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:
- The USA values a fulfilling career and family.
- Europe values health and satisfaction with life.
- Latin America values education.
- Some African countries, Saudi Arabia, Nepal, and Ukraine measure success with money.
- Majority world countries often find it in safety and housing.
- A handful of countries like Australia value work-life balance.
- Bhutan and Zimbabwe determine success through community involvement.
- Medieval Italians believed success was calmly hiding the severities of life.
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:
Beyond your plans, ignore how much money you have:
- Money is a store and measurement of power, not competence or personal value.
- Many of the most innovative and successful people in the world make very little money.
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.
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
- Get a career plan
- Manage money well
- 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
- Understand without passing judgment
- Do the right thing without looking for praise
- Forgive and release everything
- Find the causes for things, without excuses
- 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
- 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:
- Inspiration – find either an idea that solves a problem or an unsolved problem
- Brainstorm – learn how to solve that problem and mentally prepare
- Plan – make long and short term goals to get there
- Setup – get in position to start the plan
- Attempt – do the best you think you can
- Failure – natural setbacks from unpreparedness, naivete, and nature
- Recovery – accepting reality, reconciling discouragement, then repeating steps 2-5
- Success – the fruit from repeating steps 2-6 persistently
However, to start making changes, you need the correct attitude.