What is Success?
Success. Everyone wants it but few people live it. I think one of the primary reasons for this is that they fail to understand what it actually is. It’s very hard (if not impossible) to reach a goal that is not well defined. If you don’t know where you’re trying to go, how will you even know it if you get there? As psychiatrist Leon Tec once said: “A sailor without a destination cannot hope for a favorable wind.”
So the first (often overlooked) step to becoming ‘successful’ is defining success. We must set our coordinates accurately so that we can someday reach our intended destination.
Because I have found my experiences in violent agreement with Isaac Newton’s statement that “If I have seen further it is by standing on ye sholders of Giants,” I will look to those who have pondered this question before me to help formulate my own answer.
“Action is the foundational key to all success.” ~Pablo Picasso
Sophocles tells us that “Success is dependent on effort” and Charles Luckman that “Success is that old ABC – ability, breaks, and courage.” Combining these, the basic ingredients of success emerge: Talent, Daring, Labor, and Luck. But that’s not enough. Colin R. Davis warns us that “The road to success and the road to failure are almost exactly the same.” So what is it that separates success from failure when those ingredients are combined?
“Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.” ~Dale Carnegie
Winston Churchill provides some insight in his famous assertion that “Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” He’s not the only one to equate resiliency to failure with success though, Michael Jordan admits “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed” and General Patton puts it slightly more illustratively: “Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.” I think we can summarize this into our ingredients list as experience.
“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” ~Benjamin Franklin
We now have five ingredients that make up success: Talent, Daring, Labor, Experience, and Luck. But is that enough? Can you combine those five pieces and always end up with success? To the contrary, Booker T. Washington informs us that “Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.” Similarly, John Foster Dulles says that “The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it is the same problem you had last year.” Both are allusions to progress. They tell us that success is not a one time event but rather a continuum.
“There is only one success – to be able to spend your life in your own way.” ~Christopher Morley
Now we know that success requires Talent, Daring, Labor, Experience, Progress, and Luck and that it is not a singularity but rather a state of being – but are we any closer to a definition of success that will help us set our course? The original question remains; how do we recognize success once we obtain it? What does success look like? Paul J. Meyer gives us a quite practical definition that is very much in line with what we’ve learned thus far: “Success is the progressive realization of predetermined, worthwhile, personal goals.” Maya Angelou provides an equally clear but more warm-and-fuzzy explanation: “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” My favorite verbal illustration of success comes from Orison Swett Marden however, he says that “When a man feels throbbing within him the power to do what he undertakes as well as it can possibly be done, this is happiness, this is success.”
“Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.” ~Albert Einstein
But perhaps, even with that clear picture of success, we really just learn that we’re asking the wrong question. Dale Carnegie advises that “Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.” Wouldn’t you rather be happy then successful? What good is the ‘good life’ if you don’t enjoy it?
Success is really about doing what you love, as often and as well as you can. This fulfills you and adds value to those around you. In fact, when you take charge and do those things that you love to do, no matter what, success and it’s definition stop mattering. Those things, and the way you do them, are what matter. Success, therefor, is not a goal to be obtained but rather a way of life. The destination you set should be one of your choosing, not based on an ethereal ideal of ‘success’ but rather on your own personal hopes, dreams, and aspirations. Of course defining those may be even harder than defining success but they are yours to define. The true key to success then, is to plant a marker in the right direction and then get off your ass, take the reins, and charge bravely forward into the unknown that awaits you.
“I couldn’t wait for success, so I went ahead without it.” ~Jonathan Winters
At the end of the day, success, like everything else, is simply what you make it. If you can combine Talent, Daring, Labor, Experience, and Luck to make constant (if slow at times) Progress with a smile on your face – you may just have found success after all.