We could say that success means different things to different people, but I think ultimately that is a lie.
When you look at it closely, success (in its popular definition) is tightly connected with recognition.
You could be a brilliant writer or an artist, for example, but if no one is buying your work, if you’re not winning prises and you’re not being acknowledged, I doubt you’d think of yourself as a success.
Conversely, if your work sells, if you’re getting the accolades, etc., you’d be considered successful, even if your work is mediocre at best.
Few of us have enough self-esteem necessary to think of ourselves as successful without the recognition and acknowledgement from others.
One of the culprits that prevent us from feeling successful is our own over-inflated expectations.
It’s interesting to observe how we form our definition of success: it’s mostly a collage of positive mental snapshots.
For example, we see a person who’s business is thriving and we take a mental ‘snapshot’ that being a successful entrepreneur means being successful.
Never mind that the person’s private life might be in shambles, or that she is doing long-term damage to her health. We gloss over that completely.
Or take someone who we think looks hip and glamorous. We take another mental snapshot that being successful means being thin, gorgeous and dressed in expensive labels.
Forget all the neuroses that make the person’s life miserable – on the surface they are happy and having fun and that’s what we focus on.
We put all these snapshots together into a picture of success and inevitably find ourselves tragically short of perfection. We then spend the rest of our lives resenting ourselves for not measuring up.
We do the silliest, most dysfunctional things, trying to force life to fit into this picture of perfection we’ve cooked up in our heads.
The thing is, even if we manage to achieve some sort of resemblance between our lives and that definition of success, often it is a house of cards that has little to do with what we really, truly crave.
People hardly ever take the time to look deeply inside and try to understand what drives their desires, what their purpose is, what would make them truly happy, even if no one’s watching.
When we do sometimes get in a reflective mood and consider these questions, we rarely stay with them long enough to get some meaningful answers.
So if you are interested in really, truly understanding yourself, start with this question: ‘what would success mean to me If no one ever paid any attention or acknowledged my achievements?’.
For many people, the initial knee-jerk reaction answer would be some variation of having lots of money to spend on their every whim or to remake the world in their own image. The trick is to push past that and get to the real stuff.