The word success is usually defined by how much money, fame and influence we achieve. We want to make our mark on the world, to be seen as someone who has made it.
There is nothing wrong with seeking material goals, and the respect of peers and authority figures: it is the reward for our hard work and talent.
At midlife and beyond, however, our values shift. What used to be important no longer interests us. We want to answers to existential questions: who am I, why am I here, and what am I supposed to do with the rest of my life.
Navigating the transition into the second half of life takes courage, since our youthful self holds on with all its might in a culture that values outer success more than inner success.
If we continue to pursue youthful goals we provoke the well-known midlife crisis, with its symptoms of regression and alienation. The solution is to let go of values that have outlived their usefulness so that life energy can be redirected into goals appropriate to the second stage of life, particularly in our work.
In my own case, when I shifted my focus from what was going on in the world to what was going on with me, I came up with three criteria to measure success.
I Am Successful When I Am Honest
Self-awareness takes daily effort. There are so many distractions, mostly what is going on in my busy mind. The “I should” and “I ought” messages interfere with what my authentic self wants to do. Admitting it is me who doubts the voice that knows gets me back on track.
The more honest I am the more effective I am in my work and private life. Quiet observation of my thoughts and feelings while I go about daily life not only keeps me current, but ahead of the curve. As the saying goes, when you know yourself you know all there is to know.
I Am Successful When I Don’t Take Anything Personally
I take something personally when I’m not clear about what’s true about me. This insecurity attracts an “enemy” who brings this to my attention by accusing me of what’s true about them. If I’m upset by what they say for more than 30 minutes, I know it’s me who needs to alter my self-image.
Seeing that most people behave a certain way because that’s just who they are sets me free from feeling responsible for what they do, and don’t do. Detachment allows me to see their behavior is not a reflection of me. It also liberates me from attempts to change them, which defuses the conflict.
I Am Successful When I Learn
When my mind is open inspiration comes to me, like a fresh breeze on a spring day. The moment I think I have it all figured out, a jarring event reminds me to stay in Beta mode. I drop what is not working so I can move on to what works better.
Stagnation is a sure sign I am allowing material values to take precedence over the need for solitude and prayer. Settling down in the presence of God brings the peace that passes all understanding, a sense of being connected to what is truly important, serving others by being myself. Then all my needs are met.