TED Conversations

Lizanne Hennessey

Singer Songwriter & Vocal Coach, Lizanne Hennessey - Voice Coach

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What is success to you?

When you were asked as a kid, what you wanted to be when you grew up, were you able to give a straight answer? Are you now that thing you wanted to be hen you were 8, or 11, or 21?

Do you agree that it is 'common sense' to choose a study that will guarantee you a job? Why? Because society dictates that we need to be "successful". I believe that success we are all trying to reach simply does not exist.

Who's to say that what you study is what you're going to be? What if your deepest desire is to be a musician? You study and you make the hours and you practice ad you work your ass off to be good at what you want to be good at, but what if you never reach that point of success you think you have to achieve? Does that mean you should give up?

Every set-back we experience in trying to reach that imaginary level of success, makes us feel annoyed, irritated, depressed, frustrated, and in some cases even suicidal. Why?

It is in our nature to always want more. Physically, spiritually, financially, materialistically… We are pushing ourselves to the extreme and don't seem to appreciate what we have achieved along the way, since the goal to reach that success is the only thing that matters.

So, Why are we so fundamentally unsatisfied?
We are trying to reach a goal that we did not set ourselves - it is set by society, by the media, by commercialism. We compare ourselves to each other, which is also a fundamentally human trait.

What makes us who we are, and how do we determine a level of success that is valuable to us as individuals?

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    Apr 20 2013: Hi Lizanne,

    I am somewhat disinclined to use the word success. However, as it is used here, "success" to me has always been about personal choices, personal achievement and fulfillment, tailored to one's own needs and desires. As you mention in a comment of yours further below, success "implies to me a state of being that is not determined by the individual, but by the masses". I fully agree, which is why the word success in that sense bears little relevance and meaning to me. It is important for me to take pleasure in what I do, to enjoy it. If through that I also help others, than this definitely adds to my sense of achievement, but it isn't defined by it. Not to mention that I am a firm believer in loving what you do as a means of doing it well. I have wanted to become an interpreter since I was about 9 years old, so I would be lying if I said that at that age my wish stemmed from my desire to help others and contribute to making their communication easier. It stemmed from my purely selfish desire to speak foreign languages and travel the world. Success is living your life the way you want (granted, you need to live in a democratic state to enjoy that freedom), while fully respecting those around you and the choices they make. It's not about being perfect in what you do (is there such a thing after all?), it's about doing it for the sheer pleasure it provides you and potentially those around you. It's about inner peace with the world around you. Success is not about blind perseverance (to attain goals that society has set for you), it's about recognizing what matters (to you and those around you, as "no man is an island") and letting go of the things that don't. Success is about being true to who you are and not being afraid to stand up for it.
    • Apr 22 2013: Niki, your comment was a joy to read. I can see that you have become 'successful' in achieving the goal you set for yourself when you were 9!

      I really like what you said: "It's not about being perfect in what you do (is there such a thing after all?)"
      Indeed - is there such a thing as perfection? I may be getting onto an entirely different subject, but I do think it has to do with this concept of 'success'. Who determines when someone has reached perfection or not? When we were kids, and we got a 'perfect score' on our math paper, did that count as success, or did that mean we just studied hard? Or did that mean, we had a knack for fractions?

      I am a singer, but according to our society's definition of 'success', I am unsuccessful. Why? Because I have never been on The Voice? Because I don't play gigs every weekend? Because my music isn't on the top ten chart on iTunes?
      Like you, I chose a profession I love doing, and enjoy that level of success every single day.

      Thank you for your inspiring words!
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        Apr 22 2013: Hi again Lizanne,
        so happy my words resonated with you. In my travels (especially in the US) I have listened to countless "unsuccessful" (by society's standards) musicians play live. Their music performances were an absolute treat (Leah Randazzo was one of many, just to give you an example) and have stayed with me ever since. To me their success lies in exactly that: their ability to enjoy what they do enough not to care if they are "successful" by the music industry's standards and to perform with the same enthusiasm, be it before an audience of 3 or 3.000 people.

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