We as a society have created a very narrow definition of success – it’s all about status. In many parts of society, you are supposed to get high scores on your standardized test (CITO in the Netherlands; IQ tests), follow the highest possible secondary education, followed by a university degree from a renowned institute, then work for a renowned company or organization and continue the path to reach the highest position in this hierarchy. Every group in society has it’s own status ladder – when you live on the streets, being member of a certain gang may give the highest status. Often, status is related to material possessions, such as the latest smartphones, a cool car, the right brand of clothes or a large house. In this article however I’m talking about status related to what people do in life – usually work.
Every step away from the status ladder (lower scores on standardized tests, quitting a career with a renowned institute) is generally considered a failure by society. Very many people ultimately find themselves living a life which is not driven by themselves, by their own talents and motivations, but by some kind of ‘ideal image’ of success.
I have walked many steps on the status ladder – and worked hard to get up and up and up. With every step I took, I expected that ‘up there’, I would finally find more professional people and of course more recognition. It took me a while to realize that what I was really looking for is in fact true leadership. I even got access to the highest of the highest in leadership – the World Economic Forum in Davos. I was looking forward to this so intensely: finally, after all these years, I would be able to experience true leadership, all around me!
But I did not find what I was looking for. In fact, I was really disappointed.
I realized that “it” is not to be found ‘up there’ or ‘out there’, but in here. True leadership can be found when people use themselves as a tool to make things better – for themselves, for their families, or for society as a whole. I nowadays often find true leadership and value in people with much lower ‘status’, but who inspire me deeply – simply by how they live life and by how they use themselves as a tool to make things better.