Success…A Definition

How do you define success?

Is this supposed to be a complicated question? Not necessarily but it is a question that makes you ponder and consider quite a bit. Success is a deeply personal concept and so I hope that you will indulge me for a few moments.

A couple months ago, I read a book by Alain de Botton called Status Anxiety. This is a wonderful book filled with some great insights and I suggest you all find a copy and read. This is a book that I bought in paperback form and highlighted sections as I read.

In this book, de Botton talks about this idea of status and success and this concept’s origins. He talks about the way that religion, art, bohemia, class systems, and politics impact our views of success.

Toward the beginning of the book, he states, “Our sense of identity is held captive by the judgments of those we live among.” How many of us define success by what others have told us is successful? Is a big bank account, lots of material possessions, and a high-profile career only what can be counted toward being successful? If so, where does caring, empathy, family, and friends play into success?

Can success be evident in someone that maybe has a low-paying job but is loved by many? I am going to go ahead and say yes.

After you complete your thinking of the real definition of success, (Remember, this is personal to you. My definition is not going to be yours and vice-versa.) you need to think about those times that you feel jealous or slightly-envious of others. It happens to all of us. There is absolutely no use in denying this fact. Why are you feeling envy? De Botton states that we are only going to feel this way toward others that we consider our equals. This is our reference group. It stands to reason that I am not going to be jealous when someone not my equal, say…Bill Gates, succeeds at something (aka nearly everything). However, when someone that maybe I went to school with or is in the same profession succeeds at something, I may feel that envy.

“We are not always humiliated by failing at things, [William James] suggested; we are humiliated only if we invest our pride and sense of worth in a given aspiration or achievement and then are disappointed in our pursuit of it. Our goals dictate what we will interpret as a triumph and what must count as a catastrophe.” (pg. 35)

“With no attempt there can be no failure; with no failure no humiliation. So our self-esteem in this world depends entirely on what we back ourselves to be and do. It is determined by the ratio of our actualities to our supposed potentialities.” (William James)

So, I suppose that we should understand that humiliation and failure are okay because that means that we are trying. It is the act of trying that will make a person either successful or complacent.

Let me share my definition of success with you. I do not need a large bank account, as long as I can take care of my needs. I do not need fame and recognition, as long as I know who I am. The things that I need in my life in order to be successful are family, friends, music, art, books, time, creativity, love, service, and goals. I can do anything that I set my mind to doing and I can do it well. To be successful, I need to stop comparing myself to others – particularly my worst to their best. I understand that life is going to be hard, harder at times than desired, but the choices I make each moment of each day will impact the level of success that I obtain. To be successful, for me, is to practice, study, and help myself grow daily. I will take time for myself because that is how I will remain healthy physically, mentally, and spiritually. I will give myself more understanding and more forgiveness. I will be successful because I choose to be successful. My success is not your success and that is more than okay.