A Bugatti and Maybach filled garage, a home on Banana Island, quarterly shopping trip to Rodeo Drive, the West End and Boulevard Haussmann, a luxury high rise apartment in Dubai, another white picket fenced home in America or even a mansion in a gated suburb and oh, let’s not forget the private jet. These all sounds like the trappings of success, of immense wealth and a fancy jet set life many would die to live. While some people describe success as running their own company and being free, to others, success is financial reward, however attained, for something they love doing. Success to some is a prestigious title, a labeled parking space and a penthouse office.
Ideas of what success is, is perpetually thrown at us by parents, friends, society, the media, schools and even spouses. Everyone wants to run their own business at some point, but there’s need for caution before going into self employment and invariably living someone else’s definition of success. I was recently invited to lunch in a lovely, quiet restaurant on the Island with some long lost girlfriends. We were all mostly busy professionals, so it took quite some effort and determination to get us all together. After initial pleasantries and some catching up, our conversation stirred to the issue of true success. The girls had had enough motivational speeches, business lectures, workshops, seminars/symposium, colloquium on living their passion and making a success of it. I was particularly drawn to this subject of success since the definition is sometimes as personal as one’s DNA. I, personally had seen the Oprah Winfrey, Sir Alan Sugar and the Barack Obamas of this world, and countless others that the media portrays as true success, and formed my own definition. Success, to me has a lot to do with contentment, some wealth wouldn’t hurt and then giving back to the society. I recently read a newspaper where a popular politician mentioned something he read about success being “how your children describe you to their best friends”. Apparently, as long as the children are happy, you are successful. For real?
Anthony Robbins in “Awaken The Giant Within” posited that, success truly is a result of good judgment. Good judgment is a result of experience, and experience is a result of bad judgment. In order to succeed, you must have long term focus. Most of the challenges that we have in our personal lives – like indulging constantly in overeating, or smoking, or feeling overwhelmed, and giving up on our dreams- come from short term focus. Success and failure are not overnight experiences. It’s all the small decisions along the way that cause people to fail. It’s failure to follow up. It’s failure to take action. It’s failure to persist. It’s failure to manage our mental and emotional states. It’s failure to control what we focus on. Conversely, success is a result of making small decisions; deciding to hold yourself to a higher standard, deciding to contribute, deciding to feed your mind, rather than allowing the environment to control you. These small decisions create the life experience we call success. He also mentions that, “the key to success is to create a pattern of movement that creates confidence, sense of strength, flexibility, a sense of personal power, and fun. He defined success as ‘to live your life in a way that causes you to feel tons of pleasure and very little pain’. He described success has processional.
Anthony Robbins was invariably saying that success is in sync with the habits we develop over time. Steven R. Covey in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People likened success to our sense of personal security. Personal Security he says comes from within us. It comes from accurate paradigms and correct principles deep in our heart and mind. It comes from inside out congruence, from living a life of integrity in which our daily habit reflect our deepest values. Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers: The Story of Success, made a convincing account on success arising out of a steady accumulation of advantages: when and where you are born, what your parents did for a living, and what the circumstances of your upbringing; were all make a difference in how well you do in the world. He also mentioned traditions and attitude we inherit from our forebears playing the same role. This has to do with ones habit yet again.
I wanted to hear my friends’ points of view. After all, those views were from foreigners, and there’s always a Nigerian twist to everything under the sun. Sitting with me on that lovely afternoon was a Brand Manager of a popular consumer product, an IT buff, an Insurance Executive, an entrepreneur and two self professed home engineers. The house wives opined that a successful life was constructed around going to good schools, getting married, having one’s biological children, living in comfort and dying gracefully. Wow! The IT professional made a convincing argument that success was making a difference. To her a successful man was Steve Jobs (or Carly Fiorina), she regaled us with Job’s life history, how he never invented the computer but made it more fun, sleeker, and more handy. If anyone wrote the history of the 21st century, she said, these computer geniuses would be mentioned somewhere. She concluded her speech on how determined she was in making her own impact in the IT world. The Insurance executive was clearly fascinated about climbing the corporate ladder and was hopeful that in no time, Nigeria would be developed enough and every asset imaginable would be insured – jewelries, paintings, even our singers would insure their voices. She believed Nigerians would have life insurance like the average American. To the entrepreneur, true success was Dangote! Starting a business from little and building it from the ground up. Forming a business empire to her was true success. She was sure any Dangote child or relative in the next hundred years would have no business looking for a job like we all do. This, to her was unequivocally achieved by one man’s vision, daring to step out, laying a foundation, building a future and consequently conquering the world.
My Brand Manager friend defined success as being her ability to ingrain a particular product or service in the minds of people. She hopes to eventually create her own brand, activate it, put her stamp, a different spin, a signature, and even her personality on the brand a la Richard Branson. At this juncture, I must add that all the girls acknowledged the need to be successful in the home front - be a great wife, an excellent mum and generally a homemaker. What dreamers! Everyone had spoken when I chipped in my own opinion of true success as being grateful for being alive and healthy. The room erupted in laughter. I had obviously over simplified the whole subject. Sometimes, there’s just the need to calm down, acknowledge Allah (SWT) and be grateful.
As Muslims, true success is love of Almighty Allah (SWT), worshiping Him, piety, seeking knowledge and being charitable. The Quran says ‘everyone shall taste death, and only on the Day of Resurrection shall you be paid your wages in full. And whoever is removed away from the Fire and admitted to paradise, he indeed is successful. The life of this world is only the enjoyment of deception’´ (Q13:185). While I acknowledge the need to be driven, to dream, to have a desire, to be visionary, focused, and ultimately finding one’s true purpose, these remain ephemeral and a successful life is nothing if the hereafter is jeopardized. What I saw on that table, that afternoon, were people caught up in making an impact, a difference in this world and not really working towards a special place when eventuality knocks on the door. Truth is, eventuality is so sure, and no one knows when. I respect hard work, being visionary and leading an exemplary life, but there’s the need to spend valuable time in meaningful service to the Almighty, after all, a successful woman is supplicated for, praised by her husband, loved by her neighbours and respected by her friends. Allahu Alam.