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How Do You Define Success?

Gathering with old classmates at school reunions is without a doubt a very exciting experience, bringing back memories of our years as students, reviving old friendships and the curiosity produced by seeing how people have aged and most importantly, how much these people have achieved in their life, or what they have become.

As pleasant as these gatherings might be, they can also become a source of great pressure, the idea of not being able to fulfill the expectations of your peers can be at least daunting, terrifying in some cases, especially in societies such as China where the concept of “mianzi”, or “face” is highly regarded. 

With not being seen as a “successful” person considered a reason for shame, some people regularly lie in these types of gatherings. Among the most popular lies, the number of connections (“guanxi”) one has, and of course the amount of money one has managed to amass, or the possessions one has. This pressure to be perceived as a successful person very often takes some people so far as to rent luxurious cars and buy expensive garments just for the occasion.

Success; a much desired and pursued, yet, elusive goal. Defining success under the circumstances described above seems like a pretty easy and straightforward task. This is so often the general conception of success, when defined by society and measured by such markers; fame, wealth, achievements, influence, power, etc. However when we dig deeper, at a personal level, defining success becomes much more challenging.

What is “success”, really? This is a question that can not be addressed from an “absolute truth” point of view. Success is as relative and abstract as truth itself.

The truth is that there are so many definitions of success as there are people alive; all very personal and individual.

I define success as, “the level of satisfaction or fulfillment you get from achieving the goals that you, and only you, have set up for your own life, whatever these might be”.

Now, this is where it gets difficult because setting up these goals requires a level of honesty, objectivity and introspection that is not easy to achieve; most of us spend our lives without knowing who we are or what we really want. We might be fooling ourselves into thinking that we want the money, the fame, the influence or power. We dedicate our lives to obtaining all these things, maybe to realise later, sometimes too late, that none of that was what we really wanted or needed.

How many people do we know or have heard of who seem to have it all and yet they still are miserable? How many young graduates complete a college degree, only for the purpose of obtaining a diploma that they will hand to their parents or keep in a drawer, later turning their backs to do what they really feel passionate about?

Becoming rich, famous, powerful or influential are not real life goals; they are consequences. Being the best at what you really are passionate about and working toward it with honesty, discipline and commitment; now that’s a goal worth pursuing. Following that path is almost a guarantee for success, money, recognition etc. 

No shortcuts; instead, a firm and consistent process.

It might sound ironic but that chase to succeed can become one of the factors that keep us away from feeling successful or accomplished. 

The pressure, the frustration of pursuing goals that are not ours, following fake ideas of accomplishment dictated by peer pressure, family, society or other external factors can be extremely detrimental to our personal and professional life.

The only way to achieve real success is to be honest about what you really want in your life and feel satisfied with every step accomplished along your own path. Don’t be fooled into fulfilling the expectations of others, no matter how well-intentioned they might be. You are the only one who can define what success really means.

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