Earlier today I was helping a co-worker with a project as she wrestled with a roll of carton sealing tape. Upon locating the edge of the tape and freeing it from the rest of the roll, she yelled out excitedly “success”. Hmmm – she had accomplished what was her goal was at the moment and it made her happy.
This got me wondering what the real definition of success is.
What Is The Real Meaning of Success?
I think the default definition in many of our heads is that success equals fame, fortune, an executive job, expensive cars, a huge house (or several of them), and the ability to travel wherever we desire.
Where did this definition come from?
I think it is has been a societal definition for some time, and a belief that was most likely programmed into us when we were children. Parents wanted their kids to have a better education so they could make enough money to raise their family and pay the bills without struggling. And if you happened to have the title of doctor or lawyer, you would be viewed upon favorably in society.
I recall as a young adult making a vision board which included pictures of a big house; an SUV; a tall, dark, and handsome husband; two adorable, well-behaved, genius children; and a picture of a businesswoman with a closet full of fancy skirt suits and high heels climbing a ladder.
At that time in my life, these were the things that represented success in my mind. I spent the next three decades (and loads of energy and heartache) pursuing these things to the extent I could because I truly believed this was the path to success.
You can probably guess that I learned a few things along the way (as we all do). Any lodging, whether large, small, rented, borrowed (legally), or purchased can be a home as long as it shelters you from the rain and cold. Any reliable vehicle you can afford that gets you safely to where you need to go (and back home) is a godsend. Just because a man makes you drool, it doesn’t mean he will respect and appreciate you the way you desire and deserve.
Some children are born with struggles that challenge their ability to behave properly or excel in a school or work setting. And if you enjoy your work; it allows you to make ends meet; and it does not keep you in a chronic, unhealthy state of stress, then there is no need to continue dragging around a ladder.
Now that I am thirty (with twenty-one years experience), success looks much different to me. Success to me now is about being my best self; feeling contentment and peace of mind; helping others; slowing down and enjoying the present moment; being kind and compassionate and loving to everyone; being grateful; having a priceless network of close friends and family; working toward good health; having a roof over my head that is warm and comfortable; having a reliable vehicle with good gas mileage; earning enough money to comfortably pay my bills and help out my two young adult children; and having a job that allows me to work for a company with great values; an opportunity to make an impact, and the occasion to work with positive, energetic, and caring people.
I am the proud parent of a young adult daughter with mental health struggles. Multiple times during her childhood I grieved the life she would not be able to live, basing my vision of success at the time on my original view. One day I encountered a young man with mental health issues who was so happy and overjoyed with what he was doing at the time that he literally could not stop laughing. Suddenly, it dawned on me. My daughter’s life can look however it needs to as long as she is happy.
As you can see, the definition of success is not the same for all of us. Success comes to us as we put effort into creating a life we believe in, and in achieving the goals that are important to us and that bring us happiness. I think happiness is the key word here. I also believe that the meaning of success changes or evolves throughout the stages of our lives as it has for me.
Note that you and only you are the one who can define success for yourself. Even though you may receive influence from outside yourself, you cannot live out the expectations of others and be truly happy.
Success is a voyage. Some days we make great strides with the company of calm seas and abundant sunshine, other days our progress is slowed by rough seas, wind, and storm clouds. So set your sails in the direction that is most attractive to you, and you will be well on your way to Success Island.