What is success?


This post started off as an analysis of success and quickly turned into a Life Plan brainstorming session. As it turns out, building a life plan is a little more intricate than I first thought, and requires a great deal more pondering than half a Sunday. As such I think I will assign this post to explore success, and then allocate my life plan the time and devotion it needs.

Right, so, what is success?

If you asked four different people what their definition of success would be, you would get four very different answers. In order to illustrate this, I asked four people one simple question; What does success mean to you?

Sophie, University Student reading Psychology – “I’d probably define success as having a stable career which you enjoy. Above all, being able to support yourself financially and being able to share it all with people you love / who care about you.”

Will, Soldier in the Armed Forces – “Success to me is when one recognises their flaws and does everything to rectify them. Continuously advancing their life forward for the better, even if it sometimes means taking a step back. It doesn’t mean coming first, it means coming a position above what you were yesterday.”

Reema, Series Producer at the BBC – “Success for me is seeing other people achieve and grow in their careers and knowing that I have helped and guided them to achieve their best. That’s when I know I have achieved my best.”

Toby, Antiques Dealer & Owner of Lorfords Antiques – “Success is the freedom to choose when and what you wish to do.”

The thing about success is that it is so open to interpretation, as illustrated by the answers above. I think it can be very easy to define success as great wealth or societal status, people become immersed in this ‘celebrity lifestyle’, but surely there is more to strive for in life than fame and fortune? Something less egotistic, more fulfilling, something sincere. Society idolises celebrities, as it seems, ostensibly, that they have everything anyone could wish for in life; wealth, fame and popularity. However, what we don’t look at is the pressure they face, the statistics of celebrities we lose to depression and overdose. For all the fame and wealth, there are the demands and strains of publicity. Surely that is not a lifestyle we should be idolising? In the words of Sir Richard Branson: “Too many people measure how successful they are by how much money they make or the people that they associate with. In my opinion, true success should be measured by how happy you are.” In the banal and complex world in which we live, it can be an arduous task to try to look through all the expectations, the burdens and the responsibilities to search for what truly makes you happy. So how do we define success?

What Success Isn’t

In order to understand what success is, we should first look at what it isn’t.

Success isn’t ruthlessly pursuing something because you’ve deemed it your goal in life, and nothing can sway you otherwise. That’s not to say one shouldn’t pursue goals and dreams, however there is a big difference between chasing a goal in an ambitious, yet intelligent, manner and pursuing something in an unrelenting and headstrong fashion, to the point where you burn out. When we start the road to accomplishing a goal it’s very easy to get consumed by this need to achieve it. Pride and stubbornness will forever be our enemies when we don’t apply logic and little bit of self-reflection. When you’re on the path to completing a goal it’s important to take little breaks along the way and check in with yourself. Ask yourself if this is still what you want. If it is really what you want. More often than not the answer will not be what you want to hear, but what you need to hear. There are times when you will look at your goal, and the path you’ve planned ahead, and realise that perhaps you need to adjust your road a little bit. Your goal of being a fashion designer still hasn’t changed but working at Topshop just isn’t cutting it for you, so you re-evaluate, take time out to build your own portfolio and send it to the best designers in London. Other times you will find the whole goal has been an exercise in futility. Yes, it is frustrating when the realisation dawns on you that all your hard work has actually been in pursuit of something you are not passionate about. However, it is in moments like this that we are given the greatest opportunity to learn.

I spent most of my late teenage-hood wanting to be a Hotelier. I was utterly convinced it was my calling in life. I met contacts in the Hospitality industry and started a job as a waitress in the restaurant of a hotel chain. I had a detailed, and if I’m honest, slightly naive ambition, of working my way to having my own hotel. It wasn’t by any means an unrealistic goal, but I hadn’t even taken into account that I may, at some point down the road, decide I want to do something else. Sure enough it didn’t take me long at all to realise I was on the wrong path, and my goal was completely out of line with what I wanted in life. I felt like I had completely failed. Suddenly I found myself lost, oblivious as to what direction my life was going in. Temptation to wallow in self-pity grips most of us at times like this. I’ve spent a lot of time wallowing in self-pity over the years, before realising it is the most unproductive and demotivating waste of time. Self-pity will get you no-where. What we should do in times of defeat is analyse what went wrong. It took me a couple of years of dead-end jobs, but after some torturous self-reflection I realised that the reason I was so unhappy was because I hadn’t actually been listening to myself. I had jumped from job to job, more concerned with actually having a job than making sure it was the right one. At this point I realised I needed to stop, take some time, and discover what it was I wanted from life. Instead of being drained by my failures I needed to reflect and learn from them. With each misstep, each dream that ended up crumpled in the bin, I learnt a little more about myself and it became a little easier to see the shape my future was taking.

If you want to succeed, be prepared to fail along the way. We learn a lot more from failing than we do from succeeding. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.” I truly believe that in order to succeed we must fail. When we do fail it’s important to take time to reflect. Were we chasing the wrong goal? Was it the wrong goal or the wrong path? What goal am I going to aim for now? What successes have I made along the way? Was it really my goal? All these questions give us a better understanding about where to go next.

The last question leads me onto my last point; success isn’t chasing goals other people want for you. I think it is hard, particularly when you are young, to discern between your own goals and the goals other people set for you. We spend so many years following the command of our parents and teachers that to suddenly be thrust into a life where you make your own goals can be a daunting task. If you want desperately to be a Wildlife Photographer but you follow your parent’s dream for you to be a doctor, you will end up in pursuit of a dream that is not yours. Your life will end up rife with confusion and dissatisfaction and you’ll find yourself a long way down the road wishing you’d turned around 50 miles back. The difficulty is that success is so open to interpretation. That’s why it’s more important than ever, especially with the mounting pressures of modern society, to look deep into your heart, listen to that little voice inside of you and define what success means to you. Follow your goals, not other people’s goals, and by no account force your goals on anyone else. What will make you happy may make someone else miserable.

So, What is success?

I guess the simple answer here is that it is not for me to tell you what success is. At the end of the day success is in the eye of the beholder; a man with little belongings, but who has the undying love of his wife, may envy the affluent man in his mansion. However the man in the mansion may long for a love like the man who has no belongings. Although I can’t tell you what your definition of success is, I can tell you a little about what success means to me.

If someone asked me to give my definition of success, it would be: ‘Success is my pursuit of a happy, comfortable and secure life. It is striving to be the best I can be in my personal and professional lives; through recognising my flaws and doing everything I can to learn and improve.’ When pondering over success I often find it helpful to broach the subject from three angles. Success in my professional life, success in my personal life, and success in myself.

Success in my professional life includes all the goals related to my career and professional development. At this time in my life, my professional goals are:

  • To learn as much as I can from my current position, and look for where my next opportunity lies
  • To work in a job that is fulfilling and enjoyable
  • To continue to raise awareness for Mental Health in my workplace
  • To spend more time working on my blog

Success in my personal life would be the goals that affect or involve other people:

  • To be the best friend/girlfriend/daughter/sister/niece I can be
  • To get married and start a family
  • To spend more time with my friends
  • To get a house with my partner
  • To continue improving my relationship with my parents

Success in myself are all the goals that pertain to me, and me only. Examples of these would be:

  • Working on my fitness and striving to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
  • To get better at budgeting and saving.
  • Focusing on self-improvement; and always fighting to beat my anxiety and depression
  • Continually revising what makes me happy, and what I want for my future
  • To finally complete Lego Star Wars

Now, these goals are all well and good, but to me there is another type of success. It’s the success of little things; getting out of bed on the days I feel depressed; getting that recipe right for the first time; finally beating that level on that game; or getting through that tough day at work. Sometimes I think we focus so much on the big things in life, that our everyday achievements pass us by.

Take a little time to think about what success means to you, and don’t fear the failures and detours that may meet you along the way.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post, if you have any thoughts about what you have read please leave them in the comments below.

Happy Living


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