Are you successful?

The dream to become successful seems like a self-evident, natural one. Do you want to be successful? Yes of course I do. For me, however, it hasn’t always been that obvious. One of the reasons being that I’m not very competitive; I’ve never really felt the urge to do something better than someone else. On top of that, I couldn’t imagine myself in a high, managerial position and I’ve never dreamt of becoming rich or famous. Nowadays, I think it had to do with a misunderstanding of the concept of ‘success’. I do want to become successful, just not in a stereotypical way. But how?

Surely everyone has their own ideas about what success means. Having an important or a high function, money, prestige, power or perhaps good looks and a great partner? I noticed that when trying to name ‘successful’ people, I instantly thought of people who ‘made it’, in the sense that they are very rich, very powerful or have done something of great importance. Let’s say Arnold Schwarzenegger: as a sports icon he won many prizes with bodybuilding, he became a millionaire only in his twenties, entered Hollywood as an actor and later became governor of California without earlier political experience. There’s no point denying he was very successful, right?

Great, greater, greatest

I feel like success is often measured in terms of comparison: people who are considered very successful, often stand out by being the best at something. They are the smartest, the fastest, the prettiest or the most powerful. But without noticing, our idea of what it means to be successful is shaped by stories like Schwarzenegger’s. Although these stories can be inspiring, they reflect a limited concept of what success is or can be.

It’s up to YOU

There are many self-help books, motivational video’s and advices that are meant to help you to become successful. The titles scream “The secret of success!”, “Seven things you need to do to become successful” and many more. But there’s an underlying concept that is quite problematic. We now live in a world in which we believe everything is possible; the concept of a makeable society (think of the ‘American dream’). One’s position used to be largely determined by external factors like the family one was born in. Famous, rich and powerful people were from such a different environment, that it would be strange comparing yourself to one of them. In today’s world, however, many celebrities (YouTube-stars for example) once started like completely ‘normal’ people; it could’ve been me or you.

On the one hand this freedom provides many opportunities to make your biggest dreams come true. At the same time, this same freedom brings a massive amount of responsibility. People are held responsible if things don’t work out. So it’s really due to yourself if you don’t become successful… It’s because of this that many people feel bad about themselves .

Success = social

A question that comes to my mind when discussing this subject, is the following: does success need to be recognized in order to be called success? Let me explain myself by giving an example: when Vincent van Gogh was painting his beautiful sunflowers, landscapes and portraits, his contemporaries didn’t ‘understand’ his artworks. They had never seen anything like it before and the paintings weren’t in line with their concept of beauty. But you already know how the story ends: nowadays, people travel the world to see a ‘Van Gogh’ with their own eyes and the Van Gogh Museum is one of the best-visited museums of the world. Can Van Gogh be called successful? What this teaches us is perhaps to recognize the importance of the social aspect of success. Being considered by others as being ‘such and such’ is a part of success. Perhaps it is also one of the reasons why we want to become successful: we want to be seen by others and long for recognition.

So… Are you successful?

It’s really up to you to decide whether you’re successful or not. But let me ask you: is it even possible to define success in a single way? Even though you might already know this deep down, I think it’s important to remind ourselves that success isn’t necessarily about the big stories. We can be successful at little things, and it has nothing to do with money, power or fame. Also, it’s not about being the best at everything. Everyone can and will be successful at something in their own right. Therefore, let’s end this little story with a different question; what does success mean to you? And what are you successful at?

This blog was written by Nienke Süssbauer.
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