What is success? Well, the answer to that question largely depends on who you ask. There can be as many different definitions as there are people to query. All these differing opinions can make the entire issue of success very confusing. In addition, having so many defining options can make it difficult for anyone to decide for themselves what success means. Should a person let society tell them what success is or should each person make that decision on their own?
The problem with letting someone else decide on a definition of success for you is that you greatly increase the chances that you will end up with a definition that doesn’t suit you. It’s a little bit like letting someone else order for you in a restaurant. You will certainly end up eating what they like, but you might not end up with the exact meal that suits your own tastes.
It is because of this confusion that understanding the exact nature of success becomes so critical for happiness and fulfillment. If you never develop the ability to make your own decision on the matter then you run the risk of ending up with someone else’s dinner, so to speak. In order to end up with what you want you need to see the items available on the menu so that you can choose what best suits you. This article aims to show some of the main choices that are on the menu of success. It also aims to show that most, if not all, of these menu items can be ordered a la carte, so that the definition of success that you choose can be as unique as you are. To begin with, let’s take a look at some of the main categories on this success menu so that you will get a general idea of how to successfully tailor your own order for success.
For many people, success is defined by objects. Have you ever heard the saying, “He who has the most toys, wins”? Under this definition, a successful person has a number of material possessions, all of which demonstrate to the world at large the measure of that person’s success. To be clear, we’re talking about large houses, multiple vehicles, expensive electronic devices and fashionable clothes. These material trappings, because of their collective price tag, tell the world that their owner has enough money to be able to purchase them. While they may provide comfort to the owner, they are also a potent symbol that lets the world know his or her social status. Let’s call this definition “material success.”
Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with material success. We live in a wonderful world that is chock full of some very amazing items. Each of us is blessed to be able to have the chance to sample some of these treats. In addition, money is not only a measure of success; it is also a measure of security. Money can provide for the necessities of life, not only for you but also for those you love and who depend upon you for protection. Because of this, material success becomes an obvious choice for many. The pull of luxury, as well as financial security, is a powerful motivating force to working hard and getting ahead. However, this pull can be so strong that it can blind you to other options. The problem is that these additional options can be necessary to a full and complete life. Without them, material success can become a hollow and empty trap that does not feel the least bit successful.
Another option on the menu of success is spiritual. In many ways, spiritual success is the exact opposite of material success. Instead of relying on external and material objects, spiritual success concentrates on internal development and often rejects the majority of material possessions completely. Most people would define spiritual success as a “religious” pursuit. While spirituality is closely defined with organized religions, religious behavior does not completely define the entire gamut of human spirituality.
Probably, the first definition of success was materialistic. After all, we evolved in a harsh and competitive world. In this world, resources were limited because there were multiple species competing for them. While this might seem cruel, it was nature’s way of providing some sort of checks and balances to guard against the uncontrolled growth of one species at the expense of the others. To nature, variety was the goal, not individual survival.
In this competitive world, the group who could most successfully stockpile a surplus of resources survived. Human beings, as rational hunter-gatherers, rapidly became very adept at identifying potential food sources and efficiently exploiting them. This ability to find, exploit, and preserve allowed us to move beyond mere hunting and gathering into herding, farming, and, eventually, into higher social technologies. We became even better competitors in the process.
As we developed, we brought nature’s definition of success with us. Our economies reflected the fact that abundance was the preferred goal. Therefore, individual success was predicated upon how much resources that individual possessed. In this way, the idea of material success was born. A wealthy individual was not only physically better prepared to survive, he was also judged as being more worthy of survival than someone who was less better off. Material possessions or lack thereof became indicators of moral standing.
The problem was that scarcity existed in our economic systems just as it existed in the natural world. Nature made no moral judgment against an individual who has less. The penalty for having less in the wild was not surviving. In human communities the penalty of having less was being segregated into a social class that was deemed lower than those who had more. Since this moral judgement could have profound effects outside of mere individual survival, people focused pointedly on money and material possessions as the way to happiness and fulfillment. The rush for individual material survival was on.
As a result, some of the other human values that also defined human survival in the wild were ignored or became less important. Things like cooperation, sharing, gratefulness and social responsibility became liabilities in the new individual competition brought about by modern human economics. In a reaction to this, human religions began to focus on what became known as spiritual values as much as economics focused on material values. In many human religions, possessions and material goods became taboo. They were a symbol of how spiritually undeveloped an individual was. The only way to obtain spiritual success was through a complete rejection of material culture. The natural comfort and protection of possessions, as well as the human inclination to gather the same, was ignored. Spiritual success became as cold and austere as material success was bloated and blinded.
There is a solution to this dilemma. No issue, especially one as important to individual fulfillment as success, is ever totally black and white. The choice between material success and spiritual success is a false one, largely a result of circumstances and tradition. There is a third choice which is actually no choice at all. Let’s call this third option “liberated success”.
Liberated success, as the name implies, serves to free the individual from the tyranny of the choice between material and spiritual success. Liberated success is about re-empowering the individual with the ability to choose those elements of success that make the most sense to them. This means that they can pick and choose from the back catalogs of both material and spiritual success to develop their own definition of success that has the ability to provide them with true happiness. This freedom to be yourself when it comes to success means that no one has to be locked into a lifestyle that is supposed to be fulfilling yet brings nothing but misery. This freedom also means that the individual who is actually being made happy through their work is more likely to be able to share that happiness with their fellow human beings. It is a combination of the best elements of material and spiritual success that is finally able to bring about the best of all possible worlds for everyone involved.