Friday, June 5, 2015

Those wretched words, success and happiness

I came across that wretched word again yesterday: Success. It's been plaguing my news feeds on social media, magazine subscriptions, and now my leisure readings at the public library.

Before opening my first social media account in 2009 (I'm a late adapter, so what), my life was never measured by success. Instead, I viewed life as a learning process, much like the great philosopher Socrates. It wasn't until I started using social media, and a divorce after 19 years of marriage, that success became a continuous mental debate.

A survey of 2,000 women in Glamour magazine shows I'm not the only one thinking about limiting my life to accomplishments. In the survey, 64 percent of women stated that success was "very" and "extremely" important to them, although only 40 percent already felt successful and five percent never believed they'll accomplish that goal. What is impressive, however, is that 76 percent of the women who defined themselves as successful attributed it to self-confidence.

What set the self-defined successful women from the unbelievers is the value they placed on the word. Those who felt high levels of success placed an intrinsic value on their accomplishments, such as wanting to make a difference, as opposed to the women who measured success by outwardly appearances and a higher income.

A trend specialist interviewed for the survey pointed out that the oversharing culture has placed a huge burden on women to become super-accomplished. We are exposed to appearances online of friends and acquaintances that portray a life of endless opportunities and bliss. Social media has given women a platform to sell their strengths and minimize their setbacks, setting an unrealistic benchmark for their followers.

The survey was revealing because a majority of the women defined success using that other wretched word introduced after the social media age: happiness.  Like its partner, success, both are personal in nature and difficult to attribute to a set of established goals. What makes me happy and successful, for example, does not apply to another woman. We all set different standards to the words, so claiming that happiness makes someone successful is like trying to sell an ice cream diet to a woman suffering from low body image. If she's trying to shed a few pounds, having ice cream is not going to improve her self image or help her reach her ideal weight.

If anything, social media has grayed that fine line between the personal and public, naturally. It's also made many women feel that their success must align with other's perceptions and not their own personal standards. It's very similar to what fashion magazines did to the self image of young girls everywhere: make them feel inadequate because they don't measure up to a stated standard.

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