Success: In the Eye of the Beholder

Now that the Ethiopian New Year has, come and gone, it makes me wonder how many of us will re-evaluate our lives, what choices we have made and how we have measured our success.

What I gather from the many family get-togethers I attend, certain measures seem to be intact even as decades have gone by. We are either married or single, owners of a degree or not, employed with a good salary or jobless. Few ever ask if we are happy.

Unfortunately, we import these measures into our subconscious. We begin to see the world through their ideals of others and expectations. Rarely do we come to ask ourselves if indeed our principles are alien to us or whether we do care about them.

Are our decisions really making us happy?

Success has a social measure many of us have not thought hard about.

I have heard countless times about people making decisions they say makes them happy but are not viewed by their peers and relatives in a similar light because they have been unable to conform to the standards of society. They were expected to act in a manner that goes hand in hand with how they have been raised and told. This is the type of thinking that has roots in parts of our culture that are backwards looking but has no currency in the modern world.

It is easy to feel inadequate when we are unable to achieve societies’ set goals. Some people are trapped into making decisions that only make others happy and not themselves.

Of, course, it is right to ask if there could be a compromise.

Can we both make society and ourselves believe that we are successful? Can we make our dreams work, live a lifestyle that we prefer, while not alienating society?

The choice should exist for individuals to lead a happy life, but it is society that has to be open-minded enough to meet us halfway.

We are formed by the value of the society around us and taught most of what we know. Most of this happens while we are children. But it may change when we become adults and have the opportunity to make choices independent of the dictates of family and society.

We usually leave that protected and carefully moulded childhood life when we make mistakes, which are essential parts of our life journey, and have the power to knock us out of our reverie. It is then that we will start to view success differently.

At the end of each day, if we can say, we have experienced something new, grown, been happy and healthy, we are successful. The many gatekeepers of our society, the elders that have raised us and taught us the main values, should also re-evaluate what success entails.

The core values they espouse should be independence, happiness and contributing positively to the world we live in. I feel we focus too much on the little things, on the aesthetics of a situation, while overlooking the core.

I find that many disagreements among families are about expectations of how they would like their children to manifest the values that have been passed over. The truth is, even though it is important for young people to take advice, it is also vital for elders in the communities to understand their expectations are not the rule of law.

If young people felt more comfortable about making life-changing decisions, it would add more purpose to their lives. A life lived according to a checklist drawn up by society is not one lived up to its potential.

We even need to reassess our measures for the country. Tearing down historical buildings and building shiny towers is not the measure of success. It instead has to do with how we can preserve history that needs protection while engineering the change that is necessary.

The values a nation upholds shows its citizens what to hold dear as well. Citizens would benefit more from a country that is comfortable with its history and works to build a healthier future that values the importance of holistic growth.


By Hanna Haile
Hanna Haile ( is an Ethiopian writer and social worker. She is one of the organizers of Poetic Saturdays at Fendika Cultural Centre in Addis Abeba and at Terara Bar & Kitchen in Hawassa, where a stage is open to those who celebrate art through performances on the first and second Saturday of each month.

Published on Oct 06,2018 [ Vol 19 ,No 962]



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