Success is…. desired, pursued, achieved….. or not, a goal, a life mission for some, a measurement of worth and value for others, hard to get, need-to-get -at-any-cost, and a million other things. According to the dictionary it’s one of two things: 1) the accomplishment of an aim or purpose or 2) the attainment of popularity or profit.
Now, we KNOW that we can create our own definition for things regardless of what they are but often even if we do that, we tend to live by a different definition to the one we set for ourselves.
Here’s one example. I asked my students once to write their own definition of success and they all took turns sharing them with the class. I got to one of the students and asked him first:” Are you successful?” His response was:” Oh, Noooo, I am not.” I asked what his definition of success was and he said that it was spending time with his family and friends- the people that he loved. “OK”, I said, ” Do you spend time with your family and friends?” “Yes”, he says immediately. “So”, I continued, “this means that you’re extremely successful.” “Oh, noooo”, he says . “Ok, let’s repeat”, I continued…..and we went over the same question and answer sequence again and he kept disagreeing he was successful. I found this fascinating.
What he was using to gauge his own success was not HIS definition of success but some other version perceived to be commonly accepted although it was very dissonant to him. Now, it would be extremely difficult and unsatisfying to pursue and even achieve a definition of something that is dissonant to us. So, why bother? Well, because we hope that “others” will see us as successful (or whatever it is ) and the if “enough” of them do, we will eventually start feeling this way too. That’s the illusion that we go by but by the time we realize this, we’ve already spent a ton of our time and energy trying to get to this point.
Is there an alternative? You bet! How about we go with the first dictionary definition:” To achieve an aim or purpose”. Ok, we can CHOOSE what this aim and purpose is. Someone once suggested:” What if we gauge success by how much we’re able to enjoy every moment?” Or maybe, how ok we’re willing to be no matter what happens?
One of the traps is that we tie or definition of success with a very specific outcome or result. If this outcome is not manifested, we feel like we’ve failed. But what if the purpose of this whole thing was for us to go through the experience and the “desired outcome” was just there to ensure that we go through it. Then weren’t we extremely successful? If we decide that success is to simply move through an experience, then success is always assured. And still, we have fulfilled the dictionary definition in order to make it more easily believable story for ourselves.
I had a conversation with a loved one once about why they were envious of a person. She said that it was because this other person had been successful and I (their loved one) wasn’t. Of course, here I could’ve gone into all kinds of reactions of hurt or defending or what not. But I was very curious as to why she didn’t see me as successful. So, I asked more questions. It turned out that this person had achieved the dream she had had for me. (without my knowing or agreement, of course) Ohhhhhhh, it all made sense now. All I could do was tell her that I felt very successful. That I was the happiest I had ever been and that if it was my happiness she was concerned about, I was already there….oh, and that I never wanted this particular outcome and if I had, I could’ve achieved it.
All these examples come to show that not matter what we achieve or not, there will always be people who think we’re successful and other who don’t. And some of those people would be people we love a lot.
Which voice do we hear? Do we choose to outsource how we feel and make it dependent on the perceptions of others or make it dependent on dictionary definitions? We can….. or we can choose to be our own bosses…and pretty amazing ones at that.
For what it’s worth, I see YOU as super successful- you’re here, you’re experiencing, you exist! And this is plenty and more than enough!
I now raise a glass of strawberry-mint green tea to YOUR SUCCESS 🙂