Success is a broad, abstract concept and one that means different things to different people. Coming up with a single definition to satisfy everyone then is likely a futile task. But with that said, there are certainly some commonalities from person to person and some things we can agree on. And perhaps if we look at the sum of these parts, then we can come up with something at least approaching a universal ‘definition’ for success.
Different Kinds of Success
To many of us, success means career success and financial success. If you subscribe to that point of view, then success will mean making a lot of money, positioning yourself such that you hold a lot of power and holding lots of responsibility. If we were to visualize success, then it might look like someone standing in an office in a high-rise block of flats, with their hands on their hips, wearing an expensive suit and looking out over the city.
Only this person might be very unhappy. If they spend all their time working and had to sacrifice their relationships to get to that point, then they might be lonely and overworked.
Thus to someone else, success might look very different. To them, success means being a family man/woman and getting lots of time to spend with the children, while living in a home that you love.
So these are two very different interpretations of success… which one is accurate?
It’s tempting to say that the latter type of success is the more genuine somehow and that it is the ‘higher aim’. We might think that being successful purely in terms of money is shallow and that building a family life is a more noble way to spend your time.
But this is missing the point. The point is that both types of success are equally valid and it all depends on what you personally want to achieve in life. If you want to be a high-flying lawyer, then that’s a perfectly acceptable way to spend your time and a great ambition to have. It might be that this genuinely makes you happy – and that you don’t get much enjoyment from socializing with others.
So in that case, we might say that success is being happy. But even that wouldn’t be enough of a catch-all – because some people might have no interest in being happy. If you want to change the world, then you might be very successful in accomplishing that without ever being happy. And if happiness were all it took to be successful, then we could become successful simply by eating lots of chocolate…
So what is success?
The answer lies in defining the parameters. It is impossible to be perfect because perfection is subjective and because you could argue that there’s always a way to improve on something.
But you can get a perfect score on a test because that has set parameters. A test has a ‘maximum score’ and this gives the word ‘perfect’ a lot more meaning.
So to define success, you need to set the parameters. You can be successful within the context of your career, or within the context of your family.
And so this is how we can define success: as completing a goal. So no matter what your goals are in life, achieving them will mean that you have been successful.
It’s entirely up to you what those goals are though, and it’s this freedom to choose that allows us all to be so different and that gives life its meaning.
The first step on the path to success is to decide what it is you really want from life and what you want to achieve. Be honest with yourself and don’t let anyone else’s definition of success color what that word means to you.