What is success? How do you know when you’ve achieved it? What are the metrics to measure success? Who defines them?
These questions are relatively easy to answer when discussing a product, or a business. And yet, they become increasingly challenging when applied to our careers and lives in general.
And yet, these questions and our answers to them are very important. They greatly influence our perception of ourselves, our lives, and our accomplishments. These, in turn, influence our happiness.
I personally subscribe to the philosopher Alain de Botton’s point of view, as presented eloquently in his TED talk (a kinder gentler philosophy of success).
He argues that our ideas about success are chiefly not our own. We are greatly influenced by others, including our parents, TV, marketing messages, and society.
In effect, we are trying to live someone else’s life instead of our own. Often this causes us to feel as if we’ve failed to reach our goals, and as a result, makes us feel frustrated and unhappy.
I believe that we should live our own lives and not the lives of others. We should define our own ideas of success, based on our own ambitions, priorities, and values. Or in Alain de Botton’s words: “make sure that we are truly the authors of our own ambitions”.
De Botton also contends that you can’t have it all in life. As much as we would like to believe that we can lead a perfectly balanced and happy life, that’s not really possible. Success in one aspect of our life comes at the expense of another part of our life.
Therefore, to be happy with our choices, we should make them according to our own priorities and values. Hence, we should choose in which aspects of life we truly want to be successful. Consequently, we need to accept that we will be less successful in others. And, we need to set our expectations in those latter areas accordingly.
In addition, we need to realize that what we define as success may be viewed quite differently by others. In fact, sometimes the same exact results can be a great success for one, and a complete failure to another.
There is a great example of this in the Oscar-winning movie “Apollo 13”. Following the grim realization that the spacecraft will not be able to land on the moon, and worst yet, may not even be able to return safely to earth, NASA Director, expresses his disappointment by saying: “This could be the worst disaster NASA’s ever faced”. To which NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz, replies: “With all due respect, sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour.”
In conclusion, when we evaluate our success in life, let’s be sure that we’re using our definition of success. In addition, we should use our own metrics of measurement.