You Don’t Actually Want Success

What we imagine success to look like is often a skewed perception of reality.

A quick search for the average global annual income per person reveals a figure of about $10,000.

Not a lot.

The average American annual salary is around $56,000.

The average Canadian salary is sitting close to that figure as well.

Also, not a ton of money, but definitely nothing to cry over.

Money often is an easy way to determine success. How much you make per year often reflects at some level the value that you bring to society at large.

Doctors tend to traditionally make a significant income because of their core contribution to the general health and well being of society. They also dedicate a significant amount of time and money to the study of medicine and to constantly learning more about how the human body works and reacts to various different diseases, viruses, etc.

Lawyers traditionally have been able to climb fairly high on the ladder of earning potential, due to their knowledge of complex and ever-changing legal systems. They too, spend significant time in school studying law.

A concert violinist who plays for the Los Angeles Philharmonic will start at a base salary of around $150,000 a year. But they have spent years and years dedicated to the consistent, unforgiving practice of an exceptionally difficult instrument. They have more than likely invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into lessons from an early age, masterclasses with known performers and instructors, not to mention studying at a world-class conservatory, if they can get in.

But if you were to walk up to anyone on the street and ask them “Do you want to be successful? Do you want to be number one in your career? Do you want to make six figures a year or more?” most would answer “Of course!”

But it’s a lie.

You don’t really want to be successful. The cost of becoming successful is too high. You will give up and settle. You will make a compromise for something that’s “pretty good” but it’s not what you wanted originally.

And somehow, we’ve come to regard that kind of giving in as a bad thing.

But is it?

Not so long ago, I had the opportunity and privilege to sit down for a half-hour Q&A with the CEO of a significant financial institution.

I knew that he made multiple millions of dollars a year, and by all regards, he was (and is) a very successful person.

As someone who can sometimes be enamored with success, I have learned to start looking around the rest of the room, so to speak, of success.

And so I asked questions about work-life balance.

I asked questions about getting to the position he was at.

And at the end of the conversation, I realized that I probably didn’t really want to be a CEO.

And I didn’t want to be massively successful.

Along similar lines, several years ago someone asked me if I could trade places with anyone in the world, who would I trade places with. I responded with “Chris Martin, the lead singer of Coldplay!”

From the perspective of a fan, he’s got an amazing life. He travels the world, writes music and lyrics that millions of people sing the world over, and has led one of the most successful rock bands of all time for several decades now. He’s a huge success by so many measures.

Yet, after I answered the question, I thought “Would I really want that?”

And I realized that I wouldn’t. The weeks on end he spends away from family. The weight of responsibility he has from being the lead singer of a very influential band. The critique he gets online if he happens to say or do the wrong thing. The constant pressure to do better than before.

These are all the demands of success. Part of the package.

We want success because it looks good. We want success because it offers us some kind of security. A level of recognition.

But large scale success also has its demons. The CEO doesn’t spend as much time with his wife as he would like. Is that worth the millions? For me, I realized, it’s not.

But I also believe that those who have reached the top have done so because they can do it well.

It sounds simple. But those of us reach the top have successfully navigated the hurdles and learning curves required to reach that position. It’s demanding. And those of us who don’t reach the top won’t get there because we either don’t want it enough at our core, or we’re simply not the right person for that job. For that level of success.

And that is completely, totally — fine.

It’s the way it should be.

Those who reach there and stay there are ready for that. They are there in that position and that is their reality. There’s no perception anymore of what the job would be like. They have it, and they’re required to do the job now, every day, whether they like it or not.

Success is not always what we think it is. It’s not the glamour and easy street life we might idealize it to be.

No, in fact, from all I’ve seen and from all those I’ve talked to, it’s harder. It’s more work. Far more responsibility.

And for the majority of us, we are most satisfied with a job that we can go to, do a pretty good job at, collect our paycheck, and go home to our families.

Some of us will want the increased responsibility that comes from being in a highly successful position. We are aware of what we are getting into, and we are prepared.

And some of us will be happy with what we have, to do our job, go home, and enjoy our life in the simple, uncomplicated way we live it now.

And there will always be that group that has their perception of success and says they want it, that writes and talks about getting it — but never does.

It’s because they don’t know what true success is.

And they don’t actually want it.




I write to capture glimpses of humanity and its endless beauty.

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Jared Mosher

Jared Mosher

I write to capture glimpses of humanity and its endless beauty.

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