In a blog I read regularly, the question of success was raised. I got me thinking about what success really means. It is, like so many other arbitrary assessments, a very personal definition, but one that has some universality associated with it. How do you define success? Is it in terms of title, accolade, prestige, wealth, influence, etc.? Does any one of these denominators in and of itself define success? I believe it does. I believe success is situation specific and that even in the midst of failure, success can be found.
Financial success can be fleeting. It has come and gone in my life more than once. It has mirrored my serenity and it has not. I used to think that being independently wealthy would make me happy. I no longer measure success this way. If the question was one of only financial security, then no, I am not yet comfortable – but it will come. Oddly enough, although I would not consider myself successful financially at the moment, I sure wouldn’t say I am a failure either. Perhaps success is not the opposite of failure.
Today, I feel as though I am successful as a father. However, fatherhood, like life, has many aspects to it. I am not as successful as I would like to be in all areas of fatherhood, but taken in total, I am definitely not failing. And I have had my moments where success at fatherhood seemed to be eluding me as well. As it turns out, it is never too late and in at least one aspect of fatherhood, I have been ultimately successful – unconditional love.
Socially my success today is proven out by a solid group of very good friends. I have had to leave many friends behind at various times in my life, but recently due to many factors, not the least of which was a move to a new city, all of my day-to-day friends are relatively new. It has taken a little bit of time to rebuild a social network – it always has for me and my (ahem) age doesn’t help – but today I have a home. Moreover, if I had to do it again, I know I could.
My success as a student is measured primarily in GPA. In this respect, I have been very successful. However, it’s only a number – one that can be manipulated if one so desired. Cheating is perhaps the most obvious means of establishing an artificially high GPA, but there are others. The bottom line is that success for me is not what my GPA is, but rather what it represents. In my case, it means I have participated in my own education so much that I have earned those grades. The success is in the absorption of knowledge and experience.
On a more abstract level, success can be defined in terms of contentedness. Happiness is a good measure of success. But how does one measure happiness? Is there a “serenity index?” It is a relative term to be sure and to a certain extent it must be measured against one’s own experience. To know happiness, must I know sadness? To know peace, must I know conflict? To know serenity, do I have to experience chaos? I don’t know about anyone else, but for me, it appears to be so.
A friend of mine recently told the story of a friend of hers that was complaining how boring her life had become. She had escaped the chaos and instability it once was. She had taken steps to ”straighten” her life out and was apparently successful in doing so. She was experiencing success but complained to my friend how boring her life was. My friend, who had escaped from the same lifestyle years earlier, told her what must’ve been a revelation to her. “It’s not boredom, stupid, it’s lack of drama.”
It’s personal, it’s perception and it’s relative. To me, it sounds like success.