As we trudge through the transformative, tumultuous, and sometimes traumatic years of our twenties with our engines operating at full steam, it often seems to be that an inevitable fate is bound to befall us at some point in time. It might occur at a particular moment in which we suddenly find ourselves running on autopilot mode, thereby serving as a catalyst in sparking off an existential crisis where we begin questioning our raison d’être.
Under the subtle yet strong influence of underlying messages propagated by a medley of external voices, have we subconsciously allowed conventionally defined notions of success to diffuse into our minds over time, insofar as we unquestioningly believe that our toils and tribulations of everyday are in fact leading us onward, forwards, and towards the one, eventual goal and vision that we all ultimately aspire?
As Alain de Botton remarked in his book, Status Anxiety:
Our minds are susceptible to the influence of external voices telling us what we require to be satisfied, voices that may drown out the faint sounds emitted by our souls and distract us from the careful, arduous task of accurately naming our priorities.
How should we, then, go about identifying our priorities? Perhaps, the first and most fundamental question to ask ourselves is this:
What does success mean to you, and is your existing notion of success your very own?
Do you define success in the form of a lavish apartment, a fancy car, or the ability to continually possess the latest and most up-to-date in consumer, material goods? Does success present itself to you in the form of a lucrative, prestigious job that whisks away all semblance of personal time you could have, leaving no room for personal pursuits? Or would you identify a successful man on the basis of his having lived an impassioned, meaningful, and worthwhile life, who endlessly strives to make a positive difference in all that he does?
Success takes on a different definition in each of our individual dictionaries. To one, it could mean becoming a world-class ice-skater, a travel writer who is able to write freely without constraints, or, a marine biologist living on an abandoned island deeply engaged in one’s own research. Yet to another, success could mean being a good mother, wife, or role model. Regardless of the diversity of these interpretations of success, the crux is to endeavour to seek for ourselves our own personal definitions of what success entails, and subsequently, to strive towards it as best as we can.
In the same spirit, the Holstee Manifesto declares:
Here we now stand, basking in the scintillating promise of possibilities. On this precious, precarious cusp of life, we wield the power to make our own decisions and choices, which would in turn determine our eventual success in actualising the desirable could-bes in our lives, or conversely, our failures, as we might as easily fall into the dark abyss of could-have-beens.
Turn a full circle: 360 degrees, infinite possibilities. Which direction would you take?
Each small, seemingly imperceptible step that we now choose, every outwardly ordinary decision that we now make, in fact commands the tremendous power to amplify themselves in the resulting ripples of our lives, serving as a multiplier effect in the course of our lives thereafter. And therein lies the paramount importance of making conscious choices, pursuing our passions, and playing an active role in actualising our desired could-bes particularly at this stage of our lives.
A single decision made today could shift the direction towards which we chart by a mere degree at this point in time, but were we to fast forward our lives by a decade or two, this difference of one degree in our nascent trajectories could in fact lead us to drastically different outcomes, as we find ourselves facing two radically disparate beings with potentially contrasting lifestyles and perspectives, either of whom could be us of the future. At this point, one might even baulk at the prospect of these divergent outcomes having once began at the same starting line.
It used to be thought that the events that changed the world were things like big bombs, maniac politicians, huge earthquakes, or vast population movements, but […] the things that really change the world, according to Chaos theory, are the tiny things. A butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazonian jungle, and subsequently a storm ravages half of Europe.
– Neil Gaiman
We are all but airplanes, beginning our journeys on the same runways, each of us choosing a different direction towards which to fly. We take our places, and we take off on our individual paths, lifting from the cement, finding ourselves free from the ground, buoyant, flying. Someone else’s flight coordinates could have differed from yours by just a few degrees, but today, your aircraft might be en route to Germany, approaching Europe, while the other glimpses the peaks of Kilimanjaro in the distance.
As we soar towards our respective visions, may we always be mindful to develop our own compasses in life, to regularly recalibrate our coordinates, and most of all, to ceaselessly question the validity and authenticity of our notions of success. Ultimately, it is only in so doing are we able to truly become the authors of our very own ambitions.