How success means different things to different people

What does being a successful person mean to you? When you close your eyes and dream of being successful, what kind of image comes to your mind? Do you own a big Mansion and numbers of designer cars? Maybe your own jet plane or a private holidays resort? What is success? It never means the same thing for two different people.

Now imagine you have it all, your own chopper, a private island, ten different model of Ferraris, a closet full of designer clothes, bags and footwear from brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, you name it. Think of whatever you would want to own as a successful person. Right now, in this imagination, you are whoever you want to be, the most successful you can imagine yourself materialistically, you don’t have to give a second thought when you want to buy literally anything in the world that can be bought with the riches. How happy are you in this imagination?

Let me narrate to you a story. In this story, you are the main character, the protagonist. You grew up in a middle-class family. Your parents gave whatever you wished for. That is, if your demand was on the family’s budget. Your mom and dad sent you to the best school you could get into even though the school fees were really expensive for them to pay. This would in turn mean that you had rich friends and you being a naïve kid who wanted to fit in with your friends, when you came back home you would demand for something that your parents could not provide for: even if they really wanted to. You were not an expert when it came to music or dance or sports but you were good at everything. You were not that bad at your studies either.

Although you tried to be the best at everything, naturally you couldn’t be the best at everything you did. Your parents reacted to that really badly because since they were doing more than they comfortably could, they kept really high expectations with you. Every single time your result day came up, you would either be scolded really badly or be punished because you did not meet your parent’s sky high expectations. Your mom would scream, “With grades like this you will have to live in the streets”. Your dad would say, “After all I pay for your education, this is how bad you are at studying?” And as a kid, you would feel very hurt by those words: you would cry yourself to sleep while feeling like nobody cares and it’s your entire fault.

You were definitely loved by your family in their own ways but sometimes you hated them because you couldn’t get all the cool things you really wanted. Around the time when you graduated high school, you decided to do whatever it takes to become rich and successful in the future. You wanted to be able to buy anything you would ever want. You wanted to prove to your parents that you could be successful. When you started to go to college, you worked really hard to get your grades high. You became one of the nerds of your classroom. Your so-called friends would call you ‘teacher’s pet’ behind your back but you didn’t care for anything else than being successful in life. You would never go to socialize with your classmates either because you felt like nobody really liked you. Slowly you started focusing all your time and attention to getting better grades only, it was like you were running a race with the rest of the world and you would do anything to cross the finish line first. Your parents were very proud of you but the communication gap among your family members started getting bigger and bigger.

You graduated college and finally given your good grades; your parents were convinced to give you your inheritance for you to start your own business. Your business steadily grew and you had business partners who were your new friends. You got married soon after your company started getting big. You realized it really late that your spouse who used to be the love of your life was with you only because of your money. Now you are divorced with no children of your own. Your parents passed away soon after that. Although you could afford anything in this world your hunger for power and wealth never extinguished. You thought you would be happy by getting more and more but today you are all alone and suffering with cancer. The doctor just said that you don’t have much time to live.

All you know now is that you are practically in your death bed but your riches can no longer buy what you need: the comfort of having a loving family who would mourn for your death for months and years to come, who would remember your little quirks and rejoice in the world built by you. You now have such health that none of the wealth you have can save you from dying, when you are wailing with pain at night, nobody brings you a cup of hot water unless you call and ask someone, nobody selflessly motivates you with two words of comfort and love.  How happy are you in this imagination?

It is life, life is not always fair and if you fail to look at a long term value of success, your definition of success might never be the same. Being successful is more about being satisfied with who you are at the moment. Success is short lived and what lives long is happiness and satisfaction.

I have yet to find somebody in history who would say that they are satisfied with the wealth, power and righteousness they achieved in their lifetime so far. But if you go ask a monk who left his family back to attain nirvana, most of the times they will tell you that they are satisfied with what they have: even if they are homeless. For them, success was defined by the day when they no longer let their worldly desires influence them. There are people that you will find who say that they achieved all they ever wanted but never found the satisfaction that they thought they would find after. After this, you are ready to re-imagine what success means to you and will mean to you on a long term basis.

Now, success is not concretely defined by the things that you have or will get from wealth or power. In my opinion, the essence of success lies in the moment when you realize that nothing that you own matters if you are not a good enough human being. It lies in your honesty, integrity, authenticity, courage and knowledge. Success is when you know that you will not regret decisions you made even 10 years after making them. Success is when you are happy on your deathbed. It lies on how humble you are and your willingness to learn, fight and fail and then get back up again to learn some more. Only then, you are a successful person.

-Sarah Tiwari