The Measure of Success

“How else would you define success if it isn’t through your achievements at work?”

This was a statement said to me once and it really got me thinking about success and how we look at it.  You see, this December, I mark my 16th year of work. Throughout this whole time, I had been between jobs for a total of 63 days only at split intervals. Within these 63 days , I always found freelance work , a course to take, a cause to volunteer for, or  a pursuit to keep me occupied.

So, if our success is in-fact our achievements at work then I guess I am very successful. But should  our work really be the only measure of our success? Should we really be evaluated based on what we do for a living and how much we had achieved while doing that?

See, if this was the measure of success then the person who had become a CEO for a multinational company is more successful than the receptionist working for him/her. Forget considering if he/she is happy, healthy, or at peace. The CEO had achieved so the CEO is successful.

According to this same standard, the people who are not formally employed are failures, and others who are  traveling the world are less successful than their peers who have a 9 to 5 jobs. Within this simple evaluation, we had forgotten to factor in one’s social life, health, love life, well being, and even his/her dreams. We have limited our evaluation to what a person is paid to do, and in an ethical world, a person should do what they are paid for successfully. So, one can even say that their success is driven by obligation only.

I think this mode of thought is not strange at all, because in  our society, the media, and even the drama series  we see on TV, this is the belief that is advocated.  We are conditioned to think this way  unconsciously. We meet someone for the very first time and the first thing we ask him/her is “What do you do for a living” شو بتشتغل   . If the response to that question reveals a lofty title, in an impressive company, then our response would be wow Mashallah (Praise be to God), yet if that same  person replies that they are currently not working, then our response would include a look of pity followed by the words “Yes, the economy is hard. I am sure you will find something soon. Don’t worry”


Because it is human nature to seek success we have learned to make this standard our way of life. Many of us end up devoting too much of our time and energy towards our jobs. We respond to unrealistic demands that have us working extra hours for no overtime. We risk our health and well-being to meet unrealistic deadlines. We let the years of our life go by, while we are glued to the screens of our laptop. We make our health the least of our priorities, while allowing our stress levels to rise.

We delete friends from our lives, relatives, family, and more importantly we kill the child within us that one day wanted to be a painter, a dancer, a writer, a cook, an artist, or even a superhero.

We tell ourselves that this is what it takes to be an adult. We say that we should be responsible, dependable, and ambitious, just like the top-notch lawyers, the doctors, the detectives, and even the advertising executives we see on TV.

We forget that those people are paid to look glamorous while we are paid more and more money over the years to respond to the standards that the media has fed into our heads.

We have learned to believe that our success is manifested in our salary that gets bigger and bigger as we waste more and more of our hours at work. We learn that we can show off that success with the big car, the house we bought, the brands we buy, and the first-class tickets and five-star hotels we can afford.  Let us remember that the people who have set that standard are not evil, they too are responding to a standard of success that is defined by the work they do. So, we are all in this together.

But again I ask, should this really be our measure of achievement?  I think that we should all stop and remember that Work is what we do. It isn’t who we are. Work pays the bills but it doesn’t build a life.

The truth is that for every extra hour  we spend working beyond our contract, we are spending an hour less living. For every dream we had given up for the demands of a job, we have given up a part of our soul. Sure, it is great to work in a field one loves, in fact it should be that way. But, one should love that field within the working hours of the day and not for every second spent on this earth. We are  human beings and there are probably many parts of our personality that are great and worth knowing.

We shouldn’t make the amazing parts of who we are dissolve within the need to make a deadline.  After all, if our work is the only measure of our self worth, we would go into a severe case of depression should that work disappear for any reason, whether within or beyond our control.

So, I ask again is our achievement at work the only measure of our sunless, achievement, or even our self worth, or is success, our ability to have inner peace, to live, love, and have dreams and interests that go beyond our 9 to 5 job? Isn’t our success our ability to live a full life in which we give everything in our day our best shot?

What do you think?





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