Judging success – An exercise

The awesome Joshua Becker has posted this list on Becoming Minimalist a  long time ago, but I discovered it last week, and it has had me thinking ever since.

His point is that too often we pass judgement on the achievements of others based on a wrong set of values. Measurements such as income, physical possessions (and I would add, enviable around-the world backpacking trips and Twitter followers).  But those indicators may not be relevant to what life really is about. In a quick test, you can ask people, how they define a good life next time you are at a dinner party. I have to admit, owning a matching set of Smeg household appliances rarely makes the list, no matter how deep a twinge of longing I feel every time I am near one of those foxy little things.

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Just LOOK AT THEM. (credit)

Thus, in judging others and ourselves, we often get sidetracked by forgetting about the original goal.  This is not unique to our personal lives, but it something that I see a lot in my work with NGOs as well. I think, humans may just be really rubbish at keeping invisible and long-term objectives in mind. In the case of not-for-profits, even though an organisation may be striving to, say, combat malaria in a developing country, they often find themselves discussing Facebook likes and media appearances (or, even worse, internal tussles) a big chunk of their time, often without making the link with their ultimate goal – less malaria.

So, if we aim to live the Good Life, who is it that we should envy, and look to as examples? I copied the entirety of Joshua’s list below because it is so beautifully written and inspirational.

1. Character in solitude. Our character is best revealed not in the the public eye, but in private. What we do when nobody is looking is the truest mark of our character. And those who display character in the dark will always reflect it in the light.

2. Contentment in circumstance. Often times, contentment remains elusive for both the rich and the poor. It is a struggle for humanity no matter their lot in life. Rich is the man or woman who can find contentment in either circumstance.

3. Courage during adversity. Courage can only be revealed when it is required. And only those who have displayed it and acted upon it during adversity can lay claim to its possession. This adversity can take on many different forms, but courage will always look the same: action in the face of fear.

4. Faithfulness in commitment. Those whose words are true ought to be highly lifted up in our world today. Whether our word is given with a handshake, a contract, or a wedding ring, those who hold true to their oaths are worthy of commendation.

5. Generosity in abundance. To those who have received much, much should be given away. Often times, this abundance comes in forms other than material possessions. And in that way, we each have been given much… and each ought to be generous in our use of it.

6. Graciousness towards others. Those who routinely extend grace to others are among my greatest heroes. They have a healthy realization that this world is largely unfair, that people come from a variety of backgrounds, and that nobody is truly self-made… even themselves. As a result, they are quick to extend grace and mercy to others.

7. Gratitude despite circumstance. Those who can find enough good in any circumstance to express gratitude are typically focused on the right things. And those who are focused on the right things tend to bend their lives towards those things… and draw others along with them.

8. Honesty in deprivation. It is when we are deprived of something desired that honesty is the most difficult. Whether we are deprived of something physical or intangible (like a desired outcome), dishonesty is often used to quickly take gain of something. Those who show honesty during deprivation reveal how highly they esteem it.

9. Hope during heartache. When heartache cuts at such a deep level that simple optimism is not enough… only hope can emerge. When it does, it is undeniably from a source far greater than ourselves. And those who find it, discover one of the greatest powers in the universe.

10. Humility in accomplishment. Those who are quick to deflect praise in accomplishment ought to be first in receiving it.

11. Inspiration in relationship. We are all in relationship with others – sometimes in person, sometimes in print, sometimes in other ways. These relationships should not be used solely for personal gain but for bringing out the best in others. And those who inspire others to become the best they can be should be gifted with more and more and more relationships.

12. Integrity in the details. Integrity is found in the details. Those who show integrity in the little things of life will typically display it in the bigger things as well.

13. Kindness to the weak. It is usually the weakest among us that are in most need of our kindness… and yet they receive it the least because they have no way to immediately repay it. When kindness is only shown for the sake of repayment, it becomes an investment and is no longer true kindness. Our true measure of kindness is shown in how we treat those who will never repay us.

14. Love for enemies. Anybody can love a friend. Anybody can love those who treat us well… and everybody does. But it takes a special type of person to extend love towards those who treat us unjustly.

15. Optimism towards others. See the good in everyone. There is simply no way to bring out the best in others if you haven’t seen it first.

16. Perseverance in failure. Failure reveals much about our heart. It reveals our character, our humility, and our perseverance. We will all at some point face failure. And those who get back up and try again ought to be esteemed in our mind.

17. Purity in opportunity. While character is revealed in solitude and integrity is revealed in the details, purity is revealed in the face of opportunity. When dishonest gain (money, power, sex, etc.) presents itself, those who choose purity ought to be praised. Not only do they personally sleep better at night, but they make this world a better place for all of us.

18.Respect for authority. Authority brings order to a world of disorder. Certainly there are numerous examples throughout history (and today) of proper timing in overthrowing authority that oppresses its subjects. But in most cases, authority brings reason and order… and it should be allowed to do so.

19. Responsibility for mistake. From the weakest to the strongest, we all love to pass the blame. I can see it in my 5-year old daughter and I can see it in my government leaders. We are a people that are slow to accept responsibility for our mistakes. This is unfortunate. Because only those who can admit their mistakes have the opportunity to learn from them.

20. Self-control in addiction. We are a people that too often give control of our most precious asset to another. We fall under the influence of substances, possessions, or entertainment. When we do, our life is no longer our own. And those who retain self-control in the face of addiction ought to be recognized as unique and judged accordingly.

Reflecting on how we ourselves are doing on these values can be such an important tool in self-discovery. I have come up with a self-assessment tool based on the Wheel of Life.  You can print it out and use it in a meditation session (or while having breakfast/ waiting for the bus, whatever works for you!) to assess where you are on each of the twenty characteristics. It is also a fun colouring for adults exercise.

Keep in mind, there is no objective “maximum”to any of these values- it is just based on how far you think you could go, and how far you have come. It can also be interesting to ask someone who knows you really well, to give you some feedback on your scores. If you choose to do this, be ready to make yourself rather vulnerable in front of the feedback person. At the same time, you are very likely to hear some unexpected praise.

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I wonder what Spiderman would make of this exercise

Once you have your wheel, I suggest you do the following:

  1. See where is your strong point. Is this a key value in your life? How has this value helped you become who you are today? How do you exercise and nourish this side of yourself? Were you aware of this aspect of your personality before?
  2. Now look at the segments with a lower score. Where is it that do you have some way to go? Any surprises here? How do you think building up these values could help you in your journey? Find some examples where you have used this value before, and see how you could build on those experiences to make this a more visible aspect of your life.
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I filled in mine during a break between a million e-mails and dripping orange juice into my keyboard

How do you define success in others? And yourself?

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