This week, we’ve spent quite a bit of time with people who seem to really know who they are and what they are doing.
On Sunday, Mich and I flew to Sydney to conduct a whole bunch of In Conversation interviews with people we find interesting and inspiring and influential. You know, people you would define as objectively successful, people with inarguable influence, people who have interesting stories and interesting ways of telling them.
It’s a unique job, this one, because there are few places you can meet people doing some amazing things, and rather than demand their time with small talk, get them talking pretty deeply and thoughtfully in a relatively short space of time.
What makes them tick? What makes them sad and stressed and scared? What makes them happy? How do they measure their sense of fulfilment? What’s their end game?
If there’s one place my mind is going this week, with all of these interviews under our belt, it’s that success, in almost every case, doesn’t look like we think it does. That success comes in layers, that it can be distracted and disrupted by self-doubt and rejection, that having and finding objective success isn’t a sure-fire way to find happiness.
I think we assume that people who are well-known were always destined to be that way. That they chased success for a really long time because success is a predisposition and finding it was always built into their genetics.
Here’s what I am starting to realise, though: The people who find crazy levels of success probably once thought the same way you are now and truthfully, they probably still do. They are full of doubt and uncertainty, are confused and at times, lost. They often question their ability and their standing, their worth and their value.
The difference between them and everyone else is that even though they have no idea where they are going, they started walking anyway. It’s not that they don’t feel the things we do, or harbor lesser kinds of worries or fears, it’s that they found a way to dismiss them and push ahead despite all of them.
Success didn’t land on them with a thud and overnight, but they describe how it crept up on them, instead: One day, their eyes get a little clearer, one day, the fog started to clear and one day, they seemed to realise that Oh! This is success, and while it’s great, this isn’t what I thought it would be?
The relationship between success and happiness is a complicated one. Sometimes they marry but often they don’t: We assume success is a precursor of happiness, rather than both things existing as separate entities, rather than both things being mutually exclusive, rather than both things growing despite the other.
I wonder, with all that in mind, if we should start managing our expectations when it comes to success.
Yes, striving for success is great, if that’s the thing you’re working for, in whatever way you want to define it. But if we’re making the assumption that success will solve our problems and that success and happiness are knotted together, then perhaps we’ll always be disappointed with the highs that come from doing well.
Success seems wonderful. Happiness is wonderful. Maybe it’s just time we stopped conflating the two, and assuming with one comes the other.