What is success?

Drake said it. “I just wanna be, I just wanna be successful.” But what does success mean? Is there one definition or many definitions? Can we all attain it, or must unsuccessful people exists in order for successful people to exists?

Before we seek success, I thought it would valuable to define what we’re looking for. Here’s the dictionary definition and then there is my definition.

Dictionary Definition
suc·cess [ sək séss ]

  1. achievement of intention: the achievement of something planned or attempted
  2. attainment of fame, wealth, or power: impressive achievement, especially the attainment of fame, wealth, or power
  3. something that turns out well: something that turns out as planned or intended

My Definition
Everyone has their own definition of success, but we tend to adopt society’s default dashboard of success—fame, wealth, power, and beauty—until we redefine it for ourselves.

To me, success involves 3 criteria:
1. being who you want to be
2. doing what you want to do
3. having enough of what you need

1. Being who you want to be

Being is about our presence—It’s who we are when we aren’t doing anything. Before and beyond the roles that we inherited or committed to, there was a simple unique presence that we brought to the world like a child. Perhaps childhood was the last time we felt we could just be without having to do, prove, move, or make. There is a reason we are called human beings as opposed to human doings or human havings. When we examine the rest of Nature’s creations, most of them are just being.

There is a spectrum of being that ranges from authentic to inauthentic. When we are being our authentic selves, we are being who we truly want to be—uninfluenced by other people, pressures, problems, and points of view. Sometimes who we truly are doesn’t agree with what society wants us to be. For instance, the world may suggest that being social is the best way for human beings to be when your being is actually solitary, quiet, and shy. Neither way is universally better. We simply have to find what’s most authentic to us. There are occasions when we retreat to our comfort zone and say “That’s just who I am,” when in fact it isn’t. Only we know the real answer to who we are and when we’re being authentic.

At the end of the day, despite what we do and what we have, the real question are:
– Am I being who I truly want to be in this moment?
– Am I reflecting the unique vibration that I came into the world with?
– Am I fully present to my being and how it is being influenced in this moment?

2. Doing what you want to do

Doing is oftentimes associated with our day-to-day work, but doing transcends careers and titles. What we do is underlined by how we do it. Two people whom share a profession as janitors can do their job with entirely different levels of presence—one can loath the work and the messy people while another views their work as opportunity to beautify a building in such a way that it feels new every time someone walks into it.

Typically there are task that are more naturally aligned with our being than others, but a strong being can transform any task into a flow-like experience. The tasks rarely defines us—it’s who (which version of ourselves) shows up and how we show up. Doing is the process of spending our time and time is our greatest resource is our time. The ability to allocate our time in ways that align with our true being and the things we value is critical to success. This isn’t to say that we should never do things that we don’t want to—sometimes we “have” to. But we only have two real obligations in life—1. To breath and 2. To pay taxes—everything else are choices/agreements we make consciously and subconsciously with ourselves and the world around us.

3. Having enough of what you need

We tend to mistake having the most or more with having what we want. Most of us don’t need or want much—just enough. But when we don’t know what we want, we seek as much as we can get in hopes that somewhere in our pile of stuff is what we want…if only we could find it.

There are internal things many people want to have such as purpose, serenity, (self) love, hope, happiness, and security. And there are external things some people want to have such as family, friends, love (from others), (financial) security, a home, a job, etc. Many of the internal things are choices that we can make despite circumstance and integrate into our being. Have you met someone who had hope despite their situation looking hopeless? I have. Many of the external things are also attracted by our being such as loving family and friends.

The part that is hard to understand, especially for those who have less, is that many of the external things that people have that we may want have come by way of luck. There is no formula for success. Even people who you see as successful because they appear to have what you want don’t necessarily know how they got those things. For some it was to whom they were born. As Malcolm Gladwell showed in Outliers, for some it was literally the month they were born. For some it was a gift they were born with. For others it was a combination of effort, luck, and all of the above. In other words, what we have or get from our being and doing isn’t always in our control.

Most people think there is direct correlation with doing and having. We’ve bought into the efforts-rewards curve which suggest that if you work harder you get more. Some of the world’s hardest working people are at the bottom of the totem pole, not the top. And then we hear “Work smarter, not harder,” which I agree with, but how do we measure who is smarter or working smarter? GPA and IQ aren’t the best metrics and the “smartest” people in the world aren’t necessarily the most successful.

One fundamental equation that has held true for me is if you want more, give more. This is the law of reciprocity at work. I prefer to word is “Give and you shall receive,” because the other way around sounds manipulative, but the law is so true that it works either way. Here’s the catch, we don’t always have control of the type of currency we receive, when we will receive it, or how—we only control the currency we give. In other words, we can control our inputs and outputs, but we can’t our incomes or outcomes.

In conclusion, someone is only successful if they say they are. While they may have what you think you want and be doing what you think you want to do, success is an individual evaluation. Many people are people pleasers—they are successful in everyone’s eyes except their own. True success meets the 3 criteria above which can be summarized as 1. Be you, 2. Do you, and Give you.