…Reflections on achieving success and finding fulfilment
On Sunday, the 30th of January, 2022, Miss USA (2019) Cheslie Kryst, was found dead outside her New York City high-rise apartment building. She was last seen on the 29th floor of the building. It is suspected that she had jumped from that height to her death.
At the time of her death, Cheslie, 30 years old, was an Attorney-at-law. TV correspondent, and model. She had worked on Extra, a TV show, and been nominated for two Daytime Emmy Awards. She had graduated cum laude from university while being a member of an honours society and active in track & field events. She subsequently obtained her Law degree and an MBA. She had practised Law and even worked on pro bono cases during her career. She had achieved the highest feat in US beauty pageantry by becoming Miss USA and she had twice been nominated for an Emmy award.
Cheslie appears to have been very successful in practically all facets of life. She was at the prime of her life: so many more achievements lay ahead of her, but she decided to end it all. Anyone looking at her would believe that she was living her best life but was she? She had achieved several things that many people could only dream of, but something was probably missing for her to have taken her own life.
Have you ever considered what success means to you? When you think about it, what comes to your mind? Does it have anything to do with your possessions, the money in your bank account, your relationships? Do you think that you would view success the same way other people do?
I believe we all define success differently. Some may consider that having enough to meet their needs makes them successful whereas some others may believe they are not successful until they have more than they need. Someone else may believe that their ability to find a spouse, have children, and train them has made them successful, whereas another person could believe that foregoing the opportunity to have a family and devoting their time to rising through the career ladder is the ultimate measure of success.
When we think about success, however, one thing most if not all, people can agree on is that it involves the achievement of set goals. You have not truly succeeded until you have achieved something you set out to excel at. The measure to which you excel, however, is personal. Some people go further and say that achieving a goal is not enough as the goal has to be worthwhile otherwise, are you successful? For example, if I choose to commit fraud and I could swindle people, make a lot of money, and meet my financial goals, have I been truly successful?
There has always been a lot of focus on achieving success. Unfortunately, many of us are driven by the standards set by society. Parents constantly push their children to excel academically so they can be better positioned for future opportunities whilst they also boast about their achievements. After schooling comes the need to find the most enviable jobs so that we can earn top money. Next comes the pressure to marry so that we can either become responsible men or honourable women. And then people start asking about children and then we repeat the cycle.
In recent times, the current expression of success in these parts is determined by material possessions. You are deemed successful when we can see the signs that you have “arrived”. You drive a new car and live in a certain part of town. You wear designer clothes and spend money as though it grows in your backyard. You consciously share evidence of possessions on social media, and you constantly share motivational posts so people can say “God when”. There is a constant need for acquiring possessions and then sharing evidence of those acquisitions.
Many people find that constantly striving to acquire things for the sake of it, be it material possessions or qualifications, is never enough. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with aiming for the next achievement, do we often think about why we strive so hard? What exactly are we chasing after?
I stumbled on a quote from the book The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren that made me think again about success. The book is written to help readers understand their purpose and find the answer to the existential question: “what on earth am I here for?” Some friends and I recently committed to spending 40 days reading each of the 40 chapters as we seek to understand purpose.
“Being successful and fulfilling your life’s purpose are not at all the same issue”.
I have mulled over this quote for a bit. Success is one thing but fulfilling purpose appears to be another. It appears that I can be very successful at anything I set my mind to but if I am not fulfilling purpose, am I truly successful? I guess the next question is how we find purpose so we can live more fulfilling lives.
This question about finding purpose always seems to find its way into every discussion about ambition, life plans, the future, even the present. What’s the big deal about purpose? Why is it so important? Why am I here? Is there a specific thing I’m supposed to achieve whilst on this journey called life? If there is, how do I know what it is? How am I supposed to achieve it? What are the pointers that will guide me along?
As far as I am concerned, God is the only one with the answers to these questions. We can guess, we can seek the opinion of others no matter how professionally qualified but only God can provide the answers. The drive to succeed can be demanding, but most of our pressures are self-inflicted.
As a society, we need reorientation about the true meaning of success. We need to understand that physical evidence of achievement alone is insufficient as a measure of success.
As individuals, we need to focus on ourselves rather than seeking external validation. We need to develop stronger resolve against the pressure society places on us.
I have no idea why Cheslie took her life: I can only assume that she was unfulfilled despite what many would consider her successes. And many people may find themselves in this situation. Externally, everything appears to be going well, but internally, they are fighting battles no one knows about.
Let us all seek to find our purpose as we strive to live fulfilling lives. There is no point in seeking to be successful for the sake of it. We must understand what all of our labour is about. And as we seek purpose, we could probably find answers to more of our existential questions: this is the way I see things today.