The Success Illusion

October 19th, 2014





“The simplest form of stupidity — the mumbling, nose-picking, stolid incomprehension — can be detected by anyone. But the stupidity which disguises itself as thought, and which talks so glibly and eloquently, indeed never stops talking, in every walk of life is not so easy to identify, because it marches under a formidable name, which few dare attack.

It is called Popular Opinion.”


– Robertson Davies





There is a joke about the perception of success.[1] It goes something like this:


Three society matrons are enjoying afternoon tea and cake at an upmarket establishment and boasting to each other about their sons. Each was politely trying to top the other’s stories about how successful their sons were and how impressively they expressed their love and gratitude to their mothers.


The first woman gushed: “My son is very successful, as you all know. But did you know he has just bought me an all-expenses paid trip around the world on the QE2? That is how much he loves his mother.”


The women made the appropriate approving noises and sipped their tea to consider this. The second woman made her declaration:


“My son loves me very much too. His business has been so successful, as you all know. But did you know that he recently bought me my own apartment here in town? Now I have a place to stay overnight when I come into the city to see the opera or a show and want to stay out late. That is how much he loves his mother.”


The women again made the appropriate approving noises and sipped their tea to consider this. The third woman then made her declaration:


“Yes, my son is very successful too, as you all know. So successful in fact that he now has very little time to see me. But did you know that twice a week he pays a man two-hundred dollars an hour just to talk about me!”



'Bloodlines'. Illustration by Andrea Wan

‘Bloodlines’. Illustration by Andrea Wan




What is success?


If the ever present drone of popular opinion appears to agree that success is something we should strive for then it should be easy to define. Like sunshine however, it may appear obvious but is hard to grasp. So, what is success?


  • Is it contentment and acceptance of the life we have?
    • Or the result of never being content and always striving for more?
  • Is it the realization of desire and the experience of worldly pleasures?
    • Or the conscious restraint of desire and external sensory pleasure to access and develop a deeper, inner connection to our Self?
  • Is it the gathering of material wealth?
    • Or the liberation from earthly attachments?
  • Is it to have our time filled with striving for luxury and ‘the good life’?
    • Or to enjoy the luxury of having time?
  • Is it the conquering of others and the establishment of empires with our values?
    • Or the ability to feel at home and at peace in any culture or place?
  • Is it the power to wage war and destroy or defeat a perceived enemy from the perception that it is either ‘us’ or ‘them’ – so we must separate and eliminate the threat to achieve peace?
    • Or the power to heal and create peace from the perception that there is only ‘us’ – so we must work together to solve problems common to all humanity?


Now some reading this may nod sagely at the more obviously politically correct options listed above but is that what we practice collectively? It would seem then that it is not that obvious.



© Dave Brown, The Independant

© Dave Brown, The Independant



It has been stated in different ways in the Monday Conscious Health blog that our perception of the world profoundly influences our experience of it.




The collective perception of success


When the British invaded what has become known as Australia they discounted the indigenous aboriginals living there.[2]


This was in no small part due to their perception of collective success. The British Empire, like all empires before and since, was built upon the back of war, land grabs, the building of monuments to it and the accumulation of riches from it.


From this perspective, the aboriginals were an abject failure. They had built no cities, had erected no monuments and were nomadic. Their possessions appeared meager and they left barely any mark that they had been there at all. This then was the polar opposite of what the British would define as civilization.



For their part, the aboriginals were horrified how these strange invaders raided and pillaged the natural resources around them with very little thought to future sustainability.[3] They burned down or uprooted whole forests in their quest to turn the wood into buildings to live in instead of just living in the natural home that was already provided.


Staying in one place meant the invaders had to transform nature even more to create agriculture and the farming of strange, imported animals. This led to further desecration of the land as these hard-hooved beasts and small, grass root eating, fast breeding rabbits and sheep created dust and desert of once green fields. The dust would later serve to create muddy waste in torrential rain and soak up oil and diesel fuel spilt by trucks and industry.





From the aboriginal perspective then, the British were an example of a failed civilization doomed to be destroyed by their own arrogance and ignorance of natural laws. By most reports, the aboriginals have been living successfully for the last 70,000 years.




Personal success – and the personal cost


It cannot be underestimated how much collective attitudes affect the individual. It takes a single-minded person to resist the tide of popular opinion. They must take refuge in their inner voice as the droning din outside threatens to cover it in a tinnitus of ignorance.


The dissonance this can create within us has serious consequences for our health and wellbeing. Why? Because we go against our Self time and time again in the fruitless search for something external, separate and illusory.


Regular readers of the Monday Conscious Health blog will be familiar with the concept that what we refuse to act upon consciously will be forced upon us by the creations of our unconscious. (click here for one example) Such an experience is usually seen as suffering.


Behavioral symptoms like chronic anxiety, restlessness and insomnia, constant feelings of inadequacy, overwork and exhaustion are just some consequences of chasing the tail of success…


…as are physical symptoms like stomach acidity and ulcers, high blood pressure, chronic headaches, panic attacks and lingering, minor immune issues.




Success reconstructed


It may seem like the pursuit of success at either a personal or collective level places us between a rock and a hard place.





Like a virus spreading across the world, manipulated and manufactured dreams of what success means has infected our collective and personal consciousness. We have become divorced and split from our Self. It is time then to consciously reclaim, reconstruct and reposition what success means.



From the standpoint of our conscious health and wellbeing success may be seen as the ability to follow our inner voice.



Without the tether of that connection we are vulnerable to every opinion and influence other than the one that counts. To live like some neurotic dog trying to second guess the whims of its owner is no life for a conscious human being.[4]




Self-cultured success


It may seem that we are so busy just surviving life that we have little time or energy to cultivate a connection to our Self.





Here are a few tips:


  • Spend time every day in meditative reflection.
    • Do not be concerned if you are any ‘good’ at it. Just keep turning up.
  • In response to outside pressures regularly reference them back to yourself by asking the following questions:
    • What am I thinking? (Is this really my thought or one given to me?)
    • What am I feeling?  (Is this my feeling or one I think I should be feeling?)
    • What do I want to create, transform, heal or experience right now? (Am I doing what I really want or what is expected of me by someone else?)
  • Pretend you are at the end of a long life. If you could have it over again what would you choose to do with it?


This last question I asked a terminally ill client. She provided a remarkably lucid and insightful answer (click here for more about that).




“There’s still time to change the road you’re on.”[5]


While there is not necessarily anything wrong with popular versions of success maybe it would be wise to first check to see if it is truly our version of success and work from that inward authority first.




Till we successfully navigate our way back to another Monday,




[1] OK it is also about less than healthy maternal relationships – the mother of all jokes…

[2] History, as always, is written by the victors. Unsurprisingly then it was never called an invasion and subsequent decimation of the existing population – as it most certainly would be if it were to happen today. An indication of British denial about this was, that up until 1926, the indigenous people of Australia were listed as ‘Fauna’. That is, they were put in the same class as animals. This deceitful bit of book keeping maintained the popular perception that Australia was ‘discovered’.

[3] It is only now, several hundred years and nearly seven billion people later that the word ‘sustainability’ is even surfacing as an important concept in debates about our global future.

[4] It is no life for a noble animal either.

[5] ’Stairway to heaven’ Written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. 1971. Atlantic Records.




© Jeremy Halpin all rights reserved. All images are the author’s own unless otherwise indicated or if the original source is unknown at the time of writing. You can subscribe to this blog by clicking the button in the bottom right hand corner of the page – or share it on the social media of your choice. If you have any wishes or questions regarding subjects to be discussed on this blog use the contact information below. Jeremy is also available for seminars, lectures and personal consultation:

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