Reaching for Success - and Redefining It

Is success inching farther away? Let’s talk about success and why your definition of success may no longer be valid.

By Jenny Dsouza ~

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What do you want in life? What are your deepest desires? What keeps you awake at night? What makes you want to get out of bed each morning? We should ask these questions to ourselves ever so often. While they seem simplistic on the surface, they are deep and personal. And at times, your own responses may surprise you.

Usually, we are in a perpetual process of striving for something. We really (sometimes desperately) want something to manifest in our lives. We even put a stake in the ground and associate a large part of our identity with this one thing we want to achieve. Its pursual consumes us and takes over us. We ignore our loved ones, our sleep, food habits and as a result, we also ignore our health, just to get that one thing we want. We are so occupied in this striving, that we do not really think about where that desire came from or even how dedicating our lives to that desire makes us feel.

But often, all these feelings are below the surface of our subconscious, like an iceberg that only rears its tiny little head. All these feelings exist under the water. Large, looming, and untouched. However, the tip of the iceberg is normal-sized and acceptable. Something we acknowledge openly and talk about freely. We tell strangers and it even comes up in the most intimate conversations. We express our desires and wants. That tip of the iceberg is the want to be successful. That is what we tell ourselves each day. The ship of our lives revolves around this iceberg, ignoring all those complex feelings that lie below the surface. Today, we invite you to take a plunge. Let us dive into the freezing water and get closer to what is going on deep within.

Being successful. Something that we are told to be from a noticeably early age. We often form our own opinions on what success means. For instance, when we see our father going to work each morning, coming home late tired from his job, we usually do not think much of it. But when your uncle tells you to be successful when you grow up, just like your dad, you form an idea about what success means and what it looks like. This definition is very subjective. All of us, since our childhood, have our own definition of the word success.

Success, Over the Years

Now, swim closer to that iceberg. Close your eyes and take 5 deep breaths. Think back to your childhood. When was the first time you remember you wanted to be successful? What was the context? And if you can, think about who introduced that concept to you? Is your definition of success the same even today? It’s highly unlikely. It has changed significantly, today. That is the other thing about success. Our definition changes over time. It shifts and course corrects over and over. However, our core definition, the one that we learned initially, remains the same.

Our typical trajectory of success goes something like this. We want to get better grades in school when we are young. Then we want to get into better universities and colleges. The definition of success shape-shifts after getting a high-profile job. Good marriage and kids. Things continue to evolve and our definition of success changes repeatedly for years. Many times, we even live with 2-3 different definitions of success at the same time.

This is also one of the major reasons why we’ve all had the feeling of being on the hamster wheel. We chase one success after another, with no end in sight, and many failures over the years. At some point, we question the meaning of life and wonder if it even makes sense to continue chasing something we never wanted in the first place. Many call this a mid-life crisis - When it seems like we have everything (according to the society’s decision of success) and yet, we feel empty on the inside. We’ve come so far down the road of pursuing one success after another that it almost seems impossible to turn back and reconsider our lives.

But the reality is that it is never too late to reconsider our life. It is never too late to make our life our own. And setting ourselves up for success (literally) is the first and the most crucial step in that process.

And just like we learned earlier, success, in itself, is elusive and ever-changing. So, what is the point of chasing someone else’s goals all our life?

Who Decides the Meaning of Success?

So, who decides the definition of success for our lives? We all like to think that we decide it. But it is the society that usually defines what success means at various stages of our lives. We often base our sense of self-worth and our version of success on the ideals that our society imposes on us subconsciously. Think back to that childhood memory of yours. Did the definition of success come from within? Or, like many things during that age, it was an influence and confluence of the definition of success you learned from society? It’s usually the latter. We learn from the people around us.

What Should Success Mean?

Success should mean what you want it to be. It can be a simple act of getting up early or taking a walk around the house. To you, it could mean going to the moon or buying a new house. What we want you to do is take a moment and give it some thought. What does success look like to you?

Give up on the expectations of society and loved ones. Do not think about what you should do. Or could do. Think about what you want to do. Take a moment to decide on your definition of success. There are no right answers here. You can even write it down. And bucket your success in a few distinct categories like relationships, career, finances, spirituality, etc. Try to be as elaborate as possible in the beginning. Once you have your definition of success, read it a few times. You will see a pattern emerge, which will tell you what you value the most. It could be experiences, time, material comfort, or various other things. Make a note of them. If you are not able to see the pattern yourself, ask someone you are close to. Having your own definition of success is the most important north star of your life. That is the first sign of self-confidence and taking the initiative to live your own future vs. how you are supposed to live it.

Remember that it is okay to take inspiration or ideas from other’s definitions of success. But make sure that the definition you choose speaks to you. Ensure that you can easily imagine yourself being successful in the chosen definition of success. Ensure that it resonates with you, deeply.

Who Tells Us We are Successful?

You. Since you defined it, you decide what it means to be successful. Know that sometimes, the definitions get a little fuzzy, and declaring that you are successful is not always possible. For instance, during a pandemic, just surviving is also a success. Do not let society tell you when you are successful. Only you get to decide that. We often peg our success metrics to what society says it should be. Don't let that happen. Your success metrics can be different. And feel free to change the definition when the situation around you changes drastically.

...but then... why strive for anything at all?

When we hear that the definition of success is up to us for the first time, it can be overpowering and almost confusing. What is the point of it if we set the goal and then have the ability to redefine it anytime? Consider for a moment that, that is the point. As we all learned in the movie, Spider-Man, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Striving for something that we decide, and believe in, invigorates vitality in us. It propels us forward. It also gives our life meaning. Striving for success on our own terms reduces the urge to compare ourselves with others and gives us a sense of calm and satisfaction with who we are. This also fosters deeper relationships. Because instead of competing with each other, there is space in the relationship to support each other.

What Happens After We are Successful?

We celebrate it. We cherish the sweet fruits of work well done. We even bask in its glory for some time. But right after that, we pull out a blank sheet of paper and begin again. To define what success means to us now that we reached a milestone. Do not get complacent. Because to even maintain where you are today, you have to work hard every day. So, to be successful, you have to redefine it and go after it.

Now that you know why we should look at success more closely and why we should have our definition of success, let us know in the comments: what was your old definition of success? What is your new definition of success? We’d love to hear from you.

PS: Now that we’ve talked about success, it's important to also talk about the other side of the coin- failure. What does failure mean? Why does the word failure have such negative connotations? Why does failure bring us down (hint: did you define the meaning of failure)? What is the truth about failure? Read more about the reality of failure here.


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