Whose success is it anyway?

May 09 2014 by Peter Vajda Print This Article

Most of us aspire to succeed. But what it means to be successful is something that is often shrouded in confusion and frustration.

Wading through what other people think about success doesn't really help us, either. Here are just five quotes about success from the 338,000 results that Google spews up on the subject.

"A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do. " Bob Dylan

"Try not to become a man of success, but rather to become a man of value. He is considered successful in our day who gets more out of life than he puts in. But a man of value will give more than he receives. " Albert Einstein

"Just as the tumultuous chaos of a thunderstorm brings a nurturing rain that allows life to flourish, so too in human affairs times of advancement are preceded by times of disorder. Success comes to those who can weather the storm." I Ching No. 3

"The successful man is the average man, focused. " Anonymous

"Getting what you go after is success; but liking it while you are getting it is happiness. " Anonymous

What all these quotes have in common, of course, is that they're all someone's else's idea of success.

Many people love success quotes because they're, neat, pithy and memorable. But they're often totally ineffective in any practical sense because these same people never articulate what success means to them. It's a nice idea, but at 9:00 am on a Monday morning they're unable to escape their confusion, self-doubt and misperception and so strive instead to experience success by mimicking or dreaming about someone else's vision of what it means.

Success and inner peace

In my experience, the most important tool you need if you want to experience real success is reflection – by which I mean the type of deep contemplation which many of us either cannot or will not undertake.

Without reflection, many of us will remain trapped and frustrated, experiencing life in a state of consistent indecision and disharmony, with no alignment between what we say, feel, think and do when it comes to success.

On the other hand, others define success simply in terms of results. But results on their own are not enough. Without discovering something about ourselves in the process, results on their own are unlikely to lead to long-term happiness or a truly successful life. "Doing" without being, is not a solid formula for success. Bernie Ebbers of Enron was "successful". So was Bernie Madoff. But their very success just set them up for a much harder fall.

That's why so many people who achieve results without ever striving for personal growth don't feel any better, more alive or more fulfilled. Their results fail to bring good health, energy or enthusiasm for life. They don't support fulfilling relationships, creative freedom, emotional and psychological stability, a sense of well-being or even peace of mind. Their results are little more than empty achievements.


  • Do you consider yourself successful? What criteria are you using?
  • Are you ever jealous or envious of others' success?
  • Do you ever feel empty, or unfulfilled even though you're a success? If so, why?
  • How do you define "rich"? Financially?
  • Is your self-worth defined by your net worth?
  • How much of your life is spent doing what you think you "should do" rather than what you "want to do?"
  • Do you find meaning and happiness in your life?
  • Do you plan your vacations with more care, attention and detail than you plan your life?
  • Do you ever fear success?
  • Do you have true and real fun in your life? If not, why not?
  • Do you learn from your mistakes?
  • How did you come to be a "success?"
  • How did you learn about success as you were growing up?

What's more, these sorts of results-based successes can be obliterated just as if they were written in sand, wiped out in a moment by a wave (of uncertainty), a hurricane, health issue, job loss, divorce, accident, old age, bank failure, etc.).

Success requires discernment

But that's not always true. There's "success" and there's "success." Real success is indelible. It will endure regardless of the circumstances. And true success only comes when you have discerned its true and real meaning.

Are the rich successful just because they have money? What about a starving artist? The person in the corner office on the 52nd floor? The person in the mail room in the basement? You? Me?

Being successful requires a conscious exploration of what success means to you. Forget what others say, you need to create your own quote. Until and unless you take the time to define success for yourself, there's a good chance someone else is defining it for you. And that can be a very self-limiting and self-defeating experience.

So, if you lack you own success quotation, perhaps today is the ideal time to begin to create one.

"The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it's the same problem you had last year." - John Foster Dulles

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About The Author

Peter Vajda
Peter Vajda

Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D, C.P.C. is a seminar leader, workshop facilitator and speaker. He is the founding partner of True North Partnering, an Atlanta-based company that supports conscious living through coaching, counselling and facilitating.