The Definition of Success
Anna Quindlen once said, “If success is not on your own terms, if it looks good to the world but doesn’t feel good in your heart, then it is not success at all.”
In my fifteen years, I’ve learned that life is very unpredictable; you never know what it’s going to throw at you. What I do know is that, regardless of what people may say or do, it’s what one feels inside that truly gives direction to one’s life. In the end, all the material gains will be gone. The only things that will be left are the memories and how they felt in your heart.
This past year I tried out for our school’s Science Olympiad team, one that had achieved incredible success in the past. Working for multiple hours every single day in hopes of making the team, I gave my sweat, blood, and tears in preparation. In the end I did not make the team. I was heartbroken; I had disappointed myself, my family, and my friends. I went home that night and wept on my dad’s shoulder for an entire half-hour, something I would normally have thought myself too “mature” or “grown-up” to do. By the end my eyes had run dry; two rivers that had built up so much water over the years, that is was inevitable they exploded in a gushing flow. I had failed in others’ standards. At that moment, I thought it was the end of the world. In retrospect, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Failure, in this case, was the beginning.
Looking back, I realize that everything that happens is a blessing in disguise. I remember once being told, “Keep doing the right thing and doing your best. All else in life is outside of your control.” Even though I didn’t make the S.O. team, I learned and grew from the experience. I learned that is does not necessarily matter how other people view their version of “success,” but rather how an individual sees success within himself. I believe in the importance of working hard and doing what feels right inside, and wherever your heart may lead you, to follow it with passion. As cliché as it my sound, I learned that, even though I did not make the team, I had given it my all and felt good on the inside, and that is real success.
In business, failure is relatively easy to define; a company that goes bankrupt and disintegrates as a result is considered a failure. Success, on the other hand, is too often based on how others define it. If a large company makes $50,000 profit each month to pay its employees, the company may consider itself successful. But if a small family-owned business breaks even at the end of the month and is content with staying afloat, that too can be considered success by their standpoint, even though it may be considered a failure by the large enterprise. If we focus too heavily on others’ definitions of success, but do not follow our hearts, we will never truly understand success.
When we’re older looking back on life, it’s not the small things that will have mattered. It’s not the minor setbacks or failures we’ll remember. It’s the feeling of internal success when we’ve done something meaningful. I believe that the importance in life is not how others may judge success by their own standards, but it is judged by consistently doing the right thing and achieving success within one’s own heart. This I believe.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.