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How do you define success?

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Internet definitions of ‘success’ include:

  • the accomplishment of an aim or purpose;
  • the status of having achieved and accomplished an aim or objective;
  • achievement of desired visions and planned goals;
  • attaining wealth, prosperity and/or fame;
  • accomplishing one’s goals, or attaining wealth, position or honors you have striven to attain;
  • the opposite of failure (failure: lack of success; the neglect or omission of expected or required action)

At the end of this article (or you can start at this point), you should decide how you define success in your personal life. And while you are it, also define what failure would look like for you.

Recently, I read an article about a young Jamaican male who was chosen as a valedictorian for a well-known university. He had achieved several scholarly awards and other accolades. His sibling and parents are also academic achievers and it seems as if his dedication and tendency to work hard are hereditary and expected. I felt a sense of pride as if he is my own son, and for a minute I imagined myself as a young person getting all those awards and attention and becoming this ‘famous.’ However, I found myself shaking my head at the thought. While I am proud of people who are successful in their studies and other school and career endeavours, that kind of life was never what I strive for. I pursued an education in the areas that would assist me in my quest for what I defined as my future success. Society tends to make me feel unambitious because I have no desire to pursue degrees, academic certificates, or financial wealth at this point in my life.

When I was younger though, I used to hear about my colleagues from high school and my former childhood friends that have completed universities and are in high-paying jobs and have bought houses and cars, and I used to agonize about my life that seemed to be going nowhere in comparison. However, I eventually learned that success means different things for different persons. Of course, I desire to live comfortably and able to pay my bills, but my aspirations mostly involve assisting people in their personal development on the journey to attaining mine; and I want to do this through writing, speaking, and tangible giving.

Let us look at the definition which says success is the accomplishment of an aim or purpose. Every individual has a different way of thinking about what would make them successful in life; that one thing that would bring them complete satisfaction and/or happiness. For some, this may be academic achievements, a high-paying job, writing a book or two, being good at a skill, having children, getting married (especially before a certain age), or owning a car and/or a house. Most persons strive to be successful in life, but everyone will not achieve the same outcome, because the desires and goals are different.

Another definition says success is attaining wealth, prosperity, and/or fame. But what is wealth? Dictionary.com gives two definitions that I want to explore here: an abundance of valuable possessions or money; and a plentiful supply of a particular desirable thing. Based on the second definition, I take this to mean that an individual can desire something other than money and would feel like he or she has gained wealth after having achieved plenty of it.

The individual who sees the attainment of wealth (abundance of valuable possessions or money) as success in his or her life and manages to achieve it and is happy, is considered as being successful, right? But what if you managed to accomplish your aim of having a small business that will allow you to use your talents and skills and you can hardly pay the bills, but you are happy and satisfied with your life? Would you think of yourself as being successful; have you achieved your aim and objectives? And based on what we have heard in the media about wealthy people developing physical and mental issues, involved in scandals and have resorted to using drugs and some committing suicide, does the attainment of financial wealth always mean a person will be happy and satisfied after having achieved it?

We have a tendency to define our personal success by comparing ourselves with what others have accomplished. Being successful in anything you set out to achieve takes work, ambition, and drive. You should also expect several failed attempts along the way, but to be successful, you have to be able to bounce back from the failures and continue striving for the accomplishment of your goals. Colin Powell declared that success is not something mysterious, but actually results from lessons from failures, hard work, and preparation.

What I have learned through my own experiences and those of others, is that true success should not be measured by financial wealth or the attainment of any material thing. Instead, it should be measured by the number of persons whose lives you are able to touch in a positive way with what you have created or developed; whether you get paid for it or not. Success is to live a satisfied and happy life and to make the world a better place for yourself and those around you. Wealth should be defined by your personal values that will make your life joyful, such as family, relationships, and friendships.

Here are some questions to ponder:

So how do you define ‘success?’ That is, what do you see as success in your personal life?

Are you stumbling through life aimlessly, drifting along, and watching others make strides in their lives?

Are you waiting for others to become financially wealthy so you can ask them for money or material things or live vicariously through them?

Are you waiting on society to define ‘success’ for you?

Have you even named or written your desired goals?

Do you know what challenge(s) you want to take on next and have you planned the steps you will need to take to accomplish them?

You are the only one who can answer these questions. You alone know if you have ‘made it’ based on the goals that you have set out to achieve. Measure your success based on the answer to the first question on the list. And be reminded that anyone can achieve success as long as he or she works hard at attaining it.


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