Do you want success? Do I? You’d expect the answer to be “of course” but I’m not entirely sure. That’s not to say I don’t have fantasies of developing a following in the millions, winning an award (an Oscar would be nice, despite the fact that I’m not involved in the entertainment industry), or becoming very rich. But I do little in the way of pursuing actions that would support those outcomes. I’m not pushing for any of those things.
I guess the answer to the question is, it depends. Whether or not I want it, and whether or not I feel I’ve achieved it depends on the definition you use.
The dictionary definition of success reads as follows:
“the attainment of popularity or profit; a person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains prosperity; the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.”
It seems to me that our society values the first too much and the last too little.
Success and the need for it is drilled into us from a young age. Do well in school, get the best marks. Do well in sports, make the “A” team. Do well socially, be one of the popular kids. Do well. Succeed.
The demands continue as we age. Get into a good college. Get a good job. Do well at work, get the raise, the promotion, the corner office. Get the car. Get the boat. Get the house.
Money is imperative if you want to be seen as a success. Ideally, you should make more than everyone else in your circle; success is also being number one. Whoever dies with the most toys wins. And you must have toys to be successful.
Reach professional heights. Build up your bank account. And don’t forget to be popular. How’s your social life?
Tying success to money and popularity bothers me on a personal and philosophical level.
According to those metrics, I’m not successful at all. In fact, based on those metrics my life is one big, glaring failure. Luckily, I’m in good company. When the definition of success is so narrow, and when we ignore accomplishing personal aims and goals, most of us are bound to end up feeling like we’re failing on some level.
This doesn’t keep us from trying to keep up, of course. But most of the time we aren’t rich, viral, and universally loved. So we end up feeling disappointed with ourselves and our lives. We aren’t at the top of the “defined-by-others” pile.
Why are popularity and prosperity so exalted? The only thing they’re good for is achieving more of the same. And more of the same is required, there’s no resting on the laurels.
It’s not enough to get there, you have to keep it up.
And to what end? For me, defining success as “the attainment of popularity or profit” seems pointless and rather small. Because you’re going to end up dead. Your popularity will be for naught and the money and stuff will be completely useless. It’s not morbid to think about the fact that we’re finite. It’s a good way to focus your attention.
It’s why I prefer the final definition of success: “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose”.
I’m not perfect, by any means, but by this metric I’ve had some successes I like to consider significant. It’s been seven months since I’ve thrown up. Considering I’ve struggled with my eating disorder for almost four decades, we’ll call this one huge.
I was a good parent.
I held jobs and went to school and lived life while dealing with my mental illnesses.
I didn’t get dead.
I’ve grown and developed and matured as a person as a result of these successes. That’s important, I think.
I think I’d like a world that valued personal growth and societal contributions more than financial achievements and popularity. It would be nice if the ultimate accolades were reserved for those who accomplish good things rather than for those who buy really big yachts. It would be nice if success was about making the world a better place rather than about owning an outsized piece of it.
I could get behind a preference for that part of the definition.
Do you consider yourself to be a success?