By the time we’re adults we’ve all asked ourselves “How can I succeed in life?” Some of us may have even come up with satisfactory answers to the question. Yet most of us, I believe, fail to come up with a personal, and therefore unique, answer to the question and settle for the options which are presented to us by authority figures.
This article will argue that if we are to succeed in life we must follow our own desires and interests. We must learn to learn about ourselves; What gets us to wake up in the morning excited to live our days? What exercise activities can we perform joyfully? What makes us happy?
The class of life is always in session. It costs no tuition and the teachers are everyone and everything. By opening ourselves to the lessons of our lives we simultaneously open ourselves to the highest calibration of our spirits; we become capable of expressing our innermost loves in the material world through the focused implementation of our energies.
Everyone can be successful. But success plays favorites. It’s up to us to learn what success is looking for in a person. And then act to make it happen!
This article will show you how to answer your own success question.
What Is Success?
I’ve previously written an article on what success is. If you’re interested you can read it here.
I believe true success is defined by each of us. This means that in order for us to be truly successful we must have a clear definition of what success is on our terms.
What do I mean by that?
I mean that we must each discover what success is for us.
Living in a technologically advanced civilization we get exposed to an endless flow of presentations of “success”. We see it on televisions and movie and smartphone screens. We hear about it on the radio and in the conversations around us. We take in each of these presentations of “success”, internalize them and mold them into our perception of how success works and what we need to do to achieve it.
But is what we’re shown really success? Is the vision we have of success as it’s presented to us the real deal?
My answer is a thunderous “no.” The success we get exposed to is not true success. It’s a form of success, yes. But true success is self-defined. True success is unique to each of us. The success we see on the screens might be a version of success, but it is not our success.
And because of that we might as well ignore it.
By ignoring the messages of “success” we actually enable ourselves to craft success on our personal terms. We empower ourselves to make choices which are true to us and in so doing step off the hedonic treadmill so many of us have unknowingly been convinced to get on.
How Do You Define Success?
This is an essential question to ask ourselves. How do you define success? When you imagine a successful person, what comes to your mind?
I’ll tell you what I used to imagine, just a few years ago:
When I used imagine a successful person I saw a world-renowned scientist or engineer. Someone dressed in an expensive suit, driving a fancy car, equally at home in a sleek, modernist home or an old Manhattan brownstone. I imagined that person as famous; renowned in their field, someone whom people would whisper about as he passed by. Women loved him.
Because this was the version of success I accepted, I made choices which I believed would lead me into inhabiting that state. And I’ll tell you right now, there’s nothing wrong with accepting that version of success. There’s nothing wrong with having plenty money, recognition, fancy cars and luxurious homes. In fact, life wants us to have plenty of money, so we can express ourselves to our fullest. Life has our back, believe it or not.
But the traditional version of success wasn’t my version of success. It was the version I had accepted without really questioning whether it was what my heart truly desired or not. And because I had never taken the time to investigate whether it was what I wanted or not, I ended up making mistakes which cost me dearly.
But I learned from my mistakes. And so I seek to pass what I learned on to my readers.
How I Define Success Now
Today my definition of success has deepened. While the external markers of success remain similar: the luxurious house, car and bank account, those markers are no longer the primary ones to me.
They are secondary.
Today, when I imagine a successful person, this is who I imagine. Someone who is at peace with himself and happy with his contribution to the human endeavor. A person who is surrounded by people he loves and who love him in return. He is healthy, happy and has the time to dedicate to the activities which fill him with joy and keep his heart young. He works on his terms and always makes time for his family, friends and community. His priorities are straight; he knows what really matters in life and makes the choices which strengthen his relationship with his own soul and those of others.
That’s the definition of success I chose after trying and failing in several arenas of life. It also comes from years of reading about what human being “the animal” needs to be happy. Yes, human beings are animals; we’re mammals, and so we all share commonalities in terms of what keeps us happy and healthy: strong communities, diverse physical movement, peace of mind, healthy and nutritious food and new experiences.
I’ve learned that when we focus on these things, these animal requirements, it’s likely we will meet with success.
Where Did Your Definition Come From?
Now I invite you to reflect on where your definition of success came from. Personally, my family and the media totally shaped my perception of success. My mother did her best to instill her version of success in me, which was the first definition I wrote about; the world-renowned scientist or engineer.
I also based my version of success on what the media had told me it was. Movies like “Iron Man”, “Fracture” and “The Wolf Of Wall Street” deeply informed my vision of what a successful man was.
Are you aware of what your vision of success is? If so, can you take the time to take apart where the image of success came from? Why do you believe what you believe about success?
A study has actually shown that in the United States individuals become as happy as money can make them when earning 40,000 dollars a year. After that amount, earning more money had no effect on a person’s happiness.
There are other studies which contradict that result, of course. But it should give us pause to consider what things make us happy other than the money we earn (hint: they’re our “animal” needs).
What Choices Have You Made In The Name Of Success?
We make each of our choices in the name of happiness. Matthieu Ricard says that no human being wakes up in the morning and thinks “I want to be miserable all day.” No, we wake up thinking and feeling “I want to be happy today.”
But are happiness and success related? Can a person be happy and be unsuccessful? On the other hand, can a person be unhappy and successful?
It depends on your definitions of happiness and success. You can read this article of mine where I present a definition of happiness which has served me well.
To me, being successful means being happy. It also means doing work we enjoy, having rich relationships with the world at large and having enough money and time to do the things we love.
I guess happiness and success are interchangeable. Insofar as happiness is the absence of desire. Isn’t success being so satisfied with who and where we are that we can relax and enjoy life?
So I invite you to reflect on the big choices you have made in your life in the name of success (happiness). Have they actually brought you success? Would you be willing to admit it if one of your choices hadn’t brought you success?
What Have You Learned?
If you have taken the time to reflect on what makes you successful/happy, then I now invite you to contemplate on what you’ve learned. Life is always teaching us, whether we’re aware of it or not.
For example, I learned that recognition, career success and money are less important for happiness than health and strong, loving relationships. This doesn’t mean that money and career success aren’t important at all. But as far as I can tell, a person can have lots of money and have a great career, but if they aren’t healthy or don’t have loving relationships then they’re miserable.
I’ve also known people who don’t have much money or career success, yet they’re healthy and surrounded by people they love and go on adventures, and so they’re happy. To me, that’s being successful.
It goes back to what I wrote before, we’re all animals, so we all have commonalities in terms of what makes and keeps us happy. Physical, mental and emotional health, combined with strong, trusting, loving relationships are a universal recipe for success/happiness.
Success Plays Favorites
I leave you with this quote by Bob Dylan:
“What’s money? A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.”
Success plays favorites. It comes to those who do what they enjoy doing. For a long time I didn’t do what I enjoyed, because I was adhering to other people’s version of success, not my own.
Once I began making the choices which allowed me to do what I enjoyed I finally saw success show up (read about that here). But how can we tell if we are doing what we actually enjoy doing or if we’re following a script prepared for us by someone else?
There’s only one way to know: by knowing ourselves. Knowing ourselves and knowing what we enjoy doing are synonymous. Living and making mistakes is a way of knowing ourselves. Another way is meditation; I practice it every day, it keeps me centered and focused on what matters to me.
I wrote this article to communicate what my personal experience on the journey to success has been like. I hope it has provided you with an alternative perspective on success. Each of us defines our success. By discovering what success is to us we can make the choices which bring it into existence.
So what is success to you?
To our wealth and success.