By Lina Ashar, Co-founder, Korroboree and Moonshot Conversations and Founder Emeritus, Kangaroo Kids Preschools and Billabong High Schools, Happiness Advocate
Children grow up learning from the institutions and people around them. They perceive the world based on how they were taught to perceive it. The lives they eventually will lead depend on the goals they were told are worthy. According to Sallyann Della Casa, Chief Identity Hacker at GLEAC and author, this the start of how children are made to fit into boxes that not only dictate their identities but also limit their potential for meaningful success.
School propagates a system that pushes parents and students to constantly strive for success in terms of grades. They create criteria that require students to compete and strive for things that will have little relevance or use in their adult lives. Parents, intentionally or sometimes unintentionally, set benchmarks for success that children often painstakingly push to achieve. These benchmarks are set through expectations and behaviours that influence children, who are always observing their parents’ actions. Society pushes notions of success that have little to do with personal or purpose mastery. Students, instead of following their interests, chase down typical career choices that they have little to no interest in.
They fall victim to the pressure of expectations placed on them and end up suffering from mental or physiological health issues that usually accompany long-term stress and unhealthy lifestyles. Even individuals that achieve monetary wealth find that they lack happiness. Those that worked hard throughout their youth feel as if they had wasted their time on the wrong priorities.
Is it worth devoting the best years of our lives to working on things that we are uninterested in, in the hope that we will find happiness where we are told we will find it?
If the notions of success that you currently subscribe to leave you feeling unfulfilled, they are not worth the effort. Success is defined as the attainment of wealth, favour or eminence. However, there does not have to be a fixed representation of a successful life. It can be different for everyone—it can have personal connotations. Our notions of success do not have to revolve around money, power, land or possessions. It can cater to our happiness, health, time and interests.
Meaningful success needs to involve motivating children with an inside-out approach, where intrinsic strengths, capabilities and interests are nurtured, rather than an outside-in approach, where external objectives and opportunities are given priority.
Education systems need to be reformed to change from an outcome-based structure to a process-based one. It needs to allow students to explore their creative side and promote intellectual flexibility. Societies must allow individuals to follow different paths and find their own identities. The idea of a career plan—as stated by Timothy Ferriss, author of the book, ‘The 4-Hour Work Week’—needs to evolve into lifestyle design. In a world where titles do not completely define roles, we need to stop classifying jobs as a matter of status and class.
There is an evident need for changing our notions of success to include more positive elements. Yes, success can be about securing your future and finding that sense of financial security, but it should also be something that offers more fulfilment to lives we lead.
When success is personal to our being, it becomes easier for children to design their life plan and find the motivation to diligently work towards it. However, it requires us, as a collective, to create acceptance for a change and expansion in our definitions of success.
How do we expand our notions of success?
We need to start introducing elements, which cater to a positive lifestyle, into our ideas of success. It needs to include aspects like intrinsic motivation and greater purpose, among many other things. We start by children exploring their values and then crafting a life plan to support this. Living one’s values is really where happiness sits.
Personal Power Mastery
Personal Power Mastery, The brainchild of author and speaker, Douglas Vermeeren, is a concept for facilitating success by encouraging individuals to evolve to a higher level of thinking through activities and habits that lead to greater outcomes and possibilities. It operates on the principles of experiential growth and shifting beliefs to enable life changes. Vermeeren believes that there is significance in every word of the concept for those who wish to create personal success. In his book, he says, “First, you must make your success personal. No one can do the work for you. Then it is a matter of power and you must recognize your capacity to take action. Last is mastery, which is not perfection but rather progression towards the outcomes you are seeking in your life.”
Similar to personal power mastery, purpose mastery is an inside-out approach that seeks to facilitate intrinsic motivation and attain a life of fulfilment. It involves working towards purposes that one feels strongly towards and mastering the skills to do so. It relates to a type of success that is meaningful and has greater-than-self objectives. In a way, it is the designing of one’s life to achieve larger-purpose goals that have personal motivations. It relies on skill training and result-driven accountability to foster a greater sense of success.
Highlights of a healthier version of success
Both personal power mastery and purpose mastery are motivational-based approaches to achieve success that do not completely revolve around money, power, and fame. They also refrain from detaching individuals from personal elements like happiness, family, relationships and community well-being. In fact, they promote them.
Happiness is an important aspect of meaningful success. Various factors contribute towards happiness, including following one’s interests, giving back to society, finding a purpose. However, our happiness is put at stake when we desire what others have. As long as we compare ourselves to others, we will not be truly happy and as such, fail to notice the strengths that will drive our success. We should stop the ranking system that exists in schools and at Board Exams which deepens this rot.
Family, friends and partners give us the support to keep persevering for success. Maintaining better relationships with friends and family help us develop successful characteristics like self-esteem and social skills that enable us to achieve our goals.
It comes down to our mindset
The fear of failure holds us back from achieving our dreams. However, a growth mindset helps us see failure and setbacks as an opportunity for success—it shows us the pathways to learn and grow. Teaching children to nurture a growth mindset, instead of a fixed one, helps them develop the skills for meaningful success. It empowers belief as a trigger for fulfilling personal ideas of success.
The popular and often detrimental version of success should be for no one. It culminates in an unhappy and unhealthy lifestyle. Changing our notions of success will unburden the weight of expectations and liberate children by helping them focus on intrinsic goals and self-development. Sallyann Della Casa says that life is a journey of becoming yourself and that we do not have to live everyone’s version of who we should be. Ultimately, if we expand our notions of success, it will help children grow to fulfil greater objectives that are not only better for themselves but also the world.