Success and happiness are two of the most ardently-desired life goals, yet they are also the most elusive and indefinable. What seemed like success in youth may seem like folly with age, or we may be surprised with what makes us happy as we mature. We sat down for an in-depth with discussion with four students at The British School of Beijing (BSB) to find out how those on the cusp of adulthood view success, and whether it goes hand-in-hand with happiness.
How do you define success?
Matthew: Doing what you want to do.
Randy: Making a living from doing what you want to do.
Lucy: But doing it well.
Samantha: To the best of your abilities.
How does society define and measure success?
Samantha: The status you have in life.
Randy: Material wealth.
Matthew: Prestige. The prime minister doesn’t make much money, but nevertheless he’s seen to be quite successful.
Lucy: How hard you’ve worked to get up there, being promoted.
Samantha: How well-known you are in the world.
Matthew: You’ve succeeded when you have respect from your peers.
Is the measure of success different in your country of origin?
Samantha: Success can vary for different people. For a farmer, maybe success is having the most cows in his country. Perhaps for a politician, it’s being well-known among the government.
Matthew: In the UK, civil servants and politicians get paid less than their counterparts in business, whereas in China, it’s the other way around.
Randy: In China, they’re more focused on material possessions. If you’re a blue-collar worker, in China you are often looked down upon. In Australia, it’s respectable work.
Samantha: In the Netherlands, it’s complicated. It’s your own fight in the world, one man for himself.
Do males and females have different standards of success?
Randy: Definitely. The accepted standard for males is to be the
provider in a family, so more is required of the man in the family than it is of the female.
Matthew: I would disagree. Although we are in a habit of males providing and wives taking care of the family, when the role is reversed, it can be just as fulfilling for both the man taking care of his family and the woman out in the workplace.
Samantha: Women want to be powerful and show that they can have the same opportunities as men and earn respect. For men, it means there’s more competition now.
Lucy: Men don’t have as much power as they used to. A woman can earn more than her husband, and now he doesn’t have to work.
Samantha: Women might still not be at a higher rank than a man and it wouldn’t really matter because they [don’t have to]. But if a man is not earning as much as his wife, they’re seen as perhaps not a great man.
Matthew: I have a stay-at-home dad.
Samantha: People respect that, but there are people who aren’t used to it.
How do you know when you’ve succeeded at something?
Randy: I think it’s when you think you’re happy with yourself and where you are in life. Obviously that takes into account how others perceive you, because that affects your happiness too. But if the person is happy with where they are in life, I would say that person has succeeded.
Matthew: I think hopefully you never know you’ve succeeded. Because what are you going to do then?
What happens after you have succeeded?
Lucy: Try to find something else to succeed at.
Randy: I think success isn’t something you reach full stop. You’re
always going to come across new things you’re going to want to achieve and reach. You may have succeeded with your current goal, but that doesn’t mean you’re done with life.
Is happiness the same as success?
Lucy: I think you can be successful in a job, but not be happy with it.
Samantha: I agree with Lucy. If you [become]the CEO, you’re happy you’ve reached that but after a while you might not be happy anymore. Happiness wears off once you’ve lost interest.
Randy: I think it’s [how you define success]. For example, you could be financially successful and not be happy at all, but for me I don’t think you can be truly successful in life without being happy.
Do you think that most people become successful?
Lucy: I think maybe in a job no, but in life, yes. Like this person is in a job and they’re doing well in it, but they’re not totally successful. But [if]they have a family [and]they’re happy, then they’re successful.
Randy: No, not everybody can truly be successful, but it depends how you look at it.
Samantha: I think yes, everyone [reaches]success multiple times [and]not just once. And it just continues until the end of life.
Matthew: I think we’re hard-wired to be dissatisfied with our success. It grows old. You get over it and then you’re no longer happy with what you did when you’re 30 and now you’re 40, and what was success once isn’t success any more. The goal post is always moving.
This article is excerpted from beijingkids December 2012 issue. View it in PDF form here or contact email@example.com to find out where you can pick up your free copy.