Success Is Such a Slippery Concept

Do you want to be successful? I imagine that most people, myself included, would answer that affirmatively. It seems like such a simple question, but I have been struggling with this simple question lately. The reason for this struggle is that upon reflection, I’ve found success to be a hard word to define.

What is success?

To me this is not as easy of a question to answer. Is success having lots of money? Is it having a career that is meaningful and fulfilling? Is success having a healthy well-adjusted family? What is this elusive success?

The reality is that I think that we all define success a little differently. Also, success is not as one-dimensional as we might like to make it. I often think our ideas of success involve a number of different accomplishments rolled into one term.

Let’s use myself as an example. If I were to truly say what I think success is. It would primarily involve having a job that I enjoyed and felt was meaningful (this could even be just having more impact with my writing); being highly involved with my family; and living out my beliefs as a Christian the best as I’m able. Now these are just what I would view as primary to my view of success, at least at this moment.

Success for another individual could be completely different. So it makes the whole question of success rather relative. Even with similar goals, say your idea of success was being wealthy, what may be the viewed as success could be different. Somebody may not feel successful until they’re making a six figure salary while other people may attain “success” at lower or even higher amounts.

I think the most trouble arises when we start to hope other people view us as successful. We start to use this nebulous idea of success to compare ourselves to others. This leads us to trend towards ideas of success that are easily measured. We compare salaries, number of kids, importance of ones job, and in doing so limit our definitions of success.

What I’m trying to say in all of this is that we need to be careful how we deal with a concept like success. Having dreams and goals are admirable. We all have things we want to strive for and an idea of the success we want to accomplish.

This is a good thing, but the idea of success is also a dangerous thing. We can limit success into one-dimensional categories and pursue one aspect at the expense of everything else. We can also chase after too many things at once and leave ourselves exhausted and discouraged. We can also turn success into a competition. Where we stop defining success by what we want and more on how we’re viewed by others or how we compare to other people around us.

I do still want to be successful, but if I’m honest many times I’m worried about how I appear more than working towards my own goals. I worry that my status as a stay-at-home dad will create a bad impression to those around me. I compare myself to other classmates and feel like my accomplishments to some of them just don’t match up. It is when I do this that I am the most discouraged. Yet, even where I am I can still be successful. It just depends on the success that I’m chasing after.


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