Defining Success


Success is hard to define, and highly relative, but involves accomplishing worthwhile purposes.

However, measuring our success by outward measurements is usually a bad idea.

The best measure of our success comes from how well we change internally.

What is success?

The how-to industry often defines how to succeed but rarely what success is.

Most “success porn” presumes succeeding is a universal constant.

In reality, success is as variable as human purpose.

Success is a matter of perspective

In some ways, success is hard to define:
  • Earl Nightingale calls success “a progressive realization of a worthy ideal”.
  • Tony Robbins defines it as “having a ton of pleasure and very little pain”.
  • Zig Ziglar calls it “the greatest usage of your ability”.
  • John Wooden says success is “peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your very best”.
  • No matter how, success always involves achieving, overcoming a problem, finding meaning and purpose, and that meaning or purpose affects others.

Each culture values different things:

We have various ways to measure success:
  • Defined by how we feel about our accomplishments.
  • Defined by others’ interpretation of what we’ve done.
  • We often measure success in others by how effortless something appears to us.
  • Generally successful people define their own success by adhering to predetermined values.

To start defining success for yourself, start with something simple:
  • Failing slightly less disastrously
  • Mastering something simple
  • Becoming familiar with something
  • Trying something that makes you a little uncomfortable

Don’t measure success by status

Success is more a daily grind of good decisions than any specific measurable thing.

Ignore the number of friends you have:
  • Each person can only logistically maintain 150-300 relationships in a year.
  • Maintaining a crowd of friends is expensive and time-consuming.
  • We find meaning in the depth of individual friendships, not through many of them.

Beyond your plans, ignore how much money you have:

Don’t obsess about your fame, recognition, and reputation:
  • Fame and reputation are fickle and depend heavily on what people feel about your publicly shared values.
  • Famous people often suffer a complete lack of privacy, which makes happiness difficult to find.
  • A reputation is a very useful insurance policy against public defamation, but it requires lots of maintenance and doesn’t have intrinsic value.

Your intelligence and knowledge aren’t that important:
  • Stupid mistakes come more from conceit than unintelligence.
  • Possessing knowledge isn’t as useful as having wisdom or skill.
  • There are too many ranges of understanding to easily articulate your legitimate competence.

You have no clear picture of “balance”:
  • Balance is always relative to two extremes, and varies widely between your culture and personal experience.
  • It’s impossible to attain something you can’t easily define.
  • Unresolved trauma usually inspires people to misinterpret what defines “balance”.

Happiness is a terrible measurement of success:
  • We find happiness through an absence of desire, which has no bearing on our environment.
  • Depending on its scope, dissatisfaction is often a requirement for pursuing success.

Don’t compare yourself to others:
  • Each person has a different personality, so one person’s success is barely competence for another.
  • More specifically, a person is a success proportionally to how much they employ their conscientiousness: a low-conscientiousness person is doing well if they can hold down a career and children, while a hyper-conscientious person is only a success if they positively change their community.

The best success is internal

Everything we do changes, decays, and becomes obsolete.

Most things we feel are immovable are dangerously fragile (e.g., our bodies, relationships, large organizations).

The most long-lasting success involves self-discipline:
  • Self-discipline gives us competence for future successes, and doesn’t fade much over time.
  • Self-discipline comes through habits directed toward virtues.
  • Over time, successful people also learn to respect information they can only learn from experience.
  • As we grow, we expand ourselves to create traditions and legacies.

Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman defined an array of universal character strengths and virtues:
  • Creativity – creates things from observations
  • Curiosity – desires to see beyond the conventional
  • Open-mindedness – willing to see things from a different angle
  • Love of learning – interested in finding new truths
  • Perspective and wisdom – applies knowledge and experience into daily life
  • Bravery – stands against opposition
  • Persistence – maintains a purpose with no outside support
  • Integrity – doesn’t compromise values
  • Vitality – approaches life with excitement and energy
  • Love – connects intimately with others
  • Kindness – tends to do favors and good deeds
  • Social intelligence – aware of motives and feelings in self and others
  • Teamwork – works well alongside others
  • Fairness – treats others without bias
  • Leadership – encourages peers and subordinates to perform well
  • Forgiveness – reconciles and releases
  • Humility & Modesty – lets accomplishments speak for themselves
  • Prudence – makes choices carefully
  • Self-Regulation – restraint from excess
  • Appreciates Beauty & Excellence – regards the innate glory of nature
  • Gratitude – aware and grateful for good things
  • Hope – expects the best and works toward it
  • Humor – sees how things have a less serious perspective
  • Spirituality – possesses a higher purpose beyond this life

For most of us, our success will start with smaller goals:
  • Plan for the future
  • Remove bad habits you’re aware of (which are likely your worst traits)
    • Stop something you don’t like in yourself
  • Mental clarity
    • Find peace with the fleeting nature of reality
    • Live/act in the present
    • Stay patient, in every form
    • Keep everything organized
    • View others’ perspectives and understand alternate points of view
    • Make creative connections between related and seemingly unrelated things
    • Think critically and neutrally before holding a belief or making decisions
    • Create self-directed, engaged learning
  • Character
    • Understand without passing judgment
    • Do the right thing without looking for praise
  • Reputation
    • Reconcile quickly with others when possible
    • Find new friends and open yourself to finding more
    • Avoid unnecessary arguments, especially on the internet
  • Connection
    • Learn gratitude for encouraging and supportive friends, family, and associates
    • Develop vulnerability and openness to trustworthy people
    • Graciously disagree with others
    • Meaningfully express what others feel and think
    • Never take others’ statements personally
    • Honor and respect others’ sensitivities
    • Make a difference in your community about a specific social issue
    • Earn the respect of a particular group of people
  • Self-challenges
    • Find reasonable, meaningful challenges that provoke self-growth
    • Devour information about one of your passions
    • Enroll in a learning course
    • Build expertise in a specific skill or pastime
    • Enjoy uncomfortable things
    • Read every day
    • Routinely turn off electronic devices
    • Finish projects you started

Success is a cycle

In another way, success is the constant continuation of a very specific cycle:
  1. Inspiration – find either an idea that solves a problem or an unsolved problem
  2. Brainstorm – learn how to solve that problem and mentally prepare
  3. Plan – make long and short term goals to get there
  4. Setup – get in position to start the plan
  5. Attempt – do the best you think you can
  6. Failure – natural setbacks from unpreparedness, naivete, and nature
  7. Recovery – accepting reality, reconciling discouragement, then repeating steps 2-5
  8. Success – the fruit from repeating steps 2-6 persistently

However, to start making changes, you need the correct attitude.