I keep in constant touch with a lot of old high school buddies who, by what seems to be society's standards, have "made it." Through an ongoing process of hard work, personal development, and self-actualization, they have shaped themselves into successful professionals with incredibly prosperous, challenging careers. They own big homes, drive high-end luxury and sports cars, network constantly with industry big-wigs, and travel around the world. It seemed to me that they had everything they ever dreamed of, and perhaps more than they ever wanted.
And yet they all have one thing in common: When I asked them whether they would trade anything in the world for the incredible lifestyles and careers they have, they all give me the same answer."Eight hours of quality sleep a night, and spending more time with my family."
It really forced me into a paradigm shift; here were all these people I looked to for inspiration and success, and yet they didn't hesitate in a second to trade it in for something so humble. Something I often get to enjoy but have started to think that all this time I've been taking it for granted. Moreover, it got me to revisit a question I have been thinking about for a while, and ponder more and more each day:What does it really mean to be successful?
I used to think being successful meant having a big house, a ten car garage, and all the money in the world, back when I was more naive and unfamiliar with the effort necessary to acquire all those things. I have since learned that success means very different things to different people. If you're a caveman, success means bringing down a mammoth to feed and clothe and provide housing for your tribe. If you're a farmer, success means a bountiful and ripe harvest. If you're an executive, success is closing a massive deal or making a brilliant decision that provides growth and profits for your business.
And if you're a family man, success is spending time with your children and preparing them to be successful in life, and watching as they grow up, move on to their independent lives, and take on the world.
I haven't had kids yet, so my opinion on this is lacking in practical experience. However, if there's one thing I'm pretty certain of, I think a big part of what drives people to have children is the desire to reconnect with their past selves. An inner desire to return to the more innocent days of childhood, and bringing someone new into the world to share the good old days with. It's an experience that becomes all the more special when that person happens to be your own flesh and blood, and you have the opportunity to mentor your child to become successful in life and enjoy all the opportunities you feel you may have missed out on.
It is because I feel that a parents' child is their own literal flesh and blood, that it is all the more necessary to make the limited time they enjoy together meaningful and special. From my own experience, 18 years may seem long, but they are gone before you realize it. The amount of bonding and quality time a parent and child experience together is crucial to how a child will succeed in life, as the behaviors and environment we grow up with in the formative years we spend with our parents will shape every aspect of who we turn out to be, whether consciously or subconsciously.
Spending time together in an increasingly electronic age is becoming difficult when most of us are now tethered to a smart phone, hunched before a computer, or on the run. The busy and hectic pace of modern life seems to be rooted in an increasing human dependence on technology, which has proven itself a blessing and a curse. Modern parents seem exasperated and overworked as they deal with the increasing demands of making ends meet and struggling to keep up with juggling family and work. Often times they will resort to buying kids video games to keep them occupied and buying them fast food since it's the only thing they can have ready on such short notice. It is a sad reality in this fast paced "modern" society that many parents are often too busy to be there for their kids.
The results of this modern lifestyle are catastrophic, taking its toll on parents and especially kids. This may be a stretch, but sometimes I suspect a lot of busy parents might buy their kids video games just to keep them occupied and out of the way. They buy their kids fast food full of processed ingredients and addictive sugars as an alternate means of showing affection for them, in place of the healthy home cooking they would otherwise do if they only had the time. I'm getting the feeling that this is some part of what has driven society to become increasingly dependent on technology for amusement and distraction, increasingly distant from others as a result of so much electronic communication taking the place of face time, and increasingly disconnected from family life. Never before has society been so united, and yet so isolated as a result.
And for the first time in generations, or perhaps even history, the youth of today's generation are expected to live shorter lives than their parents. That fact alone is an alarming wakeup call that something has to be done.
I'm not suggesting that anyone quit their job to go to Disneyland 24/7 with their children; I'd just like to revisit the meaning of success. It would certainly be awesome to have a lot of nice things, but those fancy cars and big houses aren't things you'll be wishing you had when you are on your deathbed with loved ones (if you are lucky enough these days to be able to enjoy old age). In any case, those things are merely the by-products of success...NOT the end result.
Success is about setting and achieving goals. It means pushing one's boundaries to become the best version of oneself, taking baby steps day by difficult day. Most of all, it means leaving an impact by being remembered as a positive influence on others, and I believe there is no one that anyone will impact more significantly than their own children. The quality time, bonding, and support that parents offer their children will impact every bit of success they enjoy in the world, and every bit of success adults enjoy as parents.
And so, to the parents of these crazy modern times: It's okay, and even admirable, to work hard. It's fine to feel overwhelmed sometimes when life gets hectic, as it often does today. But when you have a child, those eighteen years come and go, and before you know it the children you welcomed into the world that day at the hospital are suddenly out of the house and facing the world, whether they are prepared for it or not. So take every precious opportunity you have to enjoy the short time you have together, be a valued mentor, create a positive impact, and spend some quality playtime bonding.
The world is your oyster, so take your children's hands in your own and enjoy whatever success means to you together.
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