On The Consequences Of Success, And An Alternative Way Of Measuring It

Defining—and therefore, measuring—success is a controversial, foggy and confusing matter. How about by the amount of freedom, options, skill, and sense of meaning your life has?

Success doesn’t come without consequences. One of these, perhaps the main one, and that can be viewed as good or bad, is that, generally speaking, the more success you have, the narrower your life gets. As your skillset grows, as you mature and develop, you by definition become more specialised, which means that your life—that is, your life—becomes smaller and smaller. There are a couple of points to consider here. First is that whilst in many regards this is an unavoidable consequence of larger success, it doesn’t have to be; this is because it is a natural consequence, which means that you can figure out ways around it.

To give an example for clarification, consider top-of-the-class student, Jimbo, who leaves high-school for law school: he kills it at law school, and outperforms all of those on the course; when he graduates, what do you think his next step will be? Of course, most likely it will be to find a job in law. The reasons for this are many—family and friends expectations, his own interest, good money, challenging career, etc—but what matters for this discussion is that they accumulate to create a natural consequence, which is, that once Jimbo leaves law school, it feels natural to go get a job in law.

This is an example of how one’s life gets narrower and more specialised, with the more success one experience. Now, just because it is feels natural does not mean that he should do it; no, Jimbo could easily rebel against this natural decision and follow his other passion, cooking, and go on to be a very happy (and hopefully successful) chef. Whilst this is, however, an example of a successful fight against the first natural inclination, his decision to go into cooking still means that his life gets more specialised and narrow. This leads nicely onto the second point, which is that not only is specialisation unavoidable, but also necessary—or better put, it is not necessary a bad thing.

The most important things in life to us complex human beings are meaning, purpose, satisfaction and happiness; these comes from many things, of course, but perhaps most of all, they come from something to strive towards, and a clear idea of what it is we want from life. Hence, as you experience more success in a given domain, you get a clearer idea of both of these—of what you’re striving towards, and what you want from life. A new born child walks along a very very broad path, that has a great number of deviation points; as the child gets older, more mature, more skilled and develops interests, this path gets narrower and narrower, and the deviation points become rarer and rarer.

Some people are born with very narrow paths; these are the people who know their calling from a very early age, their ‘passion’. This is why the advice ‘follow your passion’ is often useless: only the people who know what their passion is can follow it!

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