To redefine success, let’s start with its official definition, courtesy of Webster’s.
1: obsolete : outcome, result
2a: degree or measure of succeeding
2b: favorable or desired outcome; also : the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence
3: one that succeeds.
Is this your definition? Is it mine? Is it one of your friends’? Your parents’? Probably part is, and part isn’t. One of the problems with defining success is the vagueness of the concept. Anyone’s idea of success, like personality, is an individual mishmash of culture, upbringing, and experience, to name three factors. Fortunately, because most of us have similar cultural and social underpinnings, I can generalize, make some observations, and (hopefully) come up with something new to say.
Our image of success is determined by many things, such as television, role models, our everyday lives. Defining success means making a value judgment-“I feel that something is good, worthy of emulation, and important to have. By being, doing or having that something, I am successful.” What we do is choose who and what we want or wish to be by this value judgment called success.
Success occurs on many levels. Continuing to live is success, as is suicide. Getting your next meal is success, as is fasting for a cause you value. Reproducing viable offspring to success to DNA! Geneticists talk of “successful mutations” and “successful adaptations.” It really isn’t limited to just us higher lifeforms. At the bottom, we are all successes by just being born. It’s all a matter of perspective. (I feel better already.)
Our culture bombards and inundates us with its ideas of success: the Lexus, the house in the ‘burbs, the good job. So what happens when you get these things? And what happens if you want them and can’t get them? If you get them, more things await, receding to the horizon: higher position, more pay, bigger house, more houses, higher pay, better position, more, bigger, higher. Citius, Altius, Fortius. The Olympic competition for Western success spawned the rat race, lifestyle diseases and the 60’s. The rat race slouched through the 80’s, and we now sit in the 90’s wondering what’s next.
Do we opt out? No. Do we buy in? Again, no. Success is a value judgment, so what do you value? We need to use our heads about this. When we define success, we are defining ourselves. “What do you want from life?” The Tubes’ satire of 70’s greed and cultural influence highlights the problem.
Materialism isn’t the answer, as the 80’s showed. Spirituality isn’t the answer either, as the 60’s showed. They answer is, of course, somewhere in the middle. By recognizing the effect of material culture on us, and using our minds, emotions and spiritual nature, our human gifts, to filter and choose our path, only then can we truly define success.
The answer to (re)defining success is an individual answer-with help from those around us-our friends, family, books, culture-but our choices are ours and ours alone.
As a start, I’ll let you in on some of my choices. I want to be happy (but being rich wouldn’t hurt). I want to love and be loved. I want to do good work, to help others’ lives. I want to reach my spiritual goals. I want to help others reach their spiritual goals and discover themselves. I want to leave the world a better place with my existence. If I can do these things, then I am a success.
So, what is your idea of success?