I’ve been there and you probably have too.

Speaking from experience, I know it’s not always easy to re-calibrate your definition of success. But it’s important – and not only for your mental health, but for the sake of becoming a more socially-conscious and productive society.

If you’ve been heavily influenced by society’s (unhealthy) definition of success, perhaps it’s time for a change in perspective. And if you’ve already figured all this out, awesome! Maybe pass along the good word to someone else.

I’m hopeful that sharing my experience will help others (namely younger ambitious men, but really anyone) avoid wasting time with hollow pursuits, and more quickly get on the path to real meaning and fulfillment.

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