Most of us start our lives with a hardwired belief that life is a series of races — racing strong for grades, climbing up the corporate ladder, having material possessions to be happy and the race continues with helping our kids to have good head starts in their races of life.
Everyone races in the same race. It is a finite mindset. We need to change and redefine the rules of the races and our life journey to what we want and we need to know what we want.
There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”
I am not the wise old fish. The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. — David Foster Wallace
Racing with other people’s definition of success
When young, with little understanding of the world, our lives were often conditioned and shaped by the expectations of our parents, extended family, our education system, friends and society at large. We tend to accept them as norms and form our expectations. We study hard (whether we like the subjects or not) to get good grades, get into a reputable university with a course that has good job prospects and again, study hard to score well in the cohort. A good education is the (only) path to a good career. Thereafter, we hope to get a good job and have a loving family of our own. Everything is set and we believed that we are destined for a good life and live happily ever after (so as the story goes).
Every parent wants their children to do well: be the pride of the family and succeed; have a comfortable life and do not need to suffer. It is a standard script especially with Asian parents that most of us follow and others expect.
Racing for grades
Most education systems put everyone through the same subjects (regardless of whether we like those subjects or not) and examinations for many years. It is one race that measures us the same way through a large part of formative years that many may think there is indeed one way to succeed and the examinations define our intelligence.
Next, a rat race up the corporate ladder for status and money
Stepping into the working society, job titles and pay-checks become the measurements through our LinkedIn and materials manifestation such as the house(s) we bought, the car we drive, our holidays and any other material cues (watches, phones, holidays) to show our success through gatherings and social media such as Facebook and Instagram. From the race for grades to the corporate rat race, we want to do well in our career and materially. For those who are competitive and ambitious, it will be a race to good companies and up the corporate ladder fast to senior/management positions with good salaries, shares options, bonuses and perks. Wealth, power, authority and fame become trophies of success.
The race continues as the batons are passed to our kids where our expectations are for them to race and win their races of life better than us. As a result, society gets more competitive.
Falling behind the race
The stronger we believe there is a “standard” race of life that measures our lives and success, we may feel for being not good enough and there are many such periods. In education, we did not get into university, did not graduate from a good university, not able to get into a good course and good grades. In our careers, we may not be good enough to get into good companies and be promoted into leadership positions as fast as our peers. In social life, we do not have the type of housing, cars and possessions as our peers.
The stronger we believe in these expectations and the weaker our own belief in our own worth, we may feel lousy, doubt our worth, develop low self-esteem that we are not as smart and good as others, and worse if we accept these as they are. This can become a self-limiting vicious loop to feed the belief that we are not good and accept the status quo that we cannot get better.
“No matter what you do, someone won’t be pleased. Someone will think your choices are wrong. And someone will tell you what you should do instead. No matter which path you take, someone will seem to be doing better. Someone will have more than you. And someone else’s life may look more impressive on paper. If you’re being true to yourself, none of that will matter because you’ll have something more satisfying than approval and the illusion of “success”: a life that feels right for you, based on your own wants, needs, values, and priorities.” — Lori Deschene
Ahead in the race and not happy
Some can achieve the expectations and deem them successful. With society’s yardstick of success, they are the model of success. However, they may not be happy though they are perceived by others as successful. They may not like what they study and work though it is deemed as the “right and successful” thing to do. Their success could be at the expense of sacrifices made in other aspects of life. With greater success, the trade-off will be higher to change and step out even though they know that life can be a worse drag. Only they will know whether they are enjoying the race as they are racing strong and how the race will end up to be if they continue.
Life becomes a hedonic treadmill. It is never enough, we want more.
Expectations are endless if we keep comparing ourselves with others and chasing after material possessions. We always want more. It is impossible to live up to every expectation. We end up feeling miserable and not happy.
At some point, I realized that I had to give up other people’s definition of success. This is one of the most difficult things to give up because it is so deeply embedded in our cultural narratives that it becomes the standard by which we measure our lives. Even as entrepreneurs we have collectively agreed that fame and fortune are the markers of success.
But, giving up other people’s definition of success is incredibly liberating and ultimately leads to the fullest expression of who you are and what matters to you. It’s not a one-time thing. It’s a daily habit of comparing less and creating more.
There will always be someone who makes more money than you do. There will always be someone who is better looking than you are. There will always be someone who has more talent than you have. Be it money, looks, intelligence, social status, material possessions, circumstances, or anything else, there will always be someone who has more of everything.
It does not matter.
You see, I learned a long time ago that life is not a race against other people. Life is a competition with yourself. One of the greatest achievements in life is to outperform yourself and to live your greatest life possible. For me, life is an endless quest to evolve into the best version of ourselves. What matters most is the love in our hearts and the fire in our bellies. Greatness lives in all of us. It really does. However, we must all find what it is that ignites our souls and we must suffer for our dreams. In our suffering, we will discover our greatness.
— Chatri Sityodtong
Life ≠ One size fits all. Know when to stop the races, let go and take the journey of being ourselves
Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom. — Aristotle
We are good enough and we need to know what is enough.
You alone are enough. You have nothing to prove to anyone. — Maya Angelou
Things do not have meaning. We assign meaning to everything. — Tony Robbins
The real question to ask ourselves is, “Why am I not feeling good enough?”. When we examine why we are feeling not good enough will reveal deeper truths about our fears and desires. It is our ego, status, standing, reputation and where we are in the pecking order. We want the praise and acceptance of our peers. We crave admiration.
The truth is that our worth should not be based on what others think of us. We can change our mindset and expectations by assigning a different meaning to events in our lives. We should stop asking “Why are we not good enough?” and start asking “How can we face our fears and live the life we desire?”. Be conscious of our limiting beliefs and the negative self-talk we have been having with ourselves.
When one’s expectations are reduced to zero, one really appreciates everything one does have. — Stephen Hawking
When we have a healthy sense of self-worth, we do not need to play the ‘I Am Better Than You’ game. We do not need to prove ourselves; we do our best. We have a better understanding of ourselves. A healthy sense of self-worth comes from realizing the true meaning of being perfect. It is good to know what we are good at and what we are happy with.
We are good enough. We take charge, take responsibility and persist to work towards our purpose.
The key to a great life is taking control of it and being responsible for your actions. — Blair Singer
You can be anything but you can’t be everything. When we compare ourselves to others, we’re often comparing their best features against our average ones. In short, we want to be the best.
We need to redefine expectations and know what is enough. Yes, more is better; this is a belief that many have and drive us throughout our lives. The “more” that was supposed to make life “better” can never be enough. More is not necessarily better, while “enough” is both supremely fulfilling and achievable. Only when we know what is enough will we have contentment with a more enriching life.
The secret to happiness is gratitude. Envy poisons happiness. I am grateful for what I have and not envy for what I do not have. I am grateful for my amazing marriage, good health, great friends and amazing business. — John Mackey, Founder and CEO, Whole Foods
Look within ourselves. Living our own lives.
If we believe that there is one “standard” race of life and there are winners and losers as a measure of our worth, that is a very limiting belief and finite mindset. Play your own game.
Life is a journey, not a destination.
Playing to someone else’s scoreboard is easy, that’s why a lot of people do it. But winning the wrong game is pointless and empty. We only have one life.
The most important things in life are internal, not external. Thinking about what matters to you is hard.
Frederick Herzberg asserts that the powerful motivator in our lives is not money; it is the opportunity to learn, grow in responsibilities, contribute to others, and be recognised for achievements.
Life is not all about earning money. Job is not our identity. Lasting happiness only comes from within by knowing what is enough and being contented. The 14th Dalai Lama summed it aptly when asked what surprised him most about humanity:
Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.
Focus and enjoy the process, the doings, mistakes made and lessons learnt as well as relationships and friendships made and developed than just the outcomes. Define our own journey and races.
YOLO: You only live once. We can change.
Follow a passion that you are like, enjoy and good at
“If you want to live an exceptional and extraordinary life, you have to give up many of the things that are part of a normal one.” — Srinivas Rao
We need to define our life, our happiness and our yardstick of success. It may take time to discover what we like, what we are good and believe in ourselves that it is possible.
Paradoxically, pursuing one’s interest and passion usually means working hard. However, as we enjoy it, we will find the long hours and huge efforts meaningful and enjoyable. Economically, we need to pursue and hone our passion and interests from a position of strength, especially as we want to develop them to be a source of income; our skills and business have to be good enough.
With the internet and technology, we can access information, knowledge, products, people and opportunities easily. We have more and more opportunities to learn and earn. It is a question of whether we want to pivot or continue to live the life we have been. We have the choice to change; much more than previous generations.
“When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up of people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it… Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.” — Steve Jobs
To change, we must be prepared to change; put effort and sacrifices to spend time to learn, plan and switch. The bigger the change and crossover, the greater the costs and things to give up. We can be too hard-wired with a high ego to let go and change. There are 3 things that we will need to give up: (a) security and certainty, (b) fear of judgement and yes, (c) other people’s definition of success. It will not happen by itself.
Developing the Infinite Mindset
Largely based on Infinite Life by Simon Sinek
Our lives are finite, but life is infinite. We are the finite players in the infinite game of life. We come and go, we’re born and we die, and life still continues with us or without us. — Simon Sinek
If we choose to live our lives with a finite mindset, it means we make our primary purpose to get richer or promoted faster than others. To live our lives with an infinite mindset means that we are driven to advance a Cause bigger than ourselves.
To live our lives with an infinite mindset is to live a life of service.
Having an Infinite Mindset means that we are driven by passion and interests to pursue a Cause with our lives that will benefit others — our family, friends, colleagues, and society at large.
Life needs not to be a race that everyone else is running to.
Define your own race. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.
Other related articles that may be of interest:
Redefining our meaning of money and life towards financial independence