Human beings are the only species of animal that spend up to 35% of their waking hours working. That is, doing some task for the purpose of earning money. Many of us resent the tasks we do because of their monotonous or stressful nature but we do them anyway because we need money to get by. Now this wouldn’t be a problem at all if we enjoyed spending so much of our time at work. But according to a 2013 Gallup survey, only 13% of people worldwide actually enjoy going to work each day.
What’s amazing is that so many people, despite being so unhappy at work, continually force themselves to get out of bed in the morning and go to work each and every day. Is it reasonable to spend 40 hours a week at a job you dislike or loathe? The answer is an astounding yes according to the society in which we live. We’re fully prepared to sacrifice 35% of the waking hours we get between the ages of 18 and 68 to working a job – probably for someone else who we might not even like. Even those who make a lot of money seem to be very unhappy at work. If you have a high-paying job and a “successful career”, you’re actually more likely to be unhappy at work. Once again, no problem if you genuinely love what you do. But for everyone else, perhaps you should stop and consider whether this is how you want to spend your life and what the alternatives are.
It’s no wonder then, that we’re now defined by what we do. If you meet someone new, the question of, “what do you do?” will oftentimes begin the conversation. The answer we give to this question determines the esteem in which we’ll be held for the remainder of the conversation. If you answer the question with “hedge fund manager”, you’ll be held in higher esteem than should you answer with, “cleaner”. In this society, we ascribe success to the single criterion of salary. If you have a high salary then you’re considered a successful person and are accredited with the traits of intelligence and diligence, a high socioeconomic standing, and are seen as a more desirable person to be around. If you have a low salary, you might not be worth our time and we might look to end the conversation sooner rather than later.
The problem is how society views success. But in actuality, the issue stems much further than that. The real trouble is that we look at success as something measured in reference to the perception of society. I hate reciting platitudes but success must be a deeply personal appraisal. As soon as we begin measuring success in terms of the perceptions of others and society’s prejudices, the whole notion of success becomes spurious.
Certainly, success should never be a measure of annual income. This because you can be incredibly rich while being daft, unhappy, cynical, and lonely. Having money doesn’t exempt you from being incredibly unhappy and many of the super-rich are quite miserable. Success should only ever be a measure of personal satisfaction: how content one is with their lives. Because ultimately, a successful life is nothing more than a reflection of your happiness. That is to say, the most successful people ought to be defined only as the most happy people.
So, next time you’re at a party and meet someone new, seek not to learn of their “success” as grotesquely defined by our current society’s misapprehension of the term. If you really want to get to know how successful someone is, inquire as to what their passions are. Ask what makes them happy; what makes them tick. Learn about their life philosophies and explore their intellect as opposed to making myopic conjectures based on their job, which they might not even like!