What’s real success?

I know the price of success: dedication, hard work and an unremitting devotion to the things you want to see happen.

Frank Lloyd Wright

Success… it is what we have been taught to pursue since our childhoods.  Whether it is to run faster, kick the ball farther, make more money, have a bigger house or a fancier title, the message is pretty clear.  Yet, success can be exceedingly fleeting.  You can have a good year finically, but the next one could be a ‘down’ year.  So, are you therefore less successful than you previously were? Further, success seems to be measured by comparison.   You’re either more successful or less successful than your neighbor, or your brother.  Implicitly or explicitly, success, by its very definition, is measured in competitive terms.  

Success is also typically measured in some form of tangible terms.  Whether it be money, jobs, titles, houses, cars or property, size matters when it comes to determining success.  

Success is also something we ‘actively’ pursue.  Whether it be climbing up the corporate ladder vying for that next promotion, climbing Mt. Everest, or winning an Olympic Gold Medal, it is something we chase.  How aggressively or actively we pursue success is governed by our ambition.  Not being aggressive or eager to be successful can quickly put us in the category of being ‘unambitious,’ or even lazy.  

Here’s the dilemma, however.  We can sometimes be perceived as unambitious or lazy, not because we don’t want to be successful, but because we’re not particularly interested in being successful doing what we’re doing.  We could be in the wrong job, or the wrong industry or career field.  Maybe we’d be more enthused in our pursuits if we were elsewhere. Being in the wrong place can not only make us unsuccessful, but leave us feeling unfulfilled and empty.

The individuals I wished to interview were chosen based on them being successful.  Since the original title of my book was going to include the term, ‘Achievers’ I was looking for achievers or over-achievers.  I wanted them to be not just successful, but  ‘unthinkably’ successful!  They were obviously super-ambitious.  I wanted to know the why’s and the how’s of their ambitions.  Surely there were bumps in the road.  Surely there were obstacles.  What was their motivation?  What was the difference between achieving ordinary success, and achieving unthinkable, uber success? What was their story?

It didn’t take long into my interviews to begin getting some answers.

Moustafa Hamwi was a co-founder of a communications firm involved in Dubai conducting media and entertainment events.  He was affiliated with a nightclub called the Cavalli Club, a $30 million restaurant-lounge designed by the infamous fashion designer Roberto Cavalli. He had 45 full-time employees, a 6,000 square feet office and partners.  As his patrons would say, ‘Moustafa rocks!’ By every tangible measure, he was living the dream.  Yet, when he spoke of his success, it was with a hollowness that was palpable.  He described himself as feeling empty inside, completely void of any sense of satisfaction.

He described himself feeling dread just in going to work every day.  That mega-successful lifestyle was leading him to a nervous breakdown.  He was the envy of every man and woman he encountered, yet described his life as ‘a golden cage.’ Eventually, he made the hard decision to stop the merry-go-round. He confronted a very painful decision… my money, or my life!

He found himself literally being held ransom… by himself.  

Governed by an amazingly simple question, he made that difficult decision.  His life was completely changed when he asked himself, ‘What am I doing with my life?’  His answer led him on a personal journey in search of passion, purpose and meaning in his life.  He abandoned his job and the high life in Dubai, and took a one-way ticket to India.  His new ambition became a search for happiness.

But even though he had  put his ‘high roller’ lifestyle aside, the effects were still lingering in his body..  In the midst of his new journey, he was diagnosed with what was thought to be an incurable disease. Ultimately, through a mixture of extensive meditation, healthy diet, herbal healing, and mind-focusing techniques, the disease was healed. His pursuit of success was still inflicting its price.

Moustafa Hamwi described his complete reversal of lifestyle, and fortunes as being dictated by confronting three questions:

  1. If I died tomorrow, would my life have had meaning?
  2. Did I live a life that was meaninful to me, or based on someone else’s expectations? And,
  3. What legacy or impact would I have left?

Today, Moustafa Hamwi conducts workshops and speaking engagements, and asks his participants those same questions.  Additionally, he asks them ‘Do you know what you’re thirsty for?  If you don’t know the answer’ he says, ‘you’ll never know how to quench that thirst.’

When I asked him to elaborate further on the nature of this dramatic change in his life, Hamwi replied, ‘To me, success has a  yin and yang quality to it.  It’s not jus about being successful, but it has to be doing something you really love to become truly successful. If you are not able to fulfill your own needs, you won’t be capable of inspiring others. You cannot give what you don’t have. Likewise, focusing merely on yourself and on getting rich is an empty success. In Arabic, we have a saying, ‘A heaven without people is not worth stepping into.’

‘True success,’ he said, ‘is when you honor your inner calling. In my passion workshops, I’m teaching that seeking happiness is an illusion, finding fulfillment is the real meaning of your life.

If you pursue something that doesn’t mean anything, no matter how much money you make, you will never be truly successful. ‘

For Moustafa Hamwi, his pursuit of success was not only leaving him feel empty inside, it was literally killing him.

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