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Success: Living to Work or Working to Live?

Success: Living to Work or Working to Live?

Monica Ardisson considers the true definition of success

Let me begin by recognising that, of course, on a personal scale, our criteria for achieving self-fulfilment is relative to the individual and differs from person to person. However, from a collective point of view, within the varying social spheres of the UK, I believe our definition of success to be almost exclusively financial. It wasn’t until I moved to southern Spain that the flaws of this definition really became apparent; hence my attempt here to put pen to paper and illustrate this cultural disparity.

Studying at a prestigious, world-leading university while living in the world’s epicentre for opportunites and career prospects, success was a definition which to me, had always remained unambiguous. The discourse with which we are surrounded is so highly charged with financial greed and the desire to conform to an elitist, dog-eat-dog structure of success.

I understand how this British concept of success might come about: a high-earning career means consequent monetary gain, and though this monetary gain provides ease of lifestyle, more significantly it is a means of self-fulfilment and exercising one’s full potential. No one is necessarily to blame for our interpretation of success, and I’m not condemning it, as this attitude certainly has its advantages; it’s merely a symptom of our cultural patterns. Essentially, the issue that stood out to me is how as my university life progressed, I became subliminally and increasingly subject to the conditioning of a demographic who has lost sight of the fact that the concept of success is, in fact, multi-faceted.

Often it is not until we remove ourselves from familiarity that we can have a fresh perspective on things that we would otherwise accept as a given.

Until I stepped out of this social sphere and lived amongst a culture whose success is defined with a far less capitalist emphasis, I had never really challenged the way of life to which I was accustomed. My most valuable observation extracted from living in Córdoba was how their success is measured from within rather than from the outside. Spaniards, at least from my experience in the south, view their careers simply as a vehicle to facilitate a happy social life surrounded by their loved ones. A career is a means to reach this happiness rather than defining the happiness per se, that is to say, that the life  external to their day-to-day job is where their success is measured.

I was constantly surrounded by less stress, less pressure and less urgency to chase an exclusively monetary goal. I remember reflecting on how utopian this way of life felt and my instinctive reaction was scepticism. I questioned why we don’t all live like this, and I came to the conclusion that the only answer was that it must be too good to be true. I decided that such a happy way of life must be unsustainable, and other things must be compromised; lack of opportunity or fewer pathways to success. Indeed, when viewed from an economic perspective, perhaps this is true; but what is key here is that the success I was thinking of was only the success I had been taught.

In essence, the lesson extracted from this is that culture is reciprocal, and we cannot value a way of life based on a purely capitalist perspective. As much as a country’s economic efficiency is seen as indicative of its success, it is pompous and bigoted to shun the way other countries have successfully mastered the pathway to a happy life.

Granted, other influencing factors such as constant sunshine in southern Spain, in my example, will have an effect on attitude and environment. However, in an ideal world, we would use cultural reciprocity to our advantage and find a middle-ground; a balance between efficiency of work ethic and the importance of life being for living and not for working.

I would be lying if I said that I returned to London after my year abroad with a totally Mediterranean approach to my postgraduate prospects, I have been too highly conditioned to do a 180° turn. What I did gain, though, is the ability to analyse the subject from a more philosophical approach, and a more malleable interpretation of what success really means.

Monica Ardisson
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