Navigating modern life, with all of its complexities, is not always easy. Modern day living demands a lot form us, often at a pace that can feel unsustainable and hard to keep up with. One of the challenges of our time is that our current culture often seems to assess our value as people through the amount of measurable success we have had in areas deemed worthy of admiration: money, prestige and fame, career.
And while many of these achievements can be important contributors to thriving, they are but a small fraction of the abundance of diverse ways human beings can lead fulfilling lives. Measurable material achievement is glorified to a point that leaves little room for all of the other factors that are so important for endowing life with meaning and value. Harder to quantify achievements like growing a contemplative practice, the quality of our relationships, how deeply we can learn to engage with the things we gift our time and attention to, how much we grow and develop as people throughout the course of our lifetime. Success in these areas is rather more elusive and can be difficult to evaluate externally. Regrettably, our current culture, with its focus on speed and outcome, pays far less attention to these slow, laborious achievements that can span the course of an entire lifetime.
One of the reasons why our culture places less value on achievements of the spirit is that ‘success’ within in these more elusive areas of life is a process of continuous change without an endpoint. Moreover, success here is far more difficult to judge by others than measurable accomplishments like money or fame. How do we measure the quality of an interaction or the love between two people? How do we quantify the value of someone’s ability to attend fully in conversation and listen in a way that allows us to transcend the boundaries of our own existence by feeling truly understood?
Too often our value as people is bound up with the outcome of our endeavours to acquire wealth or fame or prestige. But one fact often overlooked is that a significant part of the success of any outcome is determined by chance and not our own effort or ability. People can make decisions that are sensible and wise, but as the complexities of the various forces active in life play out, good decisions can end up having less than favourable outcomes. Ultimately, simply because an outcome is deemed positive or negative by our current culture does not make our decisions wise or unwise. With forces out with our control contributing so much to the outcome of our decisions, an important element of growing wise is learning to judge our choices and decisions based on more than outcome alone.
Developing an ability to recognise success beyond just the end result is particularly important for cultivating achievements of the spirit. Most of these have no ultimate endpoint and quantifying their success is extremely difficult. What’s more, other people are unlikely to be able to see our achievements making it unlikely that we will ever receive external praise or recognition for our success. A challenging fact that means we need to learn to become reliant on our own judgement of progress.
There is so much more of value in life than a narrow focus on outcome alone allows us to appreciate. Contentment throughout the long journey of our life rests on being able to recognise the value within the process rather than focusing on outcome alone. Redefining what is of value in terms of more than material measurable achievement is tied into learning to see the process as part of the goal, focusing on learning as much if not more than the outcome.
One of the wonderful things about this reframing of what is valuable is that it allows us to cultivate a different approach to mistakes. When we are focused on outcome alone, mistakes most often appear as setbacks. But when we cultivate a true appreciation for the journey, we can begin to recognise mistakes as one of the greatest ways to learn. Every time we stretch beyond the limits of our current abilities or understanding, mistakes are inevitable. They are also one of the most useful ways of growing into something larger than what we are today. By learning to value more than outcome alone we can begin to welcome mistakes and even failure as one of the most reliable ways of moving forward.
We have all had opportunity to witness, through tragic stories of the rich and famous, as well as the complete contentment and life satisfaction of ordinary people, that a life well lived is ultimately never determined by material outcome alone. Instead, more often than not, it seems to rest on acquiring wisdom and on growth of the spirit. Looking back, what most of us wish to see is a worthwhile journey toward creating a sense of self we are proud of and satisfied with.
By teaching ourselves to savour the journey as much as the fleeting state of arrival and by learning to value more than just measurable material outcome, we can begin to approach failure, learning and growth in a completely different way. The road is long, destinations are never fixed points of arrival, and in the end, all we have is the journey itself. Growing into a life of meaning and value is not about all the places we arrive at but instead about learning how to become a better traveller.
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