The Illusion of Success: Success – happiness = success = happiness

The Illusion of Success: Success – happiness = success = happiness

“An extra special type of tragedy, a tragedy that unfolds while everyone cheers.”

As leaders, founders, and entrepreneurs, most of us recognise that we are conditioned to fear insufficiency, driven by societal accolades for success. This fear can lead us to forsake happiness in the relentless pursuit of success. Without acknowledgement (and action), it’s a sure-fire way to live in our emotional overdraft.

Last year, a thought-provoking tweet from Chris Williamson struck a chord with me and had me reflect on the dichotomy between success and happiness. Williamson mused, “I’ve been thinking this week about people who succeed at things they don’t enjoy. We sacrifice the thing we want (happiness) for the thing which is supposed to get it (success).”

This is how I picture the equation he is talking about:

Success – happiness = success = happiness.

The pursuit of success often becomes a convoluted path where the destination we yearn for—happiness—gets lost amidst our achievements and accolades. It’s an irony not lost on those of us striving to make our mark on the world, only to realise that the mark may, in fact, be erasing the very essence of our joy.

Adam Mastroianni also captured this dilemma, describing it as “an extra special type of tragedy, a tragedy that unfolds while everyone cheers.” He likens sacrificing our passions for an elite life to being aboard the Titanic post-iceberg, surrounded by admirers praising the grandeur of the vessel, oblivious to the cold, engulfing waters of discontent. This metaphor is a stark reminder that the pursuit of an “elite life” at the expense of our passions is a misguided venture.

So, what is the true value of success if its pursuit leads us down a path strewn with nails, only to arrive at a destination that leaves us indifferent?

Is our happiness aimed at fulfilling ourselves, or is it merely a facade to impress others? The tension between success and happiness is palpable. We often find ourselves in a cycle where we sacrifice happiness in the hope that success will eventually lead us back to it. However, if we dare to simplify this equation by removing success from both sides, we’re left with the core of what truly matters: happiness itself.

Seneca, the Stoic philosopher, once said, “It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.”

If leaders really want to live less in their emotional overdraft, they must prioritise rekindling passions and creating environments that celebrate joy and creativity alongside success.

Reflect on your path. Are you pursuing happiness, or are you caught in the allure of success at the expense of your joy?


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