Success is more than being able to afford a luxury lifestyle

Emiratis need to show the world, and more importantly each other, a deeper meaning of the word “success”, where it is measured beyond personal benefits and lifestyles, says Khalid Al Ameri

What message are we giving the youth of this country when we tell them that success is being able to live a luxurious life that you can enjoy? Photo: Charles Crowell / The National
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How do you define success? Is it fame and fortune? A promotion at work? Or is it simply being able to live your life the way you want to? When you look around you on your drive to work, while you are shopping at the mall, or when you go out to your favourite restaurant, how do you think people in the UAE define success?

Being successful in one way, shape or form is something we all strive for as people. We all want better lives for ourselves and the people we love. However, what differs among people around the world is whether success is seen as external recognition from our peers and colleagues, or internal peace and joy with the things we do and people we love.

When MasterCard undertook a survey of how affluent people in Asia, the Middle East and Africa defined success, a wide array of answers came up depending on their country of origin. Japanese, for example, defined success as “living an enriching life”; in China, it was “living a more valuable life, where success is more than just money”; and in South Africa, it was defined as a “foundation for financial independence”.

The people of the UAE defined success as "a way to fuel a lifestyle of luxury and enjoyment".

Are you surprised by that answer? I have to be completely honest, and it hurts me to say this, but I think that it is pretty accurate.

The answer hurts me personally, because it is absent of any depth of meaning. Being able to “fuel a lifestyle of luxury and enjoyment” is self-serving – implying a situation where very few people beyond yourself and maybe some close family members are better off because you have succeeded in accomplishing your goal of living a more lavish lifestyle.

So why was I not surprised by an answer like that from people in the UAE? Well, when you look around at how the UAE markets itself – highlighting the most expensive hotels, the tallest towers and most lavish resorts – it’s ripe to become a destination of choice for the rich and famous. This marketing, in turn, puts a lot of pressure on citizens and the local community to look and play the part. In many cases, people are living a lifestyle they can barely afford thanks to the generosity of our financial institutions.

With wealth being seen as the ultimate symbol of success in this country, it creates a vicious cycle where people want to lead a life of luxury because that is the only way they will fit in, and where businesses mainly serve the rich. Think about it for a second. Why is it that when a company creates a diamond-encrusted, limited-edition mobile phone, Dubai is the place of choice for the product launch? Believe me, it’s got nothing to do with the weather.

Now for the important part: what message are we giving the youth of this country when we tell them that success is being able to live a luxurious life that you can enjoy? Where your title at work, the size of your house, the price of your yacht, or the digits on your licence plate matter more than the impact of your work, the level of your education, the people you can help, or the love of your family?

As a country we need to show our youth, the world around us and, more importantly, each other a deeper meaning of the word “success”, where it is measured beyond our personal benefits and lifestyles.

We need to appreciate each other for who we are rather than what we are or what we own. In doing so, we will create a culture where citizens and residents are not focused on who they are going to impress with their success, but instead on how they are going to feel through their success. That is what encourages people to begin following their dreams and passions rather than simply following the status quo and doing what they think is expected of them.

To our forefathers who built this country, success was being able to create a brighter future for everyone who came here and for the generations beyond them. Success was not something they would experience personally, it was something they would achieve through the access to opportunity and lives of dignity that others would enjoy.

That is an attitude we can all be proud of. It may not be luxurious, it may not result in fame and riches, but it will make our country and this world a better place, and that’s what truly counts.

Khalid Al Ameri is an Emirati social commentator