On Definitions of Success
This is a collaborative post by Katie Lauren and Diego Segura. What's written below was written and collaborated on by both of us. You can find Katie and I's afterthoughts at the bottom of the article. There’s no one meaning for success—success is what you want it to be.
This goes for any concept: happiness, sadness, loneliness, fulfillment. None of these feelings can be measured accurately with one Likert scale across the globe, it can only be measured within the extent of our internal right hemisphere to our left hemisphere.
Like mentioned in a post called On Obstacles Being The Way, all of these abstract ideas of success and failure are left up to our own perceptions, and it's up to us to control those perceptions and stick with them as we make our walk through life. A bad day to us is a great day to another—one man's trash is another man's treasure. My version of success may not be your version of success, but so long as I achieve it, I've done my job.
"Success is relative. It is what we can make of the mess we have made of things." (T.S.Eliot)
Success is that feeling of joy and contentment when you reach the top of your own Likert scale of happiness.
If you've ever taken a personality survey like the one on 16Personalities or many others, you've probably used a Likert scale. Instead of a simple Y/N option, these surveys use a scale that puts forward a statement and then asks you if you strongly agree, agree, are neutral, disagree, or strongly disagree with the statement. Let's try it now:
Q: You are happy and/or successful.
A: Strongly Agree | Agree | Neutral | Disagree | Strongly Disagree
Do you strongly agree with that? If you don't, why not? What does make you feel successful?
This questions the reason why we let other people determine how happy we can be. How happy we are with our quality of life? The people we associate with? The career we choose? The options we continue to choose? Ultimately, we’re the only people who truly know how happy we are, yet far too often, we're looking to everyone other than ourselves to decide what we should do and where we should go. That's a problem.
Success can be seen in a variety of ways, with the two most popular ones being money or popularity. As a society, we know authors are successful when they are published, actors are successful when they score a Hollywood movie and The Kardashians are successful for their popularity and clout. But what about the success of a doctor or surgeon when they save a life? Success of a student graduating? Success of a paralysed individual standing again? No level of success is superior to another, we’re all fulfilled by our own successes and achievements.
Now, that's surely a pleasant way to look at it: We don't have to live up to another person's definition of success. However, it requires caution: we could end up using this as a rationalization for our lack of success generally. Yes, everyone's definition of success is different, but if your definition of success is to be a consistently great artist and you don't produce art... you've still failed!
It's way too easy to counter that by saying something along the lines of, "Well, at least I'm happy," when we're actually sorely unsatisfied because we aren't even meeting our own definition of success. The solution to that is simple honesty: if you really think that being famous is being successful, then you should be honest with yourself and chase that—mostly so that you can learn that it isn't success and learn a valuable lesson—and so that at least you've achieved what you set out to achieve. However, you can't fail and then resign yourself by saying that this is what you wanted all along, when in your heart of hearts, you didn't. Keep pushing yourself to chase your true success.
As a generation, we can easily be influenced, easily put down, easily disheartened, easily give up and accept our dreams aren’t going to be reality. But what is there to stop you? We have a good few years on this planet, you’re the only person who truly knows what you want, what your dreams are, what your successes are and your worth, so why let others step in the way of your journey of life? The people around you are just there to either make it easier or harder along the way.
Life in general is relative, so take it in your stride to reach your own goals and successes to make you content and let other’s do the same. It’s okay to be selfish and say "no" when parents, friends, or professors want to define success for you. In fact, it's not only okay, it's necessary. That will make you much more content and joyful as you do what you do.
My joy stems from doing what I enjoy… being able to freely create my own content, to my own guidelines. The most fulfilling part of this is having people enjoy the content I have created, take advice and learn from my content or even take inspiration from my content to create their own. If you have the opportunities and ability to help others, take it. Grab it with both hands, help them realise their happiness and success starts within themselves.
Despite the fact that Katie and I run two completely different blogs, I feel the exact same joy from hearing from people who read or were influenced by my content. It means the world to me when I get emails saying that an article really helped or changed somebody's life even in a small way. I think the universal key in anything that we do is exactly what Katie mentioned: to help others.
I was listening to a podcast with Frank Blake, former CEO of Home Depot, and he said at one point in the interview that what running a corporation like Home Depot is all about is "wealth generation for your associates," rather than an abstract idea of the bottom line. Even at the highest levels of business in a corporation like Home Depot, they still recognize that the entire goal is to help people, in this case their own associates, and their customers. That's helping others and not helping yourself. Katie's exactly right: when you get the chance help people on that or any scale, that's an opportunity for success and happiness that should be taken and used to the fullest.