What's your definition of success?
Let's go all the way back to school, or maybe you're still there. What's success now? high grades? being popular? If you have all straight As but no friends, is that success? What if you're popular but spend your afternoons in remediation classes?
Fast forward a few years, now you're in the workforce, working a day job making good money. Is that success? what if you're making a ridiculous amount of money, is that it? What about the guy who makes little money, but wakes up whenever he wants, works whenever he wants and never has to put up with somebody telling him what to do. Is that success?
If you happen to be into startups (I've been in and around many of those), what's your success criteria? Building a product like Facebook that billions of people use? What if only a few millions do, is that not a success? What if you're just starting out and managed to get into some prestigious accelerator or convince a big investor to give you a ton of money? Is that still a success if 2 years later you're selling everything hoping to break even?
You may think those are all very selfish views of success and if you were instead focused on doing good the answer would be easy. But is it? Let's say you went to volunteer somewhere and managed to save a kid's life. Are you successful? What if your friend in college started a social enterprise and managed to build a device that reduces child mortality and with that saved thousands of lives. Are you still successful? Is he more successful than you?
Ok stop it stop it you say, I get it, and I knew it already, you're wasting my time. Ok, great, you know it, but then what are you doing about it?
Because chances are you agree you can't just measure success like that, but then that's how we all live. We all do that. We look around at our house, car, family, our charity donations, or even our free time, and somehow before we can realize our brain have conjured some term of comparison by which we'll judge if we're successful or not. And depending on that we'll feel great or miserable.
That sucks if you ask me.
What if having a different, better I dare to say, definition of success could make our lives substantially happier, without having to fake a smile a single time?
I've been living through that question for years and it's certainly not a new one, we've pondered it for a large part of human history.
A lot of smart people will tell you what you probably have heard already: success is internal. The moment you depend on some external reference things can go south any moment. I once read this Quora question where somebody was complaining he just sold his company for hundreds of thousands of dollars and his friends had sold theirs for millions so he felt a failure. The top answers read (paraphrased):
"thank you thank you thank you. I was about to post a similar question - I finally got a job that pays a 6 figure salary, but my friends have just sold their companies for more than I'll make in 5 years and I felt miserable. I better quit this game now."
But saying that success is internal is still not quite a definition.
At some point, around my twenties, I thought a good approximation was: I can do whatever I want. So I went consulting and traveling and for a while that worked, I felt free, I felt successful. However at some point stuff happened and I couldn't continue, I had to stop in England and get a regular job. Was I then a failure? There we go again.
A decade went by, more definitions have come and gone along with good and bad times. This kept bugging me and as much as we often write these things off with "that's life", it didn't sit well with me, I wanted an answer.
In my travels I eventually bumped in the sort of stereotypical zen/hippie kind of guy who kindly offered a different view: success, just like failure, is just a projection, a social construct, just ignore it and live happily.
At first that seemed interesting. After all wouldn't it be nice if we didn't constantly have these conditions of success and failure to swing between? wouldn't you as a consequence be happier?
It may very well be, but especially back then I still wanted an answer since the question kept coming up everywhere I went: how do you define success?
Not so long ago a friend and I experimented with a little podcast called funding freedom, trying to explore the topics of startups and fulfillment. As we were talking about some of the stuff we were going through, something hit me:
the times in my life when I felt successful in a sort of unshakable way were those when I firmly acted on my beliefs
So here's my current definition of success that so far has survived the test of time:
I have the courage to act on what I know to be true.
That simple. Because it turns out, more often than not we know what's right but we don't have the guts to live it through. We make excuses, invoke social norms, succumb to peer pressure, hide behind the expectations of our families - it's easier to say you hate your dad because it forced you to get into law school than to admit you were scared to death of becoming a penniless artist.
I will argue that many times, if not all, when you thought you didn't know better, you actually did, it was just too hard to admit and follow through with it.
So there lies your opportunity to succeed, entirely in your control. Right now in this moment, and in every subsequent one, you can choose to succeed or fail just by acting or not on what you know. It's not easy, but nobody said it was going to be.
Mind you, it doesn't mean it's easy, and if you need someone to bounce ideas with just book a call below.