Defining success without the notion of success — answer to my son’s question

My oldest son Dawud asked me a few weeks ago, “How should we define success?”

I liked the usage of the word ‘we’ in the question, because there is a traditional definition of ’success’ out there, and my definition is a little different. This post is an answer to my son’s question.

Let me first clarify how I intend to use the word ’success’ here. You can be ’successful’ at something, and there is nothing wrong with that definition. I am also not defining success from a religious or spiritual perspective. This is an operating definition of success that you will need to live your life.

The traditional view of success is a function of power, money and fame.

Traditional view of success is a function of power, money and fame
Traditional view of success is a function of power, money and fame

We are going to change this traditional view of success. We will take out the illusiveness of success. Because, you really don’t have control over power, money or fame. But you can have control over success — if you change that traditional definition and replace the word ‘success’ with ‘inspired’. You must replace power, money and fame with meaning, purpose and happiness. Change picture above to the following:

Define success in terms of meaning, purpose and happiness, the intersection of which makes you inspired.
Define success in terms of meaning, purpose and happiness, the intersection of which makes you inspired.

Let me unpack this diagram.

First off, do ‘meaningful’ things. Meaningful things are based on your values and principles.

You can steal ‘money’, you can bully other people to show ‘power’ — but none of those will be meaningful. You can help people, solve problems of society, take care of the animals, plants, your environment and planet — those will all be meaningful.

Why do you need ‘purpose’? Isn’t ‘meaning’ enough? Because I want you to focus on a purpose. If you are not focused, you will jump around and probably start a lot of new things — but not finish them. If you just become an ‘idea’ person, hop from idea to idea, and never really solve anything, you will end up being unhappy and lose confidence in the long run. So build your confidence by focusing on a purpose, finish it, and then move onto another purpose.

It’s quite possible to be miserable even when you are doing something meaningful and purposeful. This is where ‘happiness’ comes in. Do something that is meaningful, purposeful, but also enjoyable, something that makes you happy. On the flip side, there are a lot of things that can make you happy, but if they are not meaningful and purposeful — it will give you an empty feeling in the long run.

Difference between ’success’ and ‘inspired’:

Let me stress that I am not saying you cannot have money, power or fame — but they cannot be the reasons you do things. They can be the by-product of inspired life, but not just the main goals.

There are some big differences between living life for traditional success as opposed to living an inspired life:

Proposing a framework of activities for an inspired life — grow good habits, develop skills and solve problems.
Proposing a framework of activities for an inspired life — grow good habits, develop skills and solve problems.

3 types of growth are important for life — spiritual, emotional and professional growth. An inspired life can span over all of these 3 growth areas. So, how can you live an inspired life? By building meaningful habits, skills and solving problems. You can link these three things to build your process for an inspired life

Ideally, you should pick up a problem that you feel passionate about. Solving that problem should add meaning to your life. Figure out a path to solve this. Acquire or develop tools or habits that will put you on the path to solve those problems.

‘Solving a problem’ is a broad phrase. Anytime you remove friction from the way something is done, you may be able to improve lives — regardless of how little that is.

What skill sets would you need to work on your solution? Skill sets can be broad too. Knowing how to repair a car can be a skill, learning to cook well can be a skill, getting a degree from college can be a skill. Learning to do something just for fun is fine, but It’s important when you work on a skill set you focus on solving a meaningful problem.

Lastly, what habits would you need to develop your skills and solve your problem? There are some basic habits that are good regardless of what you want to do in life — for example, getting up early in the morning, exercise, writing, meditation, etc.

Try to link your habits to the skills you are working on. For example, if you want to develop skills to build a website, you can develop the habit of coding every day.

Success is proportionate to the problems you are solving, or in terms of how much value you are adding. You can make any day inspiring when you work on your habits, skills and targeted problems. Life can be successful on any day.

Keep calm, have fun and live an inspired life.

Father of four. Co-founder, On Air Solutions, Inc. & Dasnotes.com.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store