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It's personal

September 15, 2021

It's personal

I was thinking about success this morning. My thoughts were prompted by a podcast that was recommended to me by one of my Taekwon-do students, in which a successful Martial Arts business owner was talking about how she had made a success of her business. Obviously, I immediately compared the successes of her business with my own Martial Arts business, as they are directly comparable, or so I initially thought. I listened as she talked about how many thousands of students have walked through their door and how big their purpose built Martial Arts Centre is. I thought to myself, ‘wow! This woman really has made a success of her business!’ and I thought about how I have dreamed about having my own business premises for my Martial Arts School and how much I would love to be able to expand my team of instructors and thus max out the classes we are able to run. Her story was inspiring and it was just too easy for me to listen, to compare and to feel that what I had achieved was inferior to the accomplishments she was talking about…and then I re-centred my thoughts. I reminded myself that we really shouldn’t measure our own successes on the successes of others and there are many reasons for this.

I’m a competitive person and like to try to be one of the best at whatever I do. Of course, this never happens, but it is inbuilt in me to try. So, when I hear about a successful business, especially one in the same field as mine, I naturally want to be better, or at least as good! Because of this I have to remind myself that thinking in terms of not measuring our own successes on those of others is not a cop out, it’s essential.

One of the reasons why it is essential is that we all have in-built thoughts about what constitutes ‘success’ and these thoughts are shaped by numerous things, including our upbringing, social circles, circumstances and so on. If someone from a family who has never had someone go to university, goes to university – this will no doubt be a huge success in that family’s eyes. If someone goes to a university that isn’t Oxford or Cambridge from a family who has had successive members of that family go to Oxbridge, then going to another university may be seen as being less successful. Even within that family, one person may still feel it’s a success story, while another may not. It is impossible to quantify success, except on our own private terms. Yet despite this, I think that we try to. By comparing our own success with that of others, it feels as if we are presuming that success is measurable by one rule. Which of course, it isn’t. There are so many variables at play.

Why is it so hard to remember this when we compare our own successes to those of others and feel that somehow, we aren’t as good? Perhaps because we live in a society that is obsessed with the word ‘success’. Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s important to strive for success, but to strive for your own definition of it and not to get sucked into anything else.

During the Olympics in Tokyo, a TV presenter was publicly criticising all the athletes who won a bronze medal and celebrated their achievement. He went on (and on) about how a true elite sportsman or woman wouldn’t be satisfied with a bronze medal, they would only be happy with gold. A gold medal equals success, a bronze medal equals failure, as they failed to get gold. This presenter was using his own measure of success (in an area he has no experience in himself) and projecting onto the people who were doing all the work. His measure of success isn’t theirs. His idea of success is completely irrelevant to the competitors. Their measure of success is and should be, personal.

There is nothing wrong with aiming for the top award, but it has its flaws: personal limitations, factors on the day and so on and so of course bronze can be a success.

If we are to quantify success in any way, I think it should be done on happiness. I may get my own training centre and have thousands rather than hundreds of students coming through my door. I may be able to employ more instructors and expand my classes, but would I be any happier? It may be that I did all this and it brought more pressure, that I had less time to spend on my family and more responsibilities, financial and to others that weighed me down. Would I then feel as if I was succeeding? Would it feel like a success?

I will continue to learn from others – to listen to stories of their personal success and I will always be inspired by their achievements. However, I will try not to measure their success against my own. I will reflect on what I have achieved and what I want to achieve, because it’s personal.