Why is success so important? Every waking hour we chase it or talk about it or or listen about it or worry about it. I think the reason we spend so much of our time in its pursuit is because success is growth and growth is Life. Anything that stops growing dies. Among fauna, for life to grow a sperm has to succeed to reach the egg and ovulate it. Similarly, among flora for life to grow bees must successfully transfer pollen from one flower to another flower’s pistil. This is the case with everything else around us, e.g. for the economy to succeed it needs us to spend more, to spend more we need to earn more to earn more we need to succeed at what we are doing. However, like all sperms won’t ovulate an egg or all pollen won’t fertilize a pistil, we won’t succeed every time. Yet each time we endeavor to succeed we give life a chance.
Here, one might ask, what is more important, Success or the self-perception of Success or other’s perceiving us as a success? What’s the difference you might ask. The difference is: One could have all the visible and tangible aspects of what everyone could generally call a success and yet internally they might not perceive themselves to be successful and yet, an individual could internally perceive themselves to be successful despite no obvious or tangible success factors visible to others. Then the question that arises is do we want to appear successful or feel successful? Difficult one isn’t it? Personally, I think as humans we might want a bit of both. This could be because, just to appear successful could feel very hollow and fake inside; on the other hand just feeling successful inside might not get reinforced due to absence of an external acknowledgement from the society. Depending upon our psychological make-up we probably vacillate between these two poles.
Thus it bring us to, what is success? Success could mean many things to many people however, I would like to define it as a set of objective achievements or just a feeling that we have about ourselves/others post a subjective evaluation. In a room full of individuals if one were to ask, how many among them considered themselves to be successful, typically a very small percentage of people raise their hand. Some don’t raise their hands because they genuinely believe and feel that they are not successful. Some despite believing and feeling they are successful don’t raise their hands because they are worried what-if someone else proves to be more successful and they start appearing as someone who gave-up or got contended too soon. Among those who do end-up raising their hands some genuinely believe and feel they are successful irrespective of external indicators/acknowledgements, some might have obvious external indicators of success irrespective of whether they feel so internally or not and are willing to risk appearing as someone who got contended too soon.
Ask yourself this question; do you consider yourself to be successful? What do you hear yourself answer? What could be the reason why you answered it that way? Difficult to explain, isn’t it? I think the clue might lie in what we consider to be success and how we define it.
Success as a result of comparison:
Often, we consider ourselves or others as successful only in comparison to something or someone. The parameters tend to be mostly materialistic/tangible things like education, assets, valuables, career or family in a varying order of significance. The comparison could be with ourselves
For example, we could consider ourselves to be successful if we attend a particular school/college, study a particular course, be employed in a particular organization, earn a salary in a particular pay bracket etc. Yet these could all fade if we were to compare ourselves on these very parameters with someone else.
Success as a function of time:
Success is often time-specific. This has two aspects to it. One it could mean that we might consider ourselves to be successful or not when we compare our current self with a past point-in-time self. Thus, the perception of our or other’s success keeps changing with time. For example, we cleared a tough entrance exam for under-grad or grad school, hence we could consider ourselves to be successful. However, the feeling of success doesn’t last too long as it fades in face of next set of challenges.
On the other hand, it could mean that we can conclude whether an individual is successful or not only when we look in retrospect at anyone’s life in its entirety. For example, an actor had an excellent run during his/her prime years, everyone considered them to be successful. However, many such actors die a pauper. When we view their lives in entirety our perception about their success undergoes a drastic change.
Success as a function of goals:
Individuals set goals for themselves. While there are goals of all types, there could be some goals that are more valuable than the others. Failing to achieve such goals could permanently affect our perception of our success. Any amount of success on the other goals might not change our self-evaluation.
For example, somebody might’ve set a goal to be in the army. If due to some factors including physical shortcomings, if the individual fails to be part of the army, this could permanently impair the individual’s self-evaluation about success.
In this pursuit of success, we also get strongly influenced by role models. Role models who we try to model ourselves after, hoping that we could replicate their success. Role models we chose are usually iconic figures, celebrities, a friend or even a relative. Life of any individual comprises of Personal | Financial | Health | Professional. Depending upon one’s nature/characteristic an individual could decide his order of importance among the above items. Who we decide to choose to be our role model gets strongly influenced by this order of importance? Often, we tend to view success through the narrow viewing pane of “Career and Finance” and hence choose role models who have demonstrated exceptional success in their respective professional field. In such cases we tend to ignore how these role models fared in the other two aspects of life. Here, I think, the choice of the role model is very important, this is because irrespective of whether we end-up becoming like them or not it could still permanently alter our perception about our own success.
What I try to say is that, whether we would consider ourselves to be successful or a failure is strongly influenced by who we decide to compare ourselves with, what goals we end-up chasing, the stage of our life we are in and the role models we model ourselves on. Thus, we must be careful in choosing we decide to compare ourselves with or the role models we intend to follow because we run the risk of inheriting or imbibing their idea of success, which might end up being a failure for us in retrospect at later point of life. Also, whether our lives have been truly successful, or a failure can only be concluded when we could see our entire life as a whole after we’ve run the course, which we probably will never get a chance to do. Thus, the only thing we should probably focus on is what inspires us and whenever we get that inspiration to act and not get too worried about whether we would succeed or fail because as Winston Churchill said ‘Success is not final; failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts’. Success is not a destination, it’s an endless journey or balancing internal and external worlds.