Success is a tricky word. It implies so much, and yet it's difficult to pin down exactly what "success" actually looks like. Is success a yacht? Is success the ability to do what you love from a beach? Is success being part of a company on the forefront of innovation? Success means a whole lot of different things to different people.
So what is the truth behind this ethereal trophy of success?
To understand the truth, we must first understand the lies that make it difficult to grasp.
1. Success means the same thing to everyone.
Some people value success in pure cash. Some people value it in the freedom that cash buys. Some people see success in how many lives they impact for the better. And some people judge success by how well they perform any given task at any given moment.
What matters is that you come up with your own definition of success, and not live your life measuring up to someone else's.
2. You can become successful on your own.
No, you can't.
As the saying goes, "Everybody works for someone." Even if you are independent, even if you work on your craft in isolation, even if you are the one going the heavy lifting, at some point you're going to need other people. At some point you're not going to be able to get to where you want to go completely on your own.
3. Success is dependent upon your upbringing.
A controversial topic.
Having grown up in an extremely privileged suburb, I'll be the first to admit that the resources I was given as a child absolutely made certain aspects of the path much easier for me than kids who grew up without.
However, I will also say that such an environment is very much a double-edged sword. And for every lesson that was made easier for me, there was another lesson I had to learn the hard way. For example: Being given every opportunity to succeed on a silver platter was a blessing. Having a horrific work ethic because I hadn't had to work for things ended up being a curse. I had to teach myself how to do that much later on.
Everyone is dealt a different hand. But not everyone born with a great hand turns out successful, and not everyone born with a poor hand fails. What matters is what you do with it.
4. Success is a destination.
Success is a process. You do not "reach success" for more than a moment. You're successful in the moment you make the basket. You're successful in the moment you land the deal. You're successful when you play the perfect chord, or write the perfect sentence. Not before, and not after.
And as easily as it is to "be successful," it is even easier to lose it. You don't "reach success" and then you're there forever. You have to earn your spot on the team day after day after day.
5. Success is mostly luck.
No--but you do make your own luck.
We had this saying in the gym: "Failure to prepare is preparing to fail."
Making your own luck means working hard every single day so that when the rare opportunity comes your way, you don't miss it.
6. You have to step on other people in order to become successful.
Never have I seen this more disproved than in the community of entrepreneurship.
I have played in a lot of different industries: professional gaming, bodybuilding and fitness, advertising and marketing, and I'll tell you that entrepreneurs carry a rare form of humility. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs I have had the pleasure of meeting and connecting with are also the most giving. They know positive energy is good for business.
Stepping on people to succeed is shortsighted.
7. Success is when people want what you have.
An unfortunate result of achieving something, maybe, but certainly not a measure for success itself.
The goal is not to acquire and make other people jealous. The goal is to use your newfound platform as a means to give back and help the next person.
8. Success happens overnight.
When a 20-something in tech becomes a billionaire, it can be easy to believe that.
The truth is, nobody sees the years and years that happen in silence prior to the big moment of "success." While it might look like a single moment, it's really just a golden step on a very long and weathered road. When you see someone achieve anything that remotely resembles overnight success, dig deeper. So many lessons had to be learned prior in order for that to happen.
9. Anyone can become successful.
This is actually a lie. Not everyone can become successful.
If "success" by any definition was easily obtained, the entire world would be much more at ease, content, happy, fulfilled, etc. But the truth is, success is difficult. In the same way making a million dollars is difficult, so is practicing a skill every single day, or forcing yourself outside your comfort zone in order to further develop yourself as a human being.
Now, does everyone person have the fundamental capacity of success? Yes. We're all humans. But can anyone become successful? No. If you want what is a rare feat for many people, then you need to become one of those rare individuals yourself.
10. Success is the point of life.
Western societies tend to forget that this has become an overwhelming driving force in each person's feeling of purpose.
Success is not the point of life. In fact, there is no "one right way" to approach life. It's yours to make, your game to play, and so going back to the first point of this article, your measure of success becomes your purpose. If success to you is being kind to one person a day, then that's your measure. But even still, this idea of success and achievement tends to elude us from our most basic human need, and that is to express who we are and be understood.
As a westerner, I know the game of success well. I have been playing it my entire life. I grew up in a very driven, very successful suburb, in a very successful family, alongside high-achieving peers. I, myself, have achieved far more at 26 years old than I ever thought I would, and still, there's always more. There's always more to reach for--and that's precisely the problem.
Don't lose sight of the real meaning of life, and that's the journey itself. Success is nothing more than an ever-dangling carrot.
Deep fulfillment is in knowing that you can work toward that carrot as much as you want, but the joy comes along the way and not in believing you will ever reach some big, grand, end-of-the-rainbow destination.