I’m a writer, so I read a lot. HBR, Forbes, Businessweek, Fast Company, Thrive Global, Huffington Post, New York Times, Fortune, Inc., and on and on. I am sick and tired of how many Americans hail trite terms like “be true to yourself” and “happiness is a journey, not a destination” when a lion’s share of mainstream articles and nonfiction books are about how to be better. We’re bombarded with how to achieve more, which leaves no time to appreciate what we already have and to be who we already are.
According to blog titles, you need to be leveling up constantly. You need to hustle to “be somebody,” otherwise you’re a nobody. Be a successful leader, innovate, become an entrepreneur, get out of debt. Do more and when you accomplish the more, do even more.
Ask anyone on the street and they’d probably agree that you shouldn’t equate your worth and value to your job or financial status, but on a whole, we all tend to do so anyway. For any millennials out there who are tired of feeling like a loser because you’re degreed up but have reached mid-30s with no house, spouse, or kids (mostly because you can’t afford it), here’s how to know you are already successful.
These are not only things that money can’t buy — they’re more important than all the things money can buy. You can only go so far using dollars as a measurement unit when assessing value. The things that matter most — spiritually, mentally, and even physically — will always be impossible to price.
1) You can and do show empathy.
Don’t judge a book by its cover. Many people who are financially stable, have houses and spouses and kids and cars and money in the bank, also have no real friends, are terrible parents, or will soon be divorced.
Psychology Today says that “empathy is…the engine for prosocial behavior” and enables us to be aware of pain we may be causing to others. Plenty of people who have checked off the career, marriage, and kids boxes on society’s list also have lives that are a hot mess.
Everyone is born with varying capacities for empathy, and you work on being empathetic. You know what character is and why it’s important. You know the best thing you can do with the years and the strength you have is creating value.
You know true value doesn’t just benefit you, but those around you. You actively choose to develop your empathy and make it a way of life.
2) You know how to invest your time.
Time is not money! Money can be made. Time cannot.
Too many of us feel like we’re running out of time to hit key milestones. Others are way too focused on managing time to get the most out of it, feeding into the idea that career success is the best or only measure of success. HBR says time management doesn’t work, and almost ten years ago Stanford said multitasking backfires.
You know when an unpaid day off to center your heart and clear your mind is infinitely more valuable than whatever amount of money you would have made that day. You know when to turn your phone off and when to stop answering e-mails.
You habitually spend time with loved ones because you know tomorrow is not guaranteed. You know when community organizing and attending marches and rallies and speeches are more important than a Tinder date, yet another networking event, or the movie that came out this weekend.
3) You know how to do nothing.
One of my sisters is twelve years younger than me. She came to visit me here in the DC area. I took the week off to spend it with her.
Every day, I had an itinerary from 9:00 AM: chic hipster café, museum of the day, monument. By the fourth morning she said to me, “Don’t you know how to do nothing? Today we’re doing nothing.” It was a light bulb moment and really difficult for me to learn.
You don’t see doing nothing as a waste of time. There is always something you could be doing: laundry, oil change, etc. Some place you could be going you wouldn’t otherwise be able to go because you’d normally be working. Some one-time only downtown DC event you don’t want to miss.
But you’ve learned planning time to do nothing is important. You listen to your mind and your body. You make doing nothing a priority.
4) You don’t compare yourself to others.
We all know it’s not good to compare ourselves to others. Your parents probably told you over and over some version of: “If you compare yourself to others, you’ll either think you’re better than you really are or worse than you really are.”
But we’re right next to “others” all day long: the neighbors, the coworkers, the other shoppers and their nice cars in the Whole Foods parking lot, other people in the gym class, other people in the chemistry class, others others others. The reasons it’s bad are the same for everyone, but each individual has to find his or her own methods to stop it completely.
For me, it means I unfollow certain accounts on Instagram if I can’t stop comparing my body to hers, my number of international trips to hers (that would be zero since I moved home from South Korea), or my relationship status to hers.
In real life, I focus on being happy for people and celebrating their accomplishments. I focus on what I am doing for God and for my country. I focus on enabling and empowering people around me. It crowds out the comparisons.
5) You know how to let go.
“Sometimes the changes we don’t want are the changes we need. Personal growth and change can be uncomfortable, but nothing in life is as painful as staying stuck where you don’t belong. Our future should never be defined by our fear, which exists only in our minds. It is a tragedy to let the lies of fear stop us. Humans are forever growing; life and its experiences don’t wait for us to accept them. Whether we are absent or present, life goes on with its rewarding moments for those who find the courage to let go of what they could not change.”
You’re not breaking up and making up with the same person three or more times. You’re not in toxic, tit-for-tat cycles of passive aggressive drama with people just because they’re your relatives or someone you’ve known since elementary school.
You haven’t been complaining day in and day out about your job for months or years when you never even apply for a new one. You accept and embrace the fact that you’re not in your 20s anymore and you actually need sleep (rather than being in denial about it and cranky 24/7, annoying everyone around you and yourself).
All the things.
This is not to say that if you can check off this list, you have arrived. There is no arriving, only growing. Some growing (like a growing salary) can be devoid of value. You have to search a lot harder and think a lot deeper to accomplish growth that is meaningful and invaluable.
Success will always be subjective, but if you’ve learned the five things above, you are creating value in your home, at your workplace, and in your local community. A lot of people can check off many other success lists written and published by more famous and reputable sources, but few people accomplish even one of the above. So congratulations, and thanks!
Originally published on Ellevate.
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