Originally published at www.elennabentoncoaching.com

See, it’s my belief that the notions we have around being successful are pretty messed up.

I was speaking to a friend recently who has been agonising and grappling with the question of what she should do with her life and feeling she isn’t making the grade. And you know what, this is epidemic right now. Working as a coach I hear this sadness and desperation all the time. My friend is in no way alone in this struggle. Can you relate? Have you ever had this niggling anxiety that you should have ‘done more by now’? Let me say this clearly and from the outset: You are not the problem, our society is.

‘Success’ as we usually think of it is defined by a capitalist, consumer driven and inherently abusive system. If you’re thinking ‘yeah, I know the system is harmful and abusive, I know all about cheap labour and the social and ecological costs’, while you’re right, that isn’t what I’m talking about here.

What is the cost TO YOU?

What is the cost to the single mother living next door? What is the cost to your friend who was just made redundant? What is the cost to your kids?

This isn’t a problem that is far away and only effects other people. Na-uh. This problem is part of your life. Can you see it yet?

I work largely with female and non-binary coaches who are just starting up and this issue with ideas around success is just an accident waiting happen (except, well, it isn’t an accident). We have these predefined notions of what it means to be successful and we think it will bring us personal freedom and empowerment. But the ideas we have around what success means usually are the antithesis to empowerment and freedom, setting the majority of people up for failure. What do YOU think of when you define success?

All I see is another way for us to measure our worth. And for women this is especially problematic. Making women feel unworthy, sub-standard and lacking is big business that makes a small amount of people a whole lot of money. See where I’m going with this?

Success as we currently define it and use the word is just another yard stick for us to beat ourselves up with. It’s just one more way to delineate who is worthy and who is not. How, exactly, is this empowering? All this is, is yet another way to keep a small number of humans at the top of the social pyramid. It’s how the pyramid works and it’s the pyramid that is the problem.

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This idea we have of success has been given to us, and it’s been given to us with a motive.

It’s been given to us by a system that is built on workers that feed it with their time, labour and money. Of course the system wants you to strive to be what it calls ‘successful’ because then you are feeding the system and, yeah I’m going to say it again, it’s a system designed to keep a small amount of humans rich and the majority working to keep them that way. Capitalism, colonialism, patriarchy… this is the soil that nourishes the system that gives us the definition of what it means to be successful.

Most people will never reach the top of that pyramid.

Most people will never reach the top of that pyramid because it is rigged against them.

How is that empowering? How does that promote freedom and wellbeing? It doesn’t. Because it was never intended to.

It’s time to redefine ‘success’. Or ditch it altogether and replace it with something new. I don’t have the answers (unfortunately).

When I start talking like this, people often assume I am against them earning good money. I’m not. I’m really, really not. You need to have enough. The problem there is that when most people hear that, what they really hear is scraping by with the bare minimum. We’ve got messed up ideas about enoughness too, but that’s a rant for another day. My point around the concept of success, as it stands, is that it is unhealthy and inherently harmful to almost everyone. It drives overwork, and stress, and constant growth. There is nowhere that constant growth is healthy except in the minds of humans.

How about we start chasing something else? I’ll leave you with the question I posed to my friend, who I spoke about at the start of this rant.

If ‘success’ wasn’t a concern, what would you be doing with your life?