By Seth Streeter, MS, CFP®
Founder and CEO
How do YOU define success? Many people believe that the best measure of whether they have “arrived” in life is financial and material accumulation. Do you drive the newest Range Rover or Mercedes, or do you envy your neighbor who does? Do you find yourself feeling more attractive in that new brand name outfit? Advertisers and retailers will continue to do their part to make whatever you have seem inferior to the latest and greatest available products. Let’s discuss what you can do to counter this influence in order to feel successful without a material standard as your ruler.
The first step is to realize that you aren’t what you do or what you have. We all get caught up in labels. Whether it is your title at work, the ZIP code you live in, or the country club you belong to, these do not represent who you are. Think of your best friend, spouse, or child. How would they describe you as a person? These qualities, character attributes and unique ways you impact others truly demonstrate who you are at your core.
Second, it’s helpful to have a reality check. No matter how hard you try, there will always be someone who has more than you. Whether it is wealth, smarts, or tennis, others will rank above you. Accepting the fact that there will be others who have greater financial success allows you to turn off your external comparisons and focus on your own best potential.
Bestselling author Chip Conley touches on this subject in two of his books. First, in PEAK - How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow, Conley modifies noted American psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid to a more simplified, three-stage version.
If we apply this to our finances, we know that the base “Survival” stage is simply about having enough funds to cover our basic needs for food, shelter and clothing. Most people who are reading this article are likely well beyond this level.
The middle “Success” stage is broad and based on personal interpretation. In business this is measured by profitability, revenue growth and valuation. For individuals it is based on income, net-worth and possessions. As we discussed earlier, this type of success is very subjective and, for some, can never be enough.
The top tier of the pyramid - what Conley calls “Transformation” - is when meaning and purpose come into the equation. This is beautifully described in Viktor Frankl’s famous book Man’s Search for Meaning about his surviving a Nazi prison camp, “The more one forgets himself - by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love - the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself.” He adds, “People have enough to live by but nothing to live for; they have the means but no meaning.” Those who step beyond the wealth accumulation game and into the “make a difference game” find this to be the most fulfilling, and thereby successful, time in their lives.
In Chip Conley’s most recent book Emotional Equations he shares a formula for happiness:
By appreciating your many blessings as much or more than you pursue your gratifications, you can maintain a state of happiness. It’s all about where you focus your attention.
If you maintain your sense of identification on your natural talents and attributes vs. possessions, set challenging but realistic expectations based on your own potential, and dedicate your actions to making a positive impact on others, you can live a life of meaning and enjoy a success beyond any other.
Previously published in the Montecito Messenger's "Montecito Money" column.
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