Why you need to redefine the meaning of "success"
Updated: Sep 1, 2021
All of us optimize our lives for success in one way, shape, or form. We want to be successful at parenting, work, education, sports, or even at a new passion project. And as I’ve written many times before, this strive for success is harmful to us for the most part. It makes us impatient with ourselves and others, create self-destructive mindsets, and eventually turns us into quitters. Because we can only be “successful” in so many areas of our lives, therefore often when we don’t meet the expectations we set for ourselves, it’s just easier to quit than keep going.
However, it doesn’t have to be this way. If we carefully define “success” according to our own sets of values, being a goal-oriented person can be beneficial in many ways. It can help us become more organized and driven. It can motivate us to step out of our comfort zones and create many new experiences, which we would never think of otherwise. And finally – it can help us remember to take daily actions toward becoming successful, no matter what that means to you personally.
But in order for that to happen, we need to take a closer look at what we currently view as success, think about how to redefine it, and therefore, establish better guidelines for our goal setting.
What is the popular definition of ”success”?
As a result of the capitalism and hustle culture, in today’s world success is commonly viewed as a state of being rich and famous, owning many physical possessions (the more expensive, the better), being accomplished professionally, and sometimes also being married with a bunch of kids. The level of success is usually based on the comparison, or on how you fulfill the criteria mentioned above in comparison to your closest friends, family, or – in the era of social media – in comparison to people you follow online. But humans aren’t capable to establish their self-worth based on the billions of other people. We are designed to live in groups of about 150 people, in villages or small towns, where you can be best at at least one skill. In groups like this, comparison helps you understand the levels of your abilities because if you can see that someone else runs faster than you, you should probably stick to pottery. However, in today’s world, you’ll never be the fastest runner even if you’re an Olympian because you’re comparing to the ever-growing group of almost 8 billion people.
In short, we can sum up the popular criteria of success with 5 adjectives: best, rich, famous, productive, and – as much as we like to deny it – attractive.
How should we define success instead?
First, we should focus on improving at working towards the goals we set for ourselves. We should compare our work and ourselves, but not with others, and instead with our past work and past selves. Look back a year or two ago, and notice all the things you learned or accomplished. How could that not be a success?
But apart from bettering ourselves, it’s as much or even more meaningful to have a net positive impact on our closest environment. A successful person enhances the world they live in – even if it’s a very insignificant improvement, like picking up a piece of trash from the street – and is of service to other people with their work or everyday actions. Because what do all of these work and achievements mean, if they don’t, in one way or another, enhance our shared human experience.
And lastly, a successful person, while working to improve themselves and the world, is satisfied with themselves. They know that they are enough and a valuable member of society, no matter if they will achieve their goals in the future. Because, in the end, only we can determine our success, and there won’t ever be a person that one day will come to us and say ”You’re so successful! You’ve achieved all your goals and you’re indispensable!” therefore it’s up to us to notice that success. If we expect that we’ll be satisfied with ourselves once we achieve these goals, that will never be the case. There will always be something we want to accomplish, and relying on these accomplishments with our self-worth, can become a journey into a bottomless pit.
This is my definition of success, and chances are, you’ll have a different take on it, but it’s important to remember that there are no right or wrong answers here. However, if we don’t determine what ”success” means to us, we will unconsciously accept the definitions of the people closest to us. And it’s up to you to decide if that version of success, is something you want to base your life on. If you can only learn one thing through this article, let that be the value of being a critical thinker and deciding what to chase after and if you even want to chase for yourself.
As was mentioned at the beginning, we spend most of our days working towards achieving some sort of success, so it is crucial to make sure that we have our values aligned with what we’re chasing and can be satisfied with ourselves in the process.