Challenging Our Idea of Success

There is a danger of over-investment in the idea of ‘success’. It’s natural to want to do well-enough around work. But career can be a magnet for other hopes that don’t really belong in this area. One comes to believe that if only things go well in terms of career or money, many other problems will be solved too. 

Meritocratic attitudes invite the misleading thought that how you do at work is a measure of your global worth; advertising relentlessly projects the thought that psychological qualities like friendship, good relationships, serenity and a sense of fun are tied to financial prosperity (and hence to career success). These kinds of thoughts are not explicitly running through our heads but reflection on our behaviour may indicate that we act as if we believe such things as:

  • If I succeed at work, I will deserve to be loved.
  • I will stop feeling lonely when I’ve made it.
  • The holiday will be great – if only we stay in luxury.
  • High status means happiness.


Once such beliefs have been made explicit they can be put to the test. For instance: other people can succeed, but not me. Is it true? Examine it like a statement in court. What evidence supports this? What are all the things that could be said in its favour and assess their plausibility.


  • If I succeed, what will happen is… (both negative and positive)  
  • By succeeding, I’d love to please…
  • The person who might (secretly) be most dismayed by my success would be… 
  • People who are successful are typically…
  • I wouldn’t want to be a success because..

Discover more tips for self-understanding in our class on Self Awareness.

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