No matter what we call it, we all pursue success. We all have desires and strive to achieve them. Our desires may be different from anyone else’s, and we may not consider achieving them to be “success.” We look around and see people whose success we envy. What is Jake doing with his supply of hours in any given day that puts him so far ahead of me in money, friends, and influence? Why is he successful, and why am I not? Why is he flying his own Learjet while I’m rattling around in this two-year-old Jaguar? Why is she living in a new house and raising three perfect children while I’m still looking for a mate? Why is that guy’s cardboard box so much bigger than mine, and where did he get that king-size shopping cart?
But without knowing all the facts, without being inside the mind of the other person, you can’t say whether that person is more successful than you. Maybe he’s worth $100 million but is unhappy because his goal was to become governor by the age of 40 and he’s growing tired of the frenetic pursuit of power. And maybe you are not as wealthy as you wanted to be, but on the other hand you’ve made it through great personal difficulties and are pleased to have kept your finances afloat and family intact. Which of you is more successful? Fulfilling any personal desire is success by any reasonable definition, and you’ve achieved some very important and satisfying goals.
The measure of your success is how well you use your productive time to achieve the goals that are important to you. Not how you stack up compared to everybody else–but how well you’ve used your own abilities and resources to achieve worthy goals, however humble, for yourself and the people who are important to you. Who knows? That would-be governor may be watching you and saying to himself, “I’m a miserable failure. When did I decide money was more important than enjoying my work? Why didn’t I stay off the fast track and spend more time with my kids? Why can’t I take it easy and enjoy life like George is doing?”
Dictionaries define success as the achievement of something desired, planned, or attempted. But in real life, success is a slippery concept, especially when you come to your own personal definition of it. Success is a relative thing and highly personal. Many an exhausted high achiever has reached a lofty goal only to discover that it was a false peak, that the true summit loomed much higher. Others have reached the highest heights only to find them barren and empty and then realized the only way down was . . . down. Yet many a modest achiever has trekked through a lifetime of rocky trails and boggy swamps to realize, after all, what a glorious and rewarding trip it has been. And the ex-addict who’s stacking lumber? Every day on the job can be a victory.
So, now that you have an idea of how ephemeral this notion of success is, how do you go about achieving it? If you’re looking for a generic formula, you won’t find it–there is none. Success depends on timing, circumstances, situations, and–most important–your own perception of what success is. Nor is there a mathematical standard for measuring when and how thoroughly you’ve achieved it. There are many ways to measure success, but in the final analysis, it’s how you measure it for yourself that truly counts.
I’m curious . . . how do you personally measure success? I’d love for you to share your thoughts in the comment forum below. Thanks!