How do we define success?
I often have this question on my mind and there fails to be an answer for it that is cohesive. I think success can be relative to many things and is often dependent upon an ever-evolving view of how we perceive the world around us. What I viewed as successful or a level of happiness in my teens and in my twenties is variable compared to where I am at now. I imagine as I near my forties that evolution and expansion of world view and philosophy will continue. In a modern age where many view success on how popular we are (“How many likes did I get on IG? How many followers?”) it is important to consider what success means to us and whether it is a fleeting desire or something more concrete.
My advice: Be brave. Be unpopular. Aim to be different and pave your own way. Burn bridges if you have to. Be tied to your ideas and their progression— not to your “image.”
I think we know we are “successful” only by experiencing failure. It is really the failures that define us more than the successes because it is within the parameters of failures that we respond with our true character. How do we react to the collapse of a previous desire or mindset? How do we confront the untamed versions of ourselves that are not all shiny and perfect but filled with doubt and struggle? Success is a chemical reaction between intention, failure, and the unwavering optimism and perseverance to continue doing something without knowing what the outcome might be.
Do we define success by having a well-lived life, by being top of our class or profession, by maintaining healthy relationships, by owning a home, by keeping ourselves alive, etc? Success means many different things and sometimes a combination of those things. So what is a healthy level of success? When do we know we have arrived at a satisfactory level of success?
I would like to say there is some secret or magic word we could use to arrive at our destination. There’s not. There’s no formula, no rhyme or reason to the madness, and certainly no shortcuts. One way we can define success is to look at the failures of others that came before us. Another would be to define success by comparing our actions to their outcomes. Some say that it is routine that makes the successor. Others say it is something ingrained within us—that raw energy and intellect that can break the mold. Still others claim it is simply down to luck and believe success is based on being at the right place and right time.
For me personally— I think my secret is comprised of two very different actions. The first? Failure. The second? Recognizing that failure and turning it into a lesson as you dust your boots off and get back up again. There is an almost unhealthy amount of optimism you have to have— a willingness to see a bigger picture and the faith that even if you stumble, and even if you fall, you will never lose sight of the “possibility” of success. Because every time you make an error or a mistake means there is one outcome that is irrefutably aligned with failure— and one less outcome hindering you from success. When you keep your eye on the prize, despite setbacks, you have the ability to achieve the impossible. If you learn from everything— you can do anything. And in time you will know when something is worth working for and when it is time to chase a new dream. And THAT is what separates people from failing or succeeding. If you give up without even trying out every possible method and potential failure, do you truly know what a well-earned success is or is it just pure luck?
There are many “successful” people that failed an awful lot. And there are loads of quotes from these people on this very subject. But the common denominator is that all of these people had unflagging optimism and did not view failure as negative. They weren’t just satisfied with what was out there— they wanted to know more and to be more. And many of them were selfless in their pursuit of bringing their ideas to the world (this doesn’t mean they didn’t capitalize off this or weren’t egocentric, but that many of them had more worldly pursuits of altruism or philanthropy.) They believed in hard work and character-building. Many of them did not shy away from the bad things in life but embraced them as a mode of change or evolution. I admire these people for their courage and perseverance.
I wrote a blog post several years ago and these two things still stand out to me as relevant reflections on this:
*1) What did I do wrong? 2) What lesson should I have learned from this? and 3) How can I do better next time? Take responsibility for where you have fallen short and looking at failures as gifts and lessons. Not only can you place a positive spin on things by doing this but looking at them as experiences (whether good or bad) ultimately gives you the gumption to move forward.\\
*Evolution is important. We are constantly revolving and evolving. Don’t get stuck in old, bad habits and always keep in mind that your origin is not your destination. You and you alone are responsible for the direction your life can take. Don’t be afraid to experiment and don't be afraid to fail either. Become a newer, better version of yourself every chance you get and this will be reflected in your work as well.
If the goal is to be a better version of yourself, you may make mistakes along the way but you will learn from them and grow. I like to think that we are all scientists in some capacity and these are all just great (or awful) experiments. So perspective is tantamount to success. I make mistakes all the time but every mistake I make leads me to evaluate where I am at and make new plans. I like to think of life like a road map. Sometimes we take detours or turn the wrong direction, but we always see something different along the way. It is those differences that make us see the world as a more dynamic place. And if we don’t stay stuck somewhere along those detours, someday we will get on-track and eventually reach our destination. Only we will reach it with more knowledge of the world and its practices within us. This alone is a victory. And if the practice of “re-routing” means that we have setbacks, it only further gives us a wealth of experience and the opportunity to make better decisions in the future.
How do you define success?