I believe that success is impossible to define universally. Although success is sometimes painted in the black and white terms of wealth and power, in reality it is relative, entirely dependent on the individual’s definition.
I live in an affluent suburb where success is typically defined in the traditional terms. Expectations are best explained by the following joke: a man sees a woman with two children and asks her their ages, whereupon the woman replies “the doctor is five and the lawyer is three.” To become a success, the child must move from high school to a prestigious college to law, business, or medical school. From there, they enter the work force, make massive sums of money, and then move back to the suburbs to raise their children, who are expected to follow the same road. This definition of success uses wealth to divide all lives into one of two categories: success or failure.
However, this classification is simplistic. If we eschew the idea of wealth as a barometer of success, the absurdity of portraying success only in these terms is revealed. If it is measured in creative accomplishments, the impoverished musician is more successful than any doctor will ever be. If it is measured in impact on future generations then the starving writer may be miles ahead of the banker on Wall Street. It is impossible to judge whether a person is successful or not because success is defined solely by the individual
Success is not a singular result; it is a way of living. It is fine to make a mistake, to leave the beaten path, to not accomplish a traditional goal. The only thing that matters is that you believe you are living your life in a way that you view successful. The most salient example of this belief for me is my Aunt. She recently lost her job during the mortgage crisis. More significantly, up until six years ago she was a drug addict. Marijuana and painkillers dominated more than thirty years of her life. From a financial standpoint, her life is a complete failure. When viewed through the lenses of creative works or impact on the future, she again falls short. Yet, in her opinion, while there are moments she regrets, her life is a success. She has a husband she loves and has returned to school after thirty years to become a paralegal. My aunt has a successful life not because she has done anything exceptional, but because she is happy with it. Success for her is not the products of her life, but simply living happily. She has found, in my opinion, the secret to true success: focusing not on other’s definitions of success but finding your own and living to it.
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