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Defining Success

“True success is not what we gather but what we become.”
– Apurvakumar Pandya

How do you view success? How do you measure it? These two are the usual questions whenever the topic is discussed.But I think the more important question that should be asked is – Do you consider yourself successful?

Before you answer those questions, let’s revisit the definition of the word. Let’s check  how online dictionaries define success.

Cambridge’s definition of the word is something broad  – “The achieving of the results wanted or hoped for.” Colin’s goes – “The achievement of something that you have been trying to do.” Oxford is more specific with its definition – “The attainment of fame, wealth or social status.” Merriam-Webster’s is almost the same as Oxford’s – “The attainment of wealth, favor or eminence.”.

Our favorite research assistant  – “Dr. Google” – says that success is  “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose” and “the attainment of popularity and profit.”

Let’s also check the synonyms: prosperity, affluence , wealth, riches, opulence, and triumph.

I hope that the foregoing definitions and synonyms are sufficient to help you come out with meaningful and definitive answers to the questions I asked at the beginning of this article. And by the way, do the ideas conveyed by those definitions and synonyms jibe with what you think success is?

The definitions and synonyms above actually show  the way people in our society quantify  success. They tell us about the measuring sticks being used by most people, including you probably, to determine whether or not a person is successful. Everything boils down to one or a combination of the following: wealth, fame and power.

So, when asked who are the most successful people in the world, people never fail to mention the names of the world’s richest men – Jess Bezos, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and the others who are listed in Forbes’ top 10 world’s billionnaires . The next ones in our lists are the showbiz, sports, media, and political personalities. We also remember the names of quite a few people – some of them could be our own friends –  who excel in their respective fields of endeavors when we discuss about successful people.

Now, let me ask some questions.

Are those people we consider  successful happy also? Have the money, fame, power, and accomplishment they possess brought them happiness? They are the only ones, or their relatives (or their close friends and confidants), who could answer those questions. People outside of their inner circle could only make speculations and assumptions.

Many believe that rich people live under the constant pressure of  wanting to amass more wealth – famous people to ensure that their stars keep shining – politicians to perpetuate themselves to power – so much so  that they forget to live a life. Thus, they are perceived to be unhappy.

At least, they have the money.

“But can their money buy them happiness?” This question has been asked so many times that it could be considered meaningless already. But in the light of the present discussion it should be asked, not for the purpose of having it answered, but as a point to ponder on.

We presume that with all the luxuries the money of  the wealthy, famous and powerful could afford, it’s almost impossible that they are not happy. Unless it is true that of the needs which Maslow’s identified in the hierarchy of needs, only the basic ones (physiological and safety) could be covered by money. The psychological needs (esteem needs, belongingness and love needs) and self-fulfillment needs are definitely not available in the shelves of even the most expensive stores.

Here is the next question I would like to  ask – “Are they healthy?”

They are already rich, famous, and powerful. They are truly blessed if they are also in good shape. Of course they are – financially. What about physically, emotionally, and mentally? In their quest for riches, fame and power, did they not sacrifice their health, values, and relationships? While they sit on their thrones clutching their coffer, do they feel peace flowing within them? Again, they are the only ones, and the people around them, who could give a definite answer. They are the only ones who know whether or not they are suffering from any debilitating disease, mental anguish, and emotional stress?

I brought out the questions on happiness and health in the discussion of success because I believe that there is a need to strike balance between the ephemeral and the ethereal when defining the concept. The prevailing  view of success is materialistic. We attach tangible proofs to it – money, big house, new car, degree, job title, a certain body type, etc. I am not saying that such act (of attaching those tangible proofs to success) is wrong. I just consider it as not encompassing.

Why?

What about simple people who did not attend school, don’t have cars, and live in simple houses in far-flung farming and fishing villages happily living a simple life and diligently performing their role in society? Can’t they not be considered successful in their own right?

When you don’t have a mansion – a car – fancy clothes – expensive jewelry – a university degree – huge amount in the bank, when you’re not famous and not powerful, when you’re  just an ordinary decent individual honestly earning a living and contended with what you have and what you’re capable of achieving and you’re happy and  healthy, would people not consider you successful?

If a person’s goal is to be happy and healthy and he/she achieves it, isn’t that success?

Correlating happiness and health to success is a kind of paradigm shift that will make capitalists unhappy. It is the materialistic view of success that keeps most of their present business ventures alive.

Well, we define success in different ways. Success is subjective and I think that nobody could claim that their way of looking at it is the right one.

The most valuable lesson I learned about success is this – define it for yourself. Don’t allow other people to define success for you. Don’t subscribe to the standards they set. You know your capabilities and limitations more than anyone else, factor them when setting your success parameters. But be not satisfied with your current skill set. You have to improve and as you see yourself becoming better set the bars of your success higher. And most importantly,  don’t forget that as you march towards the achievement of your simplest goals and the realization of your grandest ambitions, you should not sacrifice your happiness and health.

On Time Management

“Time is really the only capital that any human has,
and the only thing he can’t afford to lose.”
– Thomas Edison

In one of his speeches, Jim Rohn told his audience the story of a man who one day told him the following – “You know if I have some extra time, I can make some extra money.” He told the man to forget about it because there is no such thing as extra time.

Indeed, there is no extra time. Whatever are the things we intend to do in a day, we have a 24-hour window to accomplish them. Definitely, that man did not mean extra as in time over 24 hours but how he could squeeze in in his daily schedule activities that will allow him to have an additional income.

What the man told Jim Rohn is the usual excuse of people for being unable to do what they should do to improve themselves in areas of their lives where they need improvement. How many times have you heard people say  that they have no time to – exercise – read – learn a new skill –  or do any self-improvement activities? How many times have you heard somebody drop the following lines – “I am too busy earning a living and I could no longer find time to do other things? What about you? Have you ever dropped those excuses also?

Are 24 hours really not enough to finish everything we need to do in a day? That’s the question we’ve been trying hard to answer since time immemorial. People keep saying that they don’t have enough time to do this and to do that. But I think the real problem is not the lack of time. The failure to manage it is.

 The real issue is time management – how are we using our hours and minutes in a day. Oxford defines time management as the ability to use one’s time effectively or productively, especially at work. Take note of the italicized words. That’s how we are supposed to use our hours and minutes – effectively and productively.

 Jonathan Estrin opined,  “The way we spend our time defines who we are.” I agree 100% and let me add that the way we use our time will also determine whether or not we will be listed in the directory of winners and achievers.

Time management is a very important skill in the pursuit of success. According to Brian Tracy, many people think that time management is only a business tool, like a calculator or a cell phone, something that you use to increase productivity. He argued that it is not just a peripheral skill but the core skill on which everything else in life depends.  He added that time is your most precious resource, the most valuable thing you have. It is both perishable and irreplaceable. It cannot be saved.

The non-renewability of our time is also one of the things Seneca, a Roman philosopher, reminded us in his essay entitled “On Shortness of Life.” Being non-renewable, the philosopher suggested the need to treat it as a commodity, something valuable that we cannot afford to waste or throw away. Thus, we need to manage (the use of) it well.

Aside from giving us the best chance to achieve our goals and succeed, there are other benefits we can get from effective time management. According to Misra & McKean (2000),  “good time management skills have been identified as having a buffering effect on stress.” When you  fail to allocate time properly to your responsibilities and activities expect to  feel overwhelmed. You know what to expect when for example you realize that you only have an hour to finish the equivalent of a 2-hour workload – an increased level of stress

Time management also offers individuals the means to structure and control their activities (Claessens, et al., 2004). This leads to avoidance of cramming and a better quality of output. When people are hard pressed to finish an assigned task or a commitment to beat a deadline the result may not be as desired.

Let’s go back to the question I asked earlier – Are 24 hours really not enough to finish everything we need to do in a day?

In her book “168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think,” Laura Vanderkam deplored the time-poverty  narratives that have been persisting for a long time. She said that we all have 24 hours in our day, and 7 days in our week giving us a total of 168 hours (7 x 24) each week to create the lives we want, and if I may add – to do the things we ought to do.

Let’s do some math and instead of using the  24-hour model let’s use Vanderkam’s 168-hour paradigm.  

On the average,  how many hours in a day do you spend for some specific daily activities? If you work for 8 hours and sleep for 7, how many more do you  have left for other things? You still have 9 hours. Right? Let’s say that you spend 2 of those for meals and snacks, what remains is 7 hours.

In one week you have an extra 49 hours (7 x 7). But if you work only for 5 days then add 16 to the 49. That’s 66 hours.  What do you want to do with those remaining hours in one week?

Yes, you are entitled to have leisure time or do Netflix binge-viewing. But are you going to spend all 66 hours for fun and recreation? If you do, then say goodbye to success and say hello to failure and poverty.

Okay, spend 2 hours a day for play or “me time.” I think that is still normal. That’s 14  hours. You still have 52. Should you decide to add 1 more hour to your daily leisurely activities (or to your sleeping time), you would end up still having 43 extra hours in a week.

Now, are you going to use all those 43 hours to aimlessly browse  the Internet? Don’t! Unless you are not really serious in the pursuit of  your goals.

What if you spend only 2 hours a day to check your emails and visit your social media accounts? That will eat 14 hours out of the 43 extra that you still have leaving you with  29 more.

What if you exercise or workout for 1 hour 5 times a week? You still have 24 hours extra. What if you read a book for 1 hour 5 times a week only (if doing it daily is too much)? Look. You still have 19 hours left. Go back to the math we did for leisure time. If 2 hours a day  is sufficient then you can put 7 back  to the 19 hours. That’s a total of 26 hours. How do you want to use it? Decide.  Would you like to spend some of those hours nurture your existing relationships? What about using a few hours to pursue some personal growth and development goals?

You can do the math for your particular situation and determine whether or not you really don’t have enough time to do what you need to do. Find out how many out of the 168 hours a week (or 24 hours a day) are you using productively and how many are you wasting doing things that don’t matter.

When you decide what to do with those remaining hours, you might want to consider what Brian Tracy said, “Perhaps the greatest single problem that people have today is time poverty. Working people have too much to do and too little for their personal lives.”

As you try to manage the hours and minutes in your day, you need to make a conscious effort to maintain a work-life balance. Allocate time for yourself. I don’t mean just taking a time-off from work and have fun. What I mean with  allocating time for yourself is dedicating your free time to activities that promote self-improvement and wellbeing.  Consider this – “The capacity to manage free time  is found to significantly increase an individual’s quality of life (Wang et al., 2011).” So think of how you spend your free time.

What I may consider as the best advise for time management came also from Laura Vanderkam – “Be intentional with the use of your time.”

Now, go back to the 168 hours paradigm. Consider it as a blank slate, how would you fill it? Again, the problem is not the lack of time. How you manage it is.

As Harvey MacKay said, “Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it, you’ll never get it back.”

References:

Claessens, C., et al. (2005). A review of the time management literature. Personnel Review, 36(2), 255-276. DOI 10.1108/00483480710726136

Misra, R., McKean, M. (2000). College students’ academic stress and its relation to their anxiety, time management, and leisure satisfaction. American Journal of Health Studies, 16(1), 41-51.

Time Management. (n.d.). In lecixo.com. Retrieved from https://www.lexico.com/definition/ time_management

Wang et al. (2011). Free time management contributes to better quality of life: A study of undergraduate students in Taiwan. Journal of Happiness Studies, 12, 561-573. doi:10.1007/s1142-013-9256-4

Vanderkam, L. (2010).  168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think. London: Penguin Books Ltd.

The Tree and Its Fruits

“Water the fruit trees and don’t water the thorns.”
– Rumi

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.”

That one was from St. Luke and it’s only one of the many quotes where tree and fruits are used figuratively to bring not only beauty to an idea that a writer or a speaker wishes to convey but also emphasis and clarity.

Obviously, the “tree” in that bible verse refers to you and me. And what about the fruits? Well, they are our thoughts, words, and actions and their outcomes. Could there be other fruits? I believe there’s none. The things we think, say, and do and their eventual consequences or results are the fruits of the tree that we are. There’s nothing else that would come from us through which we can be judged or valued as a person.

We think (consciously or subconsciously) first before we say or do something. I refer to it as the “think-say-do” process. After processing in our minds an idea or a situation (or any other kind of stimulus) then we decide what actions to take or words to say thereafter. That’s our response. You may call it decision.

“Each tree is recognized by its own fruits.” Thus, you should be careful of what you think and the decision you make afterward. They are manifestations of the kind of person that you are… and they do have consequences or results. I don’t know if there can be an argument against that assertion.

You have a first hand knowledge of how you think and decide. You are aware of the kind of fruits you produce. What about their outcomes? The fruits you bear results to the reputation you built for yourself in the community where you belong and among your colleagues, peers, friends and loved ones. Imagine reputation as the basket where your fruits – the decisions you made in the past – are stored. What people say (and think) about you is your reputation. Your reputation is the consequence of your speech and actions.

There are times that even if you say and do good, even when we try our best to make the right decisions all the time,  some people will treat you negatively. Don’t mind them. Their reactions are boomerangs that would harm them not you.

Whatever you have accomplished at this stage in your life are also consequences of your past decisions.  Your resume is also a basket of the fruits you produced. If people would scrutinize your resume, what would they see? What they see are your fruits.  Success is one big and ripe apple in the apple tree. It is the end goal of all our personal and professional pursuits.

But there’s a fruit sweeter than success – happiness. That’s what  simple people with simple dreams who don’t have a curriculum vitae to show try to grow in their tree. You would even hear people with grand dreams say that they aim for success because they want to be happy. Their success is the source of their happiness while for the simple folks I mentioned earlier, it’s the simplicity of their life and desires that makes them happy.

Reputation, success, and happiness – the products of the decisions you made – are the fruits of  the tree you become.

The kind of fruits you would bear depends on the kind of tree you grow into. If you are a good tree then definitely good fruits will spring out of your branches and twigs.

You should  know that you have control of the process of becoming who you are. Yes, no one else is in control of it.  We call that process self-improvement. The tree that would sprout from that transformation is your “best self.”

Only when you become your “best self” that you will start bearing the good fruits.

The journey into becoming your “best self” begins with one simple step –  the rejection of any excuse to not become the tree you wish to be and bear the fruit that you desire.

Education comes next. We nourish the tree called “self” through education. And it’s going to be long and tedious. It’s actually lifelong. Remember what Aristotle said, “The roots of education is bitter, but the fruit is sweet.”  But with education, I don’t mean just formal schooling. Schools are not the only place where learning can be had. Learning comes in many shapes and forms.

Learning makes your better than you were yesterday.

Sometimes we feel discouraged when all the efforts we are putting into self-improvement is seemingly not bearing fruits. We need to be patient.  Rousseau tell us that patience is bitter, but the fruit is sweet. To that Moliere added, “The trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.”

There’s one more fruit that your tree would eventually bear –  wisdom. You know it’s there when you come to a realization that the growing of the tree is more exciting than harvesting its fruits. What you will become – your best self – is beyond your reputation, more glittery than success, and more overwhelming than happiness.

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