What is the definition of success?

I had my moment of self-questioning quite early on in my online life and that allowed me the luxury to focus on what is truly important as opposed on what others thought I should be doing. Since then I have frequently had emails from people wanting to know how to be successful. Before I get to the answer I invariably give it’s important to define what exactly we mean by “success”.

Such is our desire to “succeed” that Google search reveals no fewer than 38 TED Talks tagged with “success”. They range from talks on personal finance (because making money is, I guess, one definition of success) to how to deal with discomfort, increase your luck and learn to love yourself as you are.

Instead of grappling with the definition of success business magazines try to understand what it is that successful people actually think success is hoping that all this self-reported analysis will lead to insights that the rest of us can apply.

Psychologists talk about the drive to succeed and seek to understand why it happens at all and, inevitably, when we ask the question why one person is successful when another one isn’t motivation comes into the picture.

What is fascinating is that “success” by whatever definition you decide to apply, is within the grasp of every person on the planet. Success is a cultural construct which logically means that within each culture, at a personal level, each person should be able to succeed and when not succeeding for specific reasons they should be able to adjust their goals which means that success, again, should come within their grasp.

This is not, however, what happens. Instead of being a stimulus to motivation and an inspiration to identity, success appears to have become a perception-driven yardstick which we use to socially (and psychologically) elevate ourselves and denigrate others or worse, negatively distort the value of our own efforts and undermine our chances of happiness.

What we are not always told, what is never made explicit because it requires fundamental, inner change, is that the targets and goals we set (the tactics we use) only take us where we need them to when our northern star works and our compass is set right. Values, identity, who we are and then who we strive to become (which determines what we strive for) only make sense when these fundamentals have been put in place.

Without them we find ourselves in the interesting situation of forgetting that success is an ever-evolving, continuous journey. We are trapped then re-enacting Sisyphus’ struggles where we put in a lot of effort to little effect, reliving days over and over again without them leading anywhere until our best is no longer “good enough” and we are done.

I know you’re far from done. Coffee aplenty lies ahead of your day and a variety of croissants, cookies, donuts and chocolate cake. Have an awesome Sunday, wherever you are.