Since the inception of business, we have been told to strive for success. There is an unwritten manual that most people follow that leads them from being a successful child to a teenager to an adult. It mostly includes getting a good education, and possible scholarships, that open the door to a successful career, one that helps them attain financial and societal success. Along the way, one may or may not be successful in finding a life partner and establishing a family unit. Much depends on the perceived notion of material and societal success.
In the current story of success, many of us were told we are two separate people—our professional self (career) and personal self (life)—and somehow we are expected to balance those two distinct areas of our lives with clear metrics of what a successful career and life looked like. And often, a successful career means an unsuccessful life, as to climb the corporate ladder means satisfying the needs of the corporation in service of its shareholders, which is how a corporation defines success in today’s world.
While the organization may have achieved financial success and accolades, a growing number of people are starting to not only question what success means to them, but they also do not want to be solely defined by what they do for a living. They may reach their sales quota and celebrate at the Chairman’s Club on a tropical island, only to realize that the company they are loyal to is polluting the oceans and jeopardizing future generations. An increasing number of people are questioning whose dream they have been living in an attempt to get back in touch with their own dream and, more importantly, the collective dream for our planet to enjoy a more shared and global prosperity for all.
There is an increasing awareness of how interconnected we are, despite the divisions that try to polarize us by having us self-identify in disparate groups of age, religion, gender, country, income level—and the list goes on. More and more people are seeking meaning and purpose, not only in their work but in their lives.
What if everything we know about success and failure is no longer relevant for those of us who are choosing to pick ourselves in a world that tries to make us like everyone else? And what if success is not a destination? You may have dreamed of being a vice president or a bestselling author and your dream becomes a reality. And yet, you are still the same person you have always been. Other people may congratulate you on your apparent successes, but these successes do not necessarily hold the meaning you expected them to have.
This is one of our biggest opportunities in history to redefine what success means to us, both individually and collectively. The organizations that will thrive in the 21st century will be the ones that recognize that we are in the human-to-human purpose and experience driven era, where people matter more than ever. The shift we will experience is a foundational one, where our ability to connect with others will bring us together in an integrated and holistic manner around shared purpose.
We will no longer see so many people and organizations reinventing their favorite wheels in separate projects. With shared purpose, we will see more cooperation through a variety of networks that allow people to co-create and find the people they want to co-create with. Our work will include healthy competition that drives cooperation and more of a sense of play in our lives. It will allow us to be more gentle with ourselves and become whole people who no longer pursue the mythical work-life balance, and understand that we live in a world where there is only life and work is just part of it.
It’s time for us to un-condition and un-learn what we were taught about success and failure and ask ourselves new and ancient questions:
- How do you deal with failure? What does failure mean to you?
- When do you choose to walk away from a situation?
- What kind of decisions do you make when no one is looking?
- What is your biggest opportunity?
- How much play is in your work and life?
- What does success mean to YOU, really?
Over the next 15 years and beyond, we will witness more and more people evaluating the need to exchange their talent and life to enrich an organization in return for financial gain. A new definition of success is emerging as each of us reevaluates our lives and our relationship with life. What happens when we ask ourselves: Am I living my most meaningful life?