Success can be about more than just your job

Imagine finding your boss lying on the floor of her office in a pool of her own blood.

That’s exactly what happened on the morning of April 6, 2007, when Arianna Huffington, the editor in chief of the Huffington Post, hit her head on the corner of her desk, resulting in a cut eye and a broken cheekbone. She had collapsed because of exhaustion and lack of sleep. As she waited in the emergency room, she asked herself, “Is this really success?”

Most of us in the UAE are career-minded by the very nature of being here. But our work-life balance is out of kilter, with recent studies revealing that more than two-thirds of professionals feel obliged to work overtime for no financial reward or days off in lieu.

Our traditional notion of success is defined by two things – money and power. We still believe that being plugged in for 18-hours a day and available on weekends is the key to success – to work beyond our limits, to sleep less, to do more.

There are physiological reasons for us acting in this way. When we check things off the to-do list or get through project milestones, our brain releases dopamine, a chemical that motivates us to achieve incremental goals and rewards motivated behaviour. It makes us feel good. However, it’s highly addictive, and in unhealthy organisational systems can lead to an increase in cortisol (stress, anxiety), which inhibits oxytocin and thereby reduces our capacity for empathy and trust.

Our work has become to dominate everything, as if that defines us. We take better care of our smartphones and cars than we do ourselves. We plan our day around recharging our devices, but we rarely do the same with ourselves. By acting this way, we can aspire to wealth and power. But does that really make us successful? If you have been to a memorial lately, you will have noticed that eulogies have very little to do with our LinkedIn profiles.

As Ms Huffington says: “This idea of success can work – or at least appear to work – in the short term. But over the long term, money and power by themselves are like a two-legged stool. You can balance on them for a while, but eventually you’re going to topple over.”

The stool is missing its third leg – well-being. We need a third metric for defining success if we are to live a healthy, productive, and meaningful life.

Ms Huffington describes the four pillars that enable her to lead a good life, and none of them are work:

• Well-being: More than just enjoying life, we should engage in activities that instil peace and poignancy while also offering a recharge – sleep, walking, relaxation, meditation.

• Wisdom: Wisdom is different from simply having a high IQ. We must audit our lives and extract from our experiences the lessons that will guide us forward.

• Wonder: There is so much innate wonder around us to which the perils of work and stress make us blind. Re-opening our eyes is essential to enjoying our lives.

• Giving: We should strive to celebrate go-givers as much as go-getters. We should strive to include more giving in our lives. After all, research has shown that giving is good for your health.

In this age of digital hyper-connectivity, we need to learn how to disconnect from technology and reconnect with ourselves. We are wired 24/7, waking up next to our smart phones, texting and driving, watching TV while we eat our dinner.

It’s time for us all to be more mindful and present in our lives. Don’t just go out there and climb the ladder of success. Instead, redefine success, because the world so desperately needs it. Try sleeping for eight hours a night. Practice mindfulness – start taking breaks out of your day where you devote time just to yourself. Banish LCD screens temporarily, take a long walk, experience digital-free hours to experience deeper connections with people. You’ll notice and realise things you didn’t before because you were too busy staring at that screen.

After all, the world is full of wonders. All you have to do is look up.

Samie Al Achrafi is the chief executive of Marmalade Fish, a global culture change consultancy in Dubai.

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