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Tuesday, 2 January 2018

What defines success?

Success is something that our society strives for. There are books all about the topic; Think and Grow Rich, The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, The Law of Success, The 4-Hour Work Week. There are probably people who have more books about making money and becoming successful than they spend their time actually working on themselves to become wealthy and successful.

But what exactly makes someone successful? Success has often been associated with having a lot of money, a nice large house and a good career. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs talks about the four stages needed to reach 'Self-Actualisation.' These four stages can be seen in the image below:
Self-esteem needs related to success and high status aren't mentioned until the fourth stage. Before that, a person needs the basics of food, shelter and clothing, and love from other humans including friends, family and partners.

One of my favourite musicians is Prince. Prince seems like a successful person; financially he was extremely well off, and he achieved his dream of becoming a fantastic music mogul with lots of albums and hit songs. He was an excellent performer, played many instruments and produced and wrote most of his music.

But emotionally, he was unhappy. I would say emotionally, he was not successful. He had a troubled childhood; his parents were strict Christians yet both worked as musicians performing in bars around alcohol and cigarettes, which led to conflicting messages. His father taught him to play the piano, but he was very harsh on him and cold towards him, never saying he loved him. In the future his father also expressed jealousy over his son's success. Prince was bullied at school for his height and possibly experienced racism due to the time he grew up in and being one of the few black kids in a very white area (Minnesota).

So all of this shows that he was lacking the third need; belonging and love. In his adult life he married twice, neither marriage lasting long. His first wife had a baby but it died within a few hours, and she had another pregnancy which resulted in miscarriage. This would no doubt have caused a giant hole in his heart.

I use Prince as an example to show that I think success isn't only tied to finances and status. Having a wonderful career and lots of money is a sign of success for many people; I've always been career-driven towards the arts and associate that with success. However, being wealthy doesn't equate to happiness, and there is something to be said for someone that isn't necessarily well off but is happy with their life. Hence the term 'emotional success.'

I'm from Britain, which is a rich country, however the level of mental illness has been rising over the last decade, particularly in children and young people. In contrast, poorer countries may not value materialism as much, but they have less rates of mental illness and less of a demand for psychologists because they value compassion of other human beings more. An ideal society would still allow for people to pursue material success, as having your dream career can be very fulfilling, but it would not be at the expense of companionship and closeness with others.

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