Are You Sure You Know What “Success” Means?

success
Author : Marco Sgalbazzini
October 05, 2020

Are You Sure You Know What “Success” Means?

Success. What does it mean anyways?

We live in a world and an era where everyone else’s definition of “success” is rammed down our throats every day, and from an early age too! We grow up having to listen to our parents dictate what they expect from us in order to consider our lives a success. We hear it from school counsellors and from our sports coaches. We hear it from our friends and our significant others. And of course, social media is constantly flashing unrealistic definitions of “success” in front of our eyes with every single swipe of our smartphones.

Yet, not enough of us stop to look inward and take the time to define what success really means, to us. For our lives.

“If a person doesn’t know to which port they sail, no wind is favorable.” — Seneca

Today, in America especially, we are coming to terms with the stark truth that not all of us are truly self-sufficient, and that we are all born in a different starting position in life. The systemic socio-economic divide dictates the conditions we are born into, and yet this is just one of the many examples of how fate, i.e. external events we have no control over, can play a role in the direction of our entire lives.

There are people born in poverty, segregated by racial divides and held down by systemic forces, lacking access to basic resources that others have an unnecessary abundance of. And yet I guarantee that almost all of us, from those having to face the biggest obstacles from the get-go to those born with plenty resources, feel that if only we had a little bit more money, or were a little bit more connected, then we could finally build the future we want for ourselves and be “successful.”

The hunger for “success” can be a never-ending quest for the unattainable, and when viewed this way it often leads to the kind of unhappiness that none of us wants to experience, and yet do.

We all know that with more money life would be better, and I am not trying to deny that it would certainly help. It would be naive for me to pretend otherwise. I am fully aware that I, the person writing this, have certain privileges that many others don’t have (and yet should, as basic human rights!) and I certainly have more money than other people.

I do not want us to unrealistically pity the powerful or rich… what I want us all to do is to ask ourselves some important questions about our own goals in life, our own ambitions. Are you pursuing the right objectives? Have you looked at those goals and are you sure that they will actually make you happy? Are you sure that those things you want now will not prevent you from doing the things you actually want to do?

As Seneca once said, “Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power.”

What good is it to be rich and powerful if you’re an unhappy prisoner of the life you’ve built? What is the point of pursuing other’s definition of success if you lose autonomy of your own life and are unable to live the kind of everyday life you want to live?

“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…” — Epictetus

Once we have organized our understanding of the world into this black and white bucket, what remains is to focus on what is up to us. Our attitudes. Our emotions. Our wants. Our desires. Our opinions about what happened to us. Those choices are up to us. Forget the opinions of others.

Most of us have it all backward. Almost everyone will agree achievement and success bring happiness. Wrong! It’s happiness that brings success.

“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.” — Seneca

It’s time we all look inward and define our very own definition of success, always remembering that success, money, power, fame, and influence are all ephemeral. As is our very existences on Earth. Accept that it is, and you’ll open yourself up to a clarity and outlook that you didn’t know was possible.

So, what does “success” mean then? I cannot define it for you. That’s the point. No one can.

We must each definite it for ourselves. But remember: if being successful doesn’t bring your happiness, inner peace, balance, clarity and if it doesn’t work for the common good, how can it be defined as “success” anyway?

If being successful deprives you of free will and enslaves you into doing things that take you away from what you love doing, how can it be defined as “success” anyway?

Happiness should never come at the finish-line of anything, but rather as the starting block from which you determine what kind of life you want to lead.

Have a great Monday, and an even better week!

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