What we think we know
The internet is full of books, articles, and videos about how to be successful. If you do a quick search on Google, or Youtube or Amazon, (which are the largest search engines out there), I can almost guarantee you that you’ll be overwhelmed with the number of results you’ll find (Trust me, I did that before!). Most of them will talk about how you can be a millionaire, how to be an entrepreneur, how to find love and build successful relationships, how to invest in the stock market, how to earn more than X dollars in Y months, etc.
Well, I have no problem with that, I think there are several extremely valuable content out there, that I have personally consumed, and that can help us be more productive, get us into that “winning mindset” and give us tips on how to move forward with whatever we encounter, and that’s great!
Some uncomfortable questions? …. Well, yeah, that’s what I’m here for!
However, I sometimes wonder whether that is what we call success! I mean yes, financial independence is a good component to a comfortable life, but saying that being successful means that you are rich does not seem very right to me.
We have all witnessed stories of extremely unhappy yet very wealthy people. We have seen some of our favorite movie stars or singers getting into drug addictions and having lousy relationships. Is that being successful? Can we call someone who is running a huge business, and who can afford all the forms of wealth he wants, but doesn’t seem to enjoy anything and decides to commit suicide, can we call that success? My answer is: I don’t think so!
We also have seen stories of wealthy yet very unhappy people not only in movies and series but also in our surroundings. We see some very powerful, yet extremely empty people who feel stuck in that image and that role that they have to play in the world, to a point where they end up being emotionally drained and can even develop some serious psychological disorders. But, why is that?
Another set of uncomfortable questions? … Here we go!
So, it makes you wonder what are they missing? Shouldn’t they be the happiest? Does being successful mean that you’re happy? What is the use of success if it’s not making us happy? And what is more important? success or happiness? Isn’t success supposed to be an achievement and make us feel good?
Well, these are some pretty hard questions right there, no? (I hate to say I told you so, LOL). But seriously, isn’t it important to know about these concepts of success and happiness? Of course, it is. After all, it is what EVERYBODY is looking for, right? You don’t find somebody saying that they want to be unhappy or they enjoy being a failure! Ok, maybe a few, but those are the exceptions.
Ok, so let’s start diving into this!
The best definition of success that I have ever come across is Earl Nightingale’s definition that reads: ”Success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal or ideal”. I also liked this one: “Success isn’t getting there. Success is making the decision that you’re going to get there and move towards it”.
Ok, just take a minute to think about that. Got it? Well, it doesn’t matter if you didn’t, because I’ll try to break it down for you as much as I can.
Children ask THE hardest questions, don’t you think?
Well, let’s imagine that your 6-year-old nephew asks you this question: what is success? How will you explain it to him? Is there some ready-to-use definition that can cover the meaning of this word or does it change through context? If it changes, then what are the variables of this change and how can you explain success to him in a way that he’ll understand?
Still hard? Well, yeah! Because if we use that definition I talked about earlier, you’ll have to figure out how to explain a lot of concepts to this kid without being too blubbery, like I am being here, LOL. You’ll have to explain to him what “progressive realization” means, what the word “worthy” means and what the heck is a “goal or ideal”.
Let’s start with the last one for now, shall we? Well, that destination can be a goal that you’re trying to achieve. So if my 6-year old nephew asked me that question (Thank God he didn’t before I wrote this post, I would have gone: “AAAAH, I don’t know”, and he will be like:” but why don’t you know? are you stupid, antie?” And I’ll be in much more trouble trying to answer that!), I would first ask him what he wants to be when he grows up.
Let’s say he wants to become a pilot, or an engineer, or a teacher, or a doctor or whatever! I would say that success is to be aware of what is important for him, deciding to make it happen, getting closer to it and keep updating it with time. That means that if he now wants to be a teacher then he should do whatever he can to get to that goal, but if somewhere along the way he develops this urgent desire and dream of being a fireman, then he should decide to be one, and figure out the necessary arrangements to make that happen.
Well, I don’t know if my imaginary nephew will get that, but I like to think that he’s smart and that he’ll be like “Thank you, Auntie, for giving me the most valuable lesson of my life when I’m 6 years old”. But if he doesn’t, no worries, he will have plenty of time to digest it. Although I would have tried my best to explain it to him, I still kinda feel it doesn’t capture all I wanted to say, so let me try to explain it to a more mature brain.
A 15-day vacation to Bali, Indonesia
You know what they say, unless you have a destination, any way you go is the right way.
Ok, let me explain that a little bit more: imagine you wanna go for a vacation with your loved ones and you ask them where they wanna go and let’s say they say we want to go to Bali, Indonesia and stay there for 15 days during August this year (Bear with me here, it’s one of my dream trips, so I’m trying to build a mental picture of it!).
At that time, the destination is clearly defined, you know exactly where you’re going, when and for how long you’ll be staying in that destination. The details about the means, the plane tickets, and all the travel arrangements can be figured out later. So, if you make that trip happen and you end up having some quality time with your loved ones, you can then proudly say that you succeeded that task, no? Of course, you have, because you had a clearly defined goal that you achieved and not only that, but you enjoyed achieving it and were happy that you did! So, if that’s not a success, I don’t know what it is, my friend! (Way to goo !)
Now imagine that when you asked them, they didn’t give you a specific answer, they said wherever you like sweetie, we just wanna get away from the house for a while and have some quiet time to relax! Ok, now that’s bad, you know why? Well, because it’s not specific, so you don’t have real indicators to measure the success of this task. It doesn’t say where, so you could go to Casablanca, to Paris, to Rome, to New York, or the small town nearby or just go to that motel a block away from your house, or that nice restaurant in the other part of the city (It is still not your house, no?).
It doesn’t say when. You could go out of the house on a rainy day and end up staying in bed the whole time. And it doesn’t specify for how long either, you could think that all they wanted is to go for dinner outside in a nice restaurant (it’s away from the house and you can have some quiet time together, no?), or you could go for a weekend and come back to work on Monday or you can drive them to that quiet, yet boring village for a month.
So, all these scenarios are forms of what the destination was, right? I mean they all involve getting away from home and a quiet place to relax, but can you really say what is a success and what is not? I bet you can’t! However, I guess you’ll have an idea about the answer if you later discover that they actually wanted to go to Bali, Indonesia for a 15-day vacation during August. OMG! I’m so sorry, but I guess this was not a success!
Let’s pick a destination, shall we?
OK, I can almost hear you saying: ” But Khaoula, that’s because I didn’t know what they wanted, I don’t read minds! They should have told me what they wanted and we would have tried to make it happen”. I gotta say, you’re absolutely right!
But, do you know something? Most of the time it’s not what other people want that we find hard to determine, most of the time we can have a much harder time figuring out what WE really want. And that’s just about succeeding one task! I mean it’s just about a vacation destination or the restaurant we want to have lunch in.
Imagine how hard it is to succeed in LIFE! Well, it is hard mainly because a general success can be much harder to define, because it may have multiple destinations in very different levels of our journey, but it’s somehow getting closer to those destinations that can define your success. Notice I said “getting closer to”, not necessarily “arriving at”, because the ending point of this journey called life is death. And so, as long as we’re alive, we should keep revising and updating those destinations and keep trying to getting close to them as much as we can. It’s that closeness to your goal that we can call success in my opinion, and being aware of the destinations themselves is what I find is the manifestation of that concept of “progressive realization”.
The concept of “worthiness”
Now, let’s say you have 5 destinations on different aspects of your life, either professionally or physically, or emotionally or spiritually or a combination of all those and maybe some other aspect! If you get 80% close to achieving D1, 70% to D2, 20% to D3, 55% to D4, and 75% to D5, can I predict the percentage of your overall success? Hmmm, I can try but I’ll have to make some assumptions that are most likely not true.
Let’s say I say that you are 60% close to your destinations, I would have assumed that all the destinations are equally important to you and make you happy exactly the same way, is that true? I have no idea! Maybe you don’t even know yourself, and that’s totally fine as long as you commit yourself to try to figure it out.
Ok, so let’s assume they are equally important to you, can I say that 60% is considered successful or not? How would I know? Only you can determine what is satisfactory at this moment and what is not, what is worthy in your opinion and what is not. 20% closer can be a huge success to some types of destinations in a particular moment of your journey, while 80% can be considered a step back for you. It all depends on the destination, its nature, its deadline, and its importance to you and your happiness (or in other words its worthiness).
Come up with your own definition of success
So, what I’m trying to say here is that success is much more than the amount of money in your bank account, or the assets you own, or the relationships you have. It is all those things if you consider them worthy, and way more. Hence, it is very important to define it for yourself! Because guess what, nobody will define it for you. Wait, correction: Nobody CAN define it for you!
Some people’s success is all about the amount of time they spend with their families, to others it’s about power and social status, to others it’s about their closeness to their creator and the purity of their heart, while it can be about paychecks for some people.
However, for most people, it’s about the balance between all these aspects of our lives. We want a connection to a higher power (Allah). We want to have great relationships with our families and friends. We want to find love and get married to our significant other. We want to have the job of our dreams. We want to have the means to be able to enjoy our lives. We want to have amazingly beautiful and healthy bodies. Some of us also want to help others and be able to serve in our own way.
It doesn’t matter what your definition of success is, just make it as specific and clear as possible for now! Break it down to a few destinations in different aspects of your life and try to at least classify them by degree of importance to your happiness or worthiness! That’s a simple yet very difficult exercise, so don’t give up if you can’t do it in one session. It can take time, but it’ll be so worth it, trust me!
Otherwise, we would just be wandering around here and not being able to know where we should go or whether we’re successful or not. And you know what is worse? The worse thing that can happen is to see that people are saying that you’re successful when you feel that you’re absolutely not! Remember, happiness comes from within and it reflects on the outside world! It’ll be great to feel proud to know that people especially your loved ones think that you’re successful, it’s one of the best feelings out there!
What is my definition of success?
Well, I can write an entire book to try to answer this question, but I’ll say a few words here. I personally consider success as a balance between all the aspects of my life, and so I am setting up professional, educational, spiritual, and personal goals that I update constantly (I will share some of them with you guys in future posts). But to me, the spiritual aspect is very important, it’s my number one priority in my list of destinations. It is the only aspect that can make me feel fullness inside, that can give meaning to my life especially when things are extremely hard. It makes me full of hope and makes it easier for me to get up on my feet when (God forbid) I experience any form of hardship.
So once again (last time today, I promise), how can you define success? Make sure to share your thoughts with me in the comment section, I can’t wait to read them and learn more about what is your definition of success.
Until next time, stay blessed!
Water and Environmental Engineer and researcher
Social volunteer and traveler
Psychology, neuroscience and personal development lover
Blogger about success tips