Mumma… What is success?

umm… I am not sure how to answer this one. Of course I want my kids to have a successful life – but what really constitutes a successful life? Money? Position? Fame? Happiness? Contentment? Satisfaction? All of these? Some of these? What is a life well lived? Is that the same as being successful?

I asked my peer group what they thought and got some interesting responses. Most agreed that the definition of success varies from person to person and at different points of life. Some said it is a mental state. Some said being happy and content is success. Some others said being successful means using oneself to their full potential. Yet another view was to not compare with others and live for oneself.

I agree and follow most of the above. But that’s not the full picture. Material achievements also matter to me. As I think back on my own life – I can see that things like money or possessions got added to my list of desires much later in life. As a student, it never mattered what marks others got – I had my own targets and parameters. At one point in my life, it didn’t matter whether or not I made money or owned a big house. So then what happened? Marriage and family commitments? Or a society that counted only material success?

I still remember, very early in my career, at a batch get together, the first question a batch mate asked was whether I had bought a car or not! And hastily, almost defensively I had explained that we had invested in a house first and will buy a car next year 🙂 It was also common to hear batch mates discuss who is doing well and who is not. The discussion would almost always boil down to salary packages and positions.

As a society, Indians seem to value only material achievements. (A total contrast to the image of us as spiritual beings and India being the land of spirituality!!) One is considered successful, if earning more than peers or wielding more power than them. Simple.

When parents measure success – their own, or of other people, or their kids’ through only material attributes, the same is consciously or subconsciously fed into the minds of our children and also feeds into our expectations of them. Moreover, constant comparison teaches the child to measure her success against others.

Things may have changed in the last few generations – but when I read news reports about children committing suicide or even trying to murder younger children to avoid exams or PTMs – I really wonder about the extent of this change.

A few generations ago – academics were the only way to a good job and therefore success – anything else that was remotely risky was discouraged – arts, entrepreneurship, sports. Engineers, doctors, Govt services were the preferred career choices – all safe bets. MBA got added to the list as  high pay packages were heard of. Now some sports such as cricket, tennis, badminton – but only those where some level of success has been demonstrated. A cricket academy will still be more popular than a football academy. Creative careers are also coming up slowly – but not fast enough. And entrepreneurship? Barely raising the bar there – other than perhaps the IT start ups – and that’s because they attract capital. Talent? Only if it helps to make money or gets fame at least. What about strugglers? I don’t think anyone wants to even talk about them. It is telling when Steve Wozniak says success in India is academic excellence and a good job. He compares a small country like New Zealand that has so many singers and athletes to a large country like India that barely makes a dent in the creative space.

In this discussion, I think of my dad. He was a very bright mind -an inventor who must have developed dozens of products, patented some, even developed board games and card games and wrote books and short stories. On top of that a great human being,  a great dad. But unfortunately no marketer. And hence an unsuccessful businessman. If one looks at his whole life I would consider it a life well lived – but a lot of people around him would probably just brand him unsuccessful.

So what is a successful life for me? At the end of my life – I would want to be happy and content and have as few regrets as possible. Happiness and contentment would come to me with a successful career, having enough money to live a comfortable life, see the world, some solid relationships, and strong and secure children. And this is what I would like to tell my children too.

And how do I raise a strong and secure child?

  • Value the person he is – and teach him to value himself (that does not mean going ga ga over every little thing he does :-D)
  • Help him excel in his area of capability – no point trying to fit a square into a round. Otherwise we are creating a recipe for disaster.
  • Teach him the value of hard work and the importance of struggle. Unfortunately there is too much instant gratification nowadays and I am guilty of that too.
  • Appreciate his failures as well and guide him to learn from those. (I regret every time I lose my patience when he fails – I am also learning)
  • Have a strong relationship with him – he will automatically have strong relationships later in life. (I think we are doing pretty well in that area!)
  • Mould him according to the person he is: a laidback child – teach him the importance of hard work; a very hard working child or achievement oriented – teach him to relax sometimes and learn to fail; a perfectionist – teach him not to find fault with others and so on…
  • Tell him that comparison is a tool to be used only selectively
  • Let him arrive at his own definition of success and what he wants to achieve in life. Guide him, but do not tell him what he should do. (I think that was the BEST thing my parents did for us – always let us find our way)

That is quite a long list and I hope I don’t forget these as I bring up our children! Do share your tips as well!