How often do we hear someone use the word “successful”? How often do we associate ourselves with that word?
How can a word with such implied significance flat out lack consistency?
How, when, and where definitions evolve can lead this post off on a million tangents. Without debating whether definitions are designed to capture the common use of the word or instead the intent of the word, let’s focus for a moment on the definition of the word alone.
Here’s my claim: You are not successful.
And you may just be interested in knowing why I whole-heartedly back this claim, especially if you think you are in fact “successful”.
The quick and ready definitions for successful are split into two groups:
- Having the correct or desired result
- Having gotten or achieved wealth, respect, or fame
The first group resonates closely with me because I consider this to group to define the essence of the word, a specific completed accomplishment. But you won’t have to buy my opinion to understand why you are not successful. Stay with me here.
The second group permits the inconsistent use of “successful” in the public domain. Wealth, respect, and fame are all relative terms.
Wealth for example, is the ability to live without working. If one has a living budget of $2,000 a month, and accompanying assets that generate $2,000 a month in perpetuity, they might not be rich, but they are wealthy. Someone else may require $10,000 a month, but with no assets, they must work for every dollar; and though others may consider them rich, they are not wealthy.
Respect, fame, prosperity, eminence, all these words are divergent when used in the public domain.
The word science is included in the title of this essay for more than click-bait.
Science is the process of using repeatable means and methods to produce an independently verifiable result.
So when I claim that science proves you are not successful, I’m claiming that if other people were in your shoes they will not all agree that you are successful.
Most have heard at some time or another, in some variation, “don’t worry about what other people think of you.”
But when you’re measuring success, you need everyone else to call the bluff you’re giving to yourself, because if you shut out this type of independent verification, you’re actually missing out on success all together.
How can this be? What am I trying to communicate?
What I could write a book about at a later date is the connection between success and the essential equation for happiness, the harmony of your thoughts, words, and actions.
I believe the highest order question in humanity is: What do you want to do?
This can be as narrow and literal a focus as become a millionaire, or as broad and unstructured a focus, as “know, love, and serve God”.
In all cases though, goals must be quantifiable to be complete-able (successful). Otherwise, how do you know when you’re done? They must be quantifiable in fact, to even make progress.
Human beings who are able to pick what they want to do specifically, and accomplish what they pick are operating in man’s most efficient form. How can I claim this?
When someone pursues an outcome (desires success) they will be faced with challenges and setbacks (friction) and they will be forced to ask, “Why am I doing this?”
The most effective use of their energy moving forward is ability to say this honestly:
I picked this, therefore this is what I want to do. Therefore my thoughts, my words, and my actions are in harmony and in this fleeting moment, I am happy pursuing this outcome.
On the other extreme of this claim of human efficiency, what if someone doesn’t pursue anything in particular? Well that’s not very efficient now is it?
Now backtrack with me to this notion that you need people’s independent verification to be successful.
If anyone other than yourself cannot confirm your success, then your goal was not quantifiable. If your goal was not quantifiable, it was not complete-able. You actually had no goal at all. And, if you’re not done, you were not successful.
I lose some folks here because many people simply have a gut reaction to push back on this type of incision. I’m cutting in to remove a word that many people feel is inseparable from their existence, their understanding of themselves, and their choices.
I am a salesman for a living, so I often encounter the energetic sales types that associate “successful” with “being the best”, beating the competition, and so on. They have all kinds of motivational sayings that quite honestly make me nauseous at times.
The irony in this type of vague definition of successful is that competition is one of the more specific activities known to man. In order to compete against anyone, the competing parties must agree amongst themselves to the conditions that define victory, in advance.
Your marathon time isn’t enough, it’s your marathon time, on the same course, and the same day as your competition. Want to beat the Indiana Pacers? You not only need to score more points than them, you need to score more points than them on the same night, in the same arena, against them.
This criticism of perceived “competition” applies to more than just sports. Did you really beat out the competition for that job? How do you know this wasn’t their least important pursuit? How do you know that your victory wasn’t equivalent to pinning a lifeless body on a wrestling mat?
Is there a prize for experiencing the greatest placebo effect amongst your peers?
Competition certainly drives people. But really competition is only a catalyst, not the whole darn experiment (the pursuit of happiness). If the thought of missing out on the desired outcome doesn’t make you work harder, you never wanted the outcome to begin with.
In closing, you might have been successful. Likely we all have been at one point. But you cannot be successful. I’ve ridden a bicycle across the United States. I have a degree in Civil Engineering. I’ve walked from the U.S. border of Mexico to the U.S. border of Canada. “Successful” is a completed accomplishment. I was successful. But I am not successful.
This distinction is important, because you must continue to pursue what you want in order to find harmony between your thoughts, actions, and words (an ephemeral moment). You cannot rest on a completed accomplishment to carry you into the next day if you ever want to want to earn success again.