Spiritual and relationship expert, teacher, counselor, advisor, speaker, and writer James Gray Robinson

Redefining Success

The path of success is through our hearts, not our wallets.

My parents trained me that success equals money and the only true measure of success was how much money someone has. I was told that money equals power and respect.

 There were a few people that were not “rich” who were recognized as living lives that contributed to the common good, such as preachers, missionaries, and civil servants. However, these people did not deserve the respect that people with bundles of money received.

Since I did not understand what money had to do with value or worth, this was a confusing message.

I remember wanting to follow a career as an Outward Bound counselor when I was in college. Helping people find themselves in nature seemed to be a noble use of my time and efforts. My parents thought I had lost my marbles. The only endeavors that would earn their support and love were the pursuit of law, finance, and the medical professions (the first much more than the last two).

I understand their concern that I not be a burden to them and that I should do something with my life that they considered brought honor to the family name. So I rejected my ambitions of outdoor counseling and followed the family edicts, becoming a lawyer instead.

As I followed the path plowed by generations of my family before me, I noticed a gulf between those who were truly happy living lives of service without monetary reward and what I was doing, e.g. trudging a path chasing after influence and monetary success. As a lawyer, I successfully developed and then recovered from an addiction to alcohol. I later found out that this is not an uncommon path—apparently some 33 percent of lawyers become addicted to mind- and mood-altering substances. The only professional group that has a higher addiction rate is dentists. (To date, I have no idea why dentists get to be number one; being a competitive person, I wanted to be number one.)

After I successfully dealt with that demon, I served for a number of years as a substance abuse counselor for the State Bar, and was asked on a number of occasions to talk to lawyers about their abuse of alcohol or drugs. The fact that this was voluntary was, in my parents’ point of view, a waste of time.

I was given to frequent moments of reflection on why people, including myself, who were considered by most of society to be successful, were so miserable that they self-medicated themselves into oblivion: What was missing out of their lives that they attempted to fill with alcohol or drugs?

For me, the money was not worth the stress and conflict that lawyers often experience.

I was acutely aware that most lawyers enter law school with high ideals of helping people and then graduated with huge debts and the reality of making a living in an unfriendly arena. Even worse, the successful academic would find themselves in the highly competitive world of a law firm, where doing a good job is not enough, one must generate clients and income as well.

The pressures of generating clients and creating income for the firm are immense. I remember well partner meetings discussing partnership shares that resembled a pack of lions fighting over a freshly killed carcass. There was a thin veneer of civility masking primordial instincts wanting more and more of the kill. Younger partners did not feel appreciated, middle level partners fighting to keep their status and generate larger shares, and older partners who oftentimes brought in the client, cuffing the younger lions away with disdain. I thought I was in Hell, and truth be told, I was. If the public only knew what occurred in partner meetings.

The ultimate question, then, is what is success and how do we perceive it? I feel that success is any endeavor that brings satisfaction and fulfillment. If we are to create a society of self-empowered people who are happy and fulfilled, the definition of success must be changed from the accumulation of money to fulfillment. We have to reorder our thinking to acknowledge that people who provide services that improve our lives are as successful as those who simply generate money.

If our planet is to survive, we must revere those who have other graces than money. The current world will not continue to support a society that refuses free healthcare, food and shelter for the poor and idolizes the wealthy.

I am speaking here of a global society, not necessarily the societies of the any one country. The United States is the biggest culprit, but all other countries are guilty of mischaracterizing success as well.
In my life as a healer, I see client after client who has become sick because they do not perceive themselves as “successful.” They may be doing a wonderful job, have many friends, and yet be miserable.

This is a sure path to misery.

 There are others who sacrifice their lives to make a lot of money and then wonder why they have no true friends or satisfaction in life. I certainly profit by helping these people change their mind about success, and I have much compassion for those who think happiness lies in the size of their bank account.

All of this is based in huge lies that we keep telling ourselves. Until we understand that success comes from how we feel about ourselves, instead of external mileposts like income, net worth and position, we will continue to dance with the demons of stress and addiction.

When it comes down to it, success has more to do with how we feel about ourselves than anything else. Imagine how life would change for someone that may not make a lot of income if they could look in the mirror and say “I am a success!” and actually believe it. Imagine how life would be different if people would tell that person how much they are appreciated. If you could change your mind about your definition of success, imagine the ripple effect on your life. It is amazing to see the power of a changed thought.

The first thing that would happen is that we would stop comparing ourselves to others. Comparing yourself to others is the fruit of the folly tree. All we have to do is declare ourselves successful in or own light, and the angst of not living up to the expectations of others falls away.

The most successful person in the world is that person who does his or her best on a daily basis—this has to be true, because let’s face it, what more can one ask of themselves? How much misery is born from doing your best and judging that is not good enough?

We must create a society that respects those who are happy. We must create a society that respects those who do not care what other people think. We must create a society that loves and respects those who help others without great reward. We must create a society that loves and respects those who are kind, innocent and compassionate.

It would be fantastic if the Nobel Prize went to those who helped others with no reward, the anonymous who reject money in lieu of happiness. I realize that would be a huge shift in consciousness, but if enough people believed in it, these dreams would become reality.

Reprinted from The Elephant Journal

 

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