When we look up the definition of success, we find various interpretations of the word. It reminds me about how we look at art. Some people see beauty and feel up-lifted when they gaze on a piece of art. Others look at the same piece and don’t see any beauty nor are they moved by it. Beauty they say, “is in the eye of the beholder,” so too is success.
We use “success” to denote the achievement of a goal or purpose – as “Joan felt successful when she completed her Doctorate” or “Harry had a sense of successful accomplishment when he finished building his house.” It could also signify reaching a level of popularity or wealth; for instance, “people viewed George as successful when he gained notoriety,” or, “June accumulated great wealth and people saw her as successful.” Whether other people saw Joan and Harry as successful is another question; and perhaps George and June don’t regard themselves as successful.
Success is a state of being, an attribute or a feeling - not something we can place on our task list. It is often born out of miss steps, failures, and mistakes which suggests success may come through persistence, tenacity and a willingness to keep trying.
Success then doesn’t seem to come easy, but it is not always achieved because of something we did intentionally. It also can come about by sheer accident. Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Watson invented the telephone and telegraph after years of persistence and experimentation. Another Alexander, Sir Alexander Fleming, accidently discovered the ingredients for penicillin. Both men are regarded as achieving success.
It appears that the secret to success may be persistence, or not.
I mentioned above that success often relates to accomplishing goals. But what about the person who is not goal directed but living a full life in the "now." Is that person successful? And what about the accumulation of riches often viewed as wealth? I have known many people - and still do - who don’t have lot of money but who are wealthy beyond measure with their wisdom, love, joy and happiness. Are these people successful?
In a previous post I proposed that people are successful when they have a stated purpose in life. I suggested that a purpose statement should have intention with a bias for action, an intangible value and a focus on the other. Purpose statements are goal oriented. People may view themselves as successful when they fulfill their purpose.
Some people desire to live in the ‘now’ and accept whatever life throws at them with calmness, authenticity and integrity. They don’t seek fame, power, fortune, or popularity. They just want to be themselves in the ‘now’. Should we not these people be viewed as successful?
In our consumer-oriented society, we are pushed to become and viewed as successful. We hear phrases like "Dress for Success." "You must study to become successful." "Work hard and you will be successful."
Here success seems to be related to appearance, education and hard work. All laudable in and of themselves but do they tell the whole story? One could argue that our conventional acceptance of the phrases is more about the achievement of personal wealth and stature than about contributing to the social betterment of society. Unless social betterment is added to the mix, such as sharing personal wealth with this less fortunate or improving family life, can we really say we are successful?
When we talk about a successful business person, what are we talking about? The person who has accumulated wealth through business? The person who treats his/her employees well? The person who is well respected in the community? The person who shares his wealth with others? Or, Is it all these things?
Can a business person treat employees well, contribute to her community, or share her wealth without having first succeeded with a positive cash flow and an accumulation of money? Or, does she gain cash flow and personal wealth by achieving those ends? Perhaps the business person achieves success by doing more for others than for herself. In strengthening others is not the self, strengthened? And is not that success?
Is success about an inner strength that propels us to become the person we are meant to be, no matter what that is? When we try something and don't succeed, are we successful? Maybe we are if we learned something from the experience.
We come back full circle to the beginning of the article where it was pointed out that success may really be just a state of mind. My view of success may be different than yours. Does that make me unsuccessful? Maybe in your eyes, but not in mine. What counts most? My view or your view? Who lives’ within "me? Me, of course.
Perhaps success is not found in the accumulation of financial wealth, power, fame or glory but what one does with them. The point of this article is to ask how you define success for "you."
What gives you joy, happiness and satisfaction? To put it another way, what touches your most inner self, your soul? Define that, and you may discover your version of success.
Thanks for reading
Richard Fontanie, MSW, FCMC
Here are nine ways how people define success .