Words like “success” and “failure” have never meant much to me. Other people seem to care a great deal about these words, but I don’t really know what they mean. They seem so abstract and subjective.
There are examples you can point to and say: “that person’s clearly a success!” Someone who’s career has taken off, someone with multiple bestsellers or a fancy job at Google or whatever. But you have no idea how that person feels inside. They might feel unsatisfied, sad, anxious.
And then there are people who look like “failures” from the outside because they make very little money, but they might be gloriously happy, have meaningful relationships, and spend their days doing what they love.
My point isn’t that we should all strive for inner happiness in lieu of financial satisfaction, it’s that you can’t tell how happy someone is by the size of their paycheck or their influence in the world.
As I write in How to Be Everything, money is just one ingredient in a happy life. It matters, but it isn’t everything. And other conventional markers of success–prestige, accreditations, power–matter more to some people than others. We all have different values and different goals.
Replacing “success” with something else
If I think about the times in my life when I’ve felt happiest, they’ve all been times of inner movement, times when I could feel myself flourishing. Often, at these times, I’m involved in one or more meaningful projects. Often, I’m stretching myself. Often, I’m working alongside friends and allies and we’re working for something bigger.
These are some of the components that make me feel like I have everything I need in my life right now. And that is probably the closest thing I can think of to “success.”
Sometimes this feeling of inner flourishing coincides with financial and professional accomplishments, sometimes it doesn’t.
You can’t flourish in the same circumstances forever
The tricky thing is that, as multipotentialites, we sometimes find a set of circumstances (work, activities, hobbies, passion projects, friends, environment, etc.) that work SO well…for a time. But once the project ends or we stop feeling challenged or life gets too monotonous, we no longer feel that same sense of movement inside.
Is that failure? I doubt it. Failure’s a heavy word.
It actually sounds kind of natural to me.
Maybe it’s a sign that we need to mix things up and seek out new adventures. Or maybe it means we need some down time.
In fact, remaining stuck in an environment that is no longer inspiring or giving you what you need, sounds a lot more like “failure” to me.
I think my point is that terms like “success” and “failure” are utterly unhelpful.
What are your goals? What makes you feel like you’re making good use of your time on this earth? Seek those things out. And when they change, seek them out anew.