27 July 2011

Defining Success

I often wonder about success–how we define it, how we approach it, when we think we’ve reached it, why it’s so important to us.  It seems that the other people in our world reach their own definitions and ideas about success and then expect others to live up to their expectations, and that we for some reason buy into that paradigm as the “way things are.”  The problem I see with this, though, is that few of us ever really take the time to sit down and define success in our own personal ways.

A man named Christopher Morley once said that “There is only one success–to be able to spend your life in your own way.”  When I think of this definition, it makes me feel good about being human.  After all, there have been many monks and religious people who have spent their lives in meditation and contemplation, really contributing nothing tangible to other people in the world.  And who would I be to say that their lives weren’t successful just because we can’t measure their success at all?  There have been many housewives who have never been in the public eye and who never have written a best-seller on mothering, yet who have lived incredibly successful lives–on their own terms.  People of all career fields in all countries in all towns and villages and cities have lived incredibly successful lives without us ever knowing about them, and that’s important for us to keep in mind when we think about our own visions of success.

It’s very easy to start to think that we have a good idea of what success is, and that we somehow have a right to judge whether other people are successful or not.  But we can’t truly know what’s going on in anyone else’s minds and hearts, so there’s no real way that we can decide whether another human being is successful or not.  Someone who makes almost no money and spends his or her days sitting in a park or walking through a forest may be more successful than the person who has a high-paying job and all the toys that their pay can buy.  It depends what’s in their hearts, what they feel called to do, and we really can’t judge that for anyone else but ourselves.

Why is this important?  Obviously, because I go through my own life taking on challenges and facing obstacles, and it’s always up to me to determine my own level of success in the things that I do.  If I adopt the definitions of success that other people have, well, that’s fine.  But then I have to realize that I may not be living from my heart, and that I may not be giving myself a decent chance to become the person I’m truly meant to be.  On the other hand, if I am able to look at my actions and judge them based on what I feel called to do and to be, then I can make decisions on what to do and what not to do in the future based on what I know to be important to me as a person, to me as a spirit.

My success is up to me.  And often in failure there’s significant success, too.  But that seems to be something to address later. . . .

I must admit that I personally measure success in terms
of the contributions an individual makes
to her or his fellow human beings.

Margaret Mead

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