So You Want to Be Successful? That’s Mistake #1

Have you ever been so consumed with the future that you can’t sleep?

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I have.

Maybe you’re like me and you have the type of desire that haunts you and drives you crazy at times.

You want to be wealthy, famous, powerful, or all of the above. Anything short of everything isn’t quite good enough. The line between ambition and insanity can become blurred.

The majority of my articles talk about success in one way or another, but now I’m starting to wonder if my obsession with the subject is magnificent or pernicious.

We all feel it — the twinge of envy when we see the lifestyles of the rich and famous on television. We think if we had what they have our lives would be great.

No matter how successful you are, there’s always going to be someone who’s more successful, smarter, wealthier, better looking, and talented than you’ll ever be. Unless you’re able to find meaning in your life that’s based on authenticity, this cycle never ends.

“Ambition means tying your well being to what other people say or do. Self-indulgence means tying it to the things that happen to you. Sanity means tying it to your own actions.” — Marcus Aurelius

I’m an ambitious person. I want to accomplish great things and admittedly I have a need for significance. I have to remind myself, however, that chasing after success isn’t going to lead to it. Ambition is in abundant supply. There’s no shortage of desire among us. So maybe a fulfilled life doesn’t come through our desires or status at all. Maybe it comes from the work itself.

It’s human nature for us to seek approval from one another, but tying your well being to your significance is a recipe for being miserable. When thinking about your need for the approval of other people, remember to think about the fact that they’re just people. They are just as insecure, self-doubting, and envious as you can be at times. People with billions of dollars have just as many, if not more, problems than the average person. We have to find happiness from somewhere other than material possessions and the opinions of others.

My wife once asked me a question that irritated me at first, but now has made me take a step back and think about my life. She said, “Are you going to be okay if things don’t work out the way you want them to?”

She worries about me. She knows how driven I am. She knows that I can become wrapped up and immersed in my projects. She knows that sometimes my actions are tied to what other people say and do. She knows that my ambition has the potential to be my worst enemy.

We should all ask ourselves this question.

If things don’t work out the way you’d like them to, are you going to be okay with it? Are you going to love your life regardless of the circumstances?

If chasing after success isn’t the solution, then what is?

You won’t be successful until you find a way to serve others. The paradox is that in order to have the type of success you’re looking for, you have to forget about yourself. You have to find purpose and meaning in something greater. The things we chase after elude us. The things we desire create pain. The problem isn’t that you don’t want success badly enough; the problem is that you want it too badly.

You have to create a philosophy for your life that is built on a foundation of intelligence and prudence. Make that the starting point, and go from there. Face each coming day with serenity and a level-head. Tie your well being to your actions.

It’s important you have a big vision for your life, but the key is making sure that your vision is rooted in purpose and not in selfishness.

I once wrote an article where I suggested there’s no meaning to life. In a universe that’s unfathomably large, nothing anyone does really matter. Whatever we do in this life is going to be forgotten and eventually the achievements we bled for, no matter how seemingly significant, will become completely irrelevant. It’s probably not a great idea to build an identity around something so ephemeral as significance.

Focus on gratitude. There’s a lot to be thankful for. Focus on your relationships with other people. They will be a great source of meaning in your life. Focus on your task. There is something you’re called to do. Find out what it is and do it well. Focus on your mortality. Your time here is limited so don’t waste it chasing after things that are unimportant. Take the focus off of yourself. This is how you become successful.

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