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What Is Success?

Success is the accomplishment of an aim or of a purpose. It sounds simple enough as is. If someone’s aim is to get a college degree and they get a college degree, we can say that they have succeeded. If someone’s purpose for writing a letter was for the other person to feel loved and the other person actually felt loved by reading the letter, we can say that they have succeeded. But we need to simplify the idea of success even further by looking at a more objective, universal perspective. The reason for this is that we may accomplish an aim or purpose that we don’t truly want.

Let me explain. A person may not actually want a specific job, but they may apply for it and set it as an aim anyway. If this is the case, they may succeed in getting that job. But doing so will do very little for their wellbeing or for their personal sense of accomplishment. To simplify it further, from an objective, universal perspective, to succeed is to achieve what one wants.

And this is why no one can actually agree upon what is and what isn’t a success. No one can agree upon the picture of success. And this is because 1. People disagree about what aim or purpose is good and right. And 2. Not everyone wants the same thing because people have different values, needs and desires. 

For example, many people in the western world feel that having a mansion and a penthouse and multiple businesses and 5 luxury cars and a closet full of designer clothes and constantly traveling on your private jet means that a person is experiencing success. However, if you were Amish, you wouldn’t think so. You would believe that living a modest and simple life is good and right. Therefore, your picture of success might look like a simple home with no electricity, home cooked meals, a horse and buggy, spending quality time with family, friends and community and enjoying the natural world. 

Or for example, one person might really want and value quality leisure time. They would see success as someone being able to have lots of enjoyable, zero pressure “down” time. And another might really want and value achievements. They would see success as someone who is proactive and busy so as to produce and to rack up awards and reach goals. 

A person’s picture of success changes over the course of their life. It changes because desires change and perspectives change and beliefs change. Never the less, we love to think that other people should have the same estimation of “right” and “good” that we do, want the same things as we do and have the same values as we do. Therefore, we think our own picture of success is superior and therefore, everyone else should have the same picture of success. When they don’t, we tend to feel superior to them and try to convert them to our picture of success. 

For humanity to progress, we need to be able to recognize all forms of success rather than minimizing or negating some while exalting and revering others. Regardless of whether or not we, specifically want that aim or purpose and therefore type of success. Imagine a world where you have two people. One is a thespian who is usually short on cash and who moves to whatever city has a part in a show to offer. One is a lawyer with tons of money to burn and who will not take any real risks in life. It is obvious that these two people have different desires and values. Their picture of the success they want is different. But imagine that the lawyer can genuinely recognize the thespian’s ability to tell stories and confidence in front of a crowd and dedication to ruthlessly following their passion as success. And the thespian can genuinely recognize the financial security that the lawyer has built up and the business they have built up and the legal knowledge they have attained as success.

When we say “I can’t recognize that person as a success” what we really mean is “that person has not achieved anything that I want and that I value”. This being said, it is especially hard to recognize something as success when it is obvious that the way that someone goes about attaining what they want harms someone or something else. In which case, we could say that this person has succeeded at their aim or purpose, but has not succeeded at harmony or at creating safe relationships or at creating system health or at enhancing the wellbeing of the other. But this is not going to matter much to a person unless what they want is safe relationship and harmony and system health and the well-being of the other. And what we are left with is being desperate for them to want that, so as to treat it like an aim and incorporate it into their picture of success.

Now that this has been said, and you understand how many forms of success there can be and how individualized the picture of success is, it is important to know something else. For people to accomplish something together (to succeed together) they have to agree upon the picture of success. If they do not, it is inevitable that at some point, their values and desires will clash. As anyone who has been part of a team can tell you, it is a huge issue on a team when everyone’s picture of success is different. 

One’s picture of success is a big element of compatibility in relationships. Also, people may share the same values, but in what order? Life has a way of ensuring that our values will be tested against each other. When this is the case, we may need to prioritize between two or more of our top values. And if someone else that we are trying to accomplish something with would prioritize those same values in a different order, it is a guarantee that they will not agree with the decisions and actions we take and vice versa. Suddenly, their values and our values will be juxtaposed. This is a recipe for conflict.

So that you can understand this, I’ve got an example for you. Max and Richard own a business in healthcare for seniors together. Both of them love financial success and both of them really care about helping people that need care. So, starting a business in healthcare was the best of both worlds. A few years back, their company got sued. As a result, they needed to make enough money to afford the court case. This situation caused both of their top values to be tested against one another. Max decided that because his top value in life is financial security, money was the bigger value and therefore, should be the priority. Meanwhile, Richard has always had family money. He decided that helping people who need care, regardless of money should matter most. Both simply assumed the other was on the same page instead of directly communicating. 

Suddenly, they were disagreeing on everything. Max wanted to sever relationships with insurance companies that were difficult to get pay outs from and discontinue some of the programs they had for seniors on low incomes and consider merger deals with much larger competitive companies. Richard wanted to bleed their accounts dry for the court case and even do fundraisers if necessary so they could continue business as they had always done; especially their programs for seniors on low incomes. You may look at this conflict and immediately jump to the conclusion that Richard is the better and more moral person in the situation. But even the accountants agreed that Richard’s course of action could put them out of business altogether, meaning that not only would Max and Richard personally suffer, every last one of the seniors under their care would no longer have care and would have to start over from scratch with a new provider. The point of this entire story has nothing to do with morality. What it is about is values and a picture of success and whether two people’s values and picture of success are compatible, especially when situations arise that force people to prioritize.

When you are trying to establish compatibility so as to achieve anything with someone else, whether that is a good relationship or a business goal, it is important to make sure that you are on the same page with them about the picture of success and also, should the need arise, the prioritization of values.

Long story short, success is to achieve what one wants. We could argue all day over whether someone is or isn’t a success based off of whether they have or haven’t achieved what we value and want. If I were to give you my picture and therefore definition of success, it would be about what I want. Even the universe’s more objective picture of success is about what the collective universe wants. But to make it more grounded, if someone wants to be traveling the world, traveling the world is successful to them. If someone wants a millionaire lifestyle, a millionaire lifestyle is successful to them. If someone wants to be awakened, being awakened is successful to them. If someone wants a close family, having a close family is successful to them. And our picture of success will evolve over our lifetime as our needs and perspective changes. The most important question is: Is this way that I am thinking, are these decisions that I am making and are these actions that I am taking actually helping me to achieve what I really want?


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