Success means different things to different people. I used to think that being successful mean to excel at your work, but as I go through the different decades of my life’s journey, I’ve come to realise that true success is more encompassing than monetary gains or accumulation of accolades at work. Success can mean a healthy relationship with your children who are growing up faster than you can imagine. Success can mean nurturing a respectful and communicative marriage, through up and downs.
I stopped to chat with a porter who held the door open for me one day. I remarked off-handedly “Miserable weather isn’t it?” gesturing to the grey wet skies. “No, ma’am. It’s great weather” the grey-haired porter replied.
Looking at the surprise on my face, he continued “It’s great weather for me everyday. If it’s sunny, I bask in the sunshine. If it’s grey, I enjoy the coolness”. His insight stayed with me for a long time after. Perhaps, success to some was to live a life filled with content each and every day!
I remembered a quote by Oprah Winfrey: “One of the hardest things in life to learn are which bridges to cross and which bridges to burn.”
Perhaps success isn’t about adding to our already busy lives but subtracting from it. “Burning” a few bridges is an interesting concept, but it may actually free us from the tethers that bind us to feelings of discontent and worry. Here are 5 bridges we should burn and never look back starting today.
1. Worrying about what other people think
Trying something new, different or controversial sounds easier than it actually is. Until you have to do it. When I started my first aesthetic clinic in 2003, I had to contend with naysayers, being one of the first to do so in Singapore. Whenever you find yourself walking to the beat of your own drums, there may be people who will criticise or judge you. Remember: It is easy to stand with the crowds. It takes courage to stand alone.
The only way to keep other people from criticizing or judging you is to do only what other people do. But that means you’ll be only as successful as they are. And only as happy as they are. Their limitations become your own limitations.
I am no legend. Instead I will borrow the words of wisdom of a true genius, Albert Einstein: “The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before”. Instead of worrying about what people say, be glad they’re saying it — because that means you’re on the right track.
2. Worrying about what you have, instead of what you do
Psychologists call this phenomenon hedonic adaptation—the idea is that no matter how good something makes us feel (or, for the record, how bad), most of the time we drift back to where we started, emotionally-speaking. One often-cited study famously showed that despite their initial euphoria, lottery winners were no happier than non-winners eighteen months later. The same tendency to return to “baseline” has been shown to occur after marriage, voluntary job changes, and promotions—the kinds of things we usually expect to change our happiness and well-being for the better in a permanent way.
Appreciation, is in many ways the opposite of adaptation—it’s going out of your way to focus on something, rather than taking it for granted or letting it fade into the background. Appreciating can mean paying attention or noticing, but it is even more powerful when you take it further—when you savor something, delighting in its qualities and relishing how it makes you feel, or when you experience gratitude, a sense of being fortunate for being in your current circumstances compared to others, or compared to where you have been in the past. When we appreciate our positive experiences, when we turn our mind’s eye toward them again and again in joy and wonder, we don’t just make our happiness last—we kick it up a notch, too.
Lasting satisfaction comes from doing, not from having. To feel good about yourself, both in the short term and long term, help someone who needs it. It doesn’t have to be someone less fortunate. You can help your employees develop the skills they need to succeed. You can help a friend who’s struggling to achieve a goal.
Knowing you’ve made a difference in another person’s life is a “Wow!” you can repeat endlessly.
And it’s a buzz that will never push back to an emotional norm.
3. Worrying about finding that one big idea
“I don’t have big ideas. I sometimes have small ideas which seem to work out”.”
Most of us won’t hit the big-idea lottery. And even if we did come up with that elusive big idea, could we pull off its implementation? Do we have the skills, experience, and funding?
But here’s what all of us do have: hundreds of small ideas. Which means we don’t need to look for a big idea if we act on our little ideas. Remember that while genius may be in the idea, impact, however comes from action.
Success is a process. Happiness is a process. Since every process is based on action, not thought, stop waiting for a big idea and act on as many of your small ideas as you can.
4. Worrying about perfection
During an interview when I was about 30, I was asked if I was too young to run my own business. If we wait until we’re ready, we’ll be waiting for the rest of our lives. Perhaos being educated in England, I subscribed to the doctrine of Winston Churchill who famously said “Perfection is the enemy of progress”.
Some ideas were never launched because their creators were worried they were not perfect. By the time they were finally launched, they were no longer the trailblazers they once were. Timing is more important than perfection.
It’s natural to afraid to be “done.” When we’re done, our idea or plan or product or service has to sink or swim — and the last thing we want it to do is sink. But ideas, plans, products, or services can never swim if we never launch them. Do the best you can, and then act and don’t look back. If it’s not perfect, you can fix it. If it doesn’t work, you can try something else — and will have learned from the experience.
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5. Worrying about what other people do.
You may be a parent. You may be a boss. You may be “in charge.” But I’ve learnt , and too late, in my opinion, that when you try to control everything, you enjoy nothing.
Whatever form of control you imagine yourself to have is only an illusion. The only thing you really control is you. You cannot control anyone or anything around you except your own attitude and effort. The earlier you let go of the need to exert control over others, the less you will worry about what others do.
I remember fretting over my children while they (rather unsuccessfully) tried to navigate the strenuous primary school system in Singapore. Any control I imagined myself to have only strained the relationship between my children and I. Letting go of the need to control them saved our relationship, and my sanity.
Focus on controlling yourself. The better “you” that you become, the more people will want to walk beside you, and the less you’ll have to worry about controlling anyone.
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6. Worrying about whether you’re happy.
In this age of social media, people are more worried about whether they appear happy than if they are truly happy. Gratitude is a powerful attitude. It’s not happy people who are thankful. It’s thankful people who are happy.
Imagine today is your last day on earth. What would you do with your time? Would you want to spend it with those dearest and closest to you? Many of your so-called worries would seem so petty and trivial. You would realize that what you already have is so much more important than what you don’t have. You realize how blessed, how successful, and how happy you already are.
Maybe you could be happier, but if you think about it, your life is already pretty great. Every night when you turn off your bedroom light, take a second to count your blessings. Do that, and you won’t have to worry about whether you’re happy or not. Because you’ll know you are.
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