What is success? How do you know when you’re successful?

Originally published at www.linkedin.com.

All over the internet there are content marketing articles of “top 10” lists of the habits of successful people, or what successful people do in the morning, what they have for breakfast, or in this case 20 Unusual Things 20 Successful People do Every Day. There may be some useful tips in these articles, but one thing unique about all these people is they achieve success in many different ways.

When you read these articles you’ll soon realise that there isn't one route to success. There’s not even one definition of success. Other people’s definition of success is at odds with others.

For some in the startup world, getting investment is success. For others, it’s failure, because they haven’t managed to generate revenue from the start from customers.

The Oxford Dictionary defines success as:

The accomplishment of an aim or purpose.

And that is why the word on it’s own is meaningless. Without aims or purposes, success is nothing. It can’t exist without these. Often people chase success, when instead they should be focussing on aims and purpose.

The Oxford Dictionary also gives some synonymous definitions:

The attainment of fame, wealth, or social status.

There have been many example of people who have achieved these resulting in their ultimate downfall, especially when it comes quickly. Many a celebrity has died much earlier than they should have because the pressures that came with these became too much.

Most people aim to create a life that fits within Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The higher you manage to climb up this pyramid, the “happier”, or “content” you will be in life. Most definitions of “success” in today’s society don’t fit within this, but they’re usually one of the below:

  • Money: I think it’s pretty clear now that money doesn't create happiness. There’s a certain threshold that enable people to live a good life, but beyond that it becomes excess wealth and almost forms an addiction. Money != success
  • Fame: People aspire to be known for all sorts of reasons, from pop stars to serial killers. With fame becomes the ability to not be able to enjoy other parts of your life. For instance, Hugh Laurie became the highest paid actor on American TV, yet had some pretty bleak times in the making of it. Fame != success.
  • Awards: These days awards are given out for just about everything, and almost always, they’re given based on those who apply, and pay. Unless an award was given to you without having to submit an entry, chances are it was more likely a paid for achievement. Awards != success.

So instead of this “success obsession”, I suggest people focus more on aims and purpose, and success, money, and accomplishment will follow.

It’s not success if you earn a lot of money but trample over many people on the journey. Second place is not the first loser. Only people with low self esteem believe that. There is plenty of room in the world for people to be “successful”, without being “number one”. That often just creates unwanted attention and fame.

Stop trying to imitate the success of others, but instead determine your aims and your purpose.

If you have, or are, achieving your aims and purpose in life, then that is “success”. Anything else is an illusion of success.

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