Redefining the meaning of success in 2023

I have been thinking about success and failure lately.

I am anxious more about failure.

Ever since I have gone freelance, the prospect of failure has suddenly got more tangible, real, and scary for me. Maybe it is the conditioning that a full-time job means success for so many people these days.

But strangely, it is not the absence of a full-time job that makes me scared of failure.

I have found that I am associating failure with things not going my way or not meeting the goals I have set for myself. It also means not meeting the high standards I have set for myself.

None of those goals or standards involve having a full-time job. At least as of now.

I see success as meeting goals or standards I have set for myself. In other words, when things that I like happen, it is a success.

It sounds like a simple thing. But I see a crack in it.

One of the biggest learnings I have had this year from a Vipassana retreat is about non-judgment and impermanence. When I see my definition of success from that lens, it does not fit. As soon as one brings up the feelings of raga (like/pleasure)or dwesha (dislike/aversion) with anything, one loses the equanimity.

So, if I am pre-determining the requisites of success as something I like, I am setting myself up for suffering when things don’t go my way.

More often than not, they don’t.

Life unfortunately doesn’t work that way. And when they don’t, they can lead to anxiety about failure. It is a feeling of being trapped and an overwhelming sense of not meeting to my potential.

Moreover, things I like or dislike could also change over time with different contexts and situations.

Earlier, I wanted to have a well-paying job where I can learn skills and contribute. Now, I want to be successful as a self-employed person. In the future, I may want a profitable business to feel successful.

Clearly, success then depends on the context. In fact, success in one context is a failure in the other.

So, how does one deal with this impermanence of success and failure?

Is there any way to redefine the meaning of success and failure on a day-to-day basis? More importantly, is there a way to feel successful every day?

One way that comes to my mind is defining success on inputs and systems rather than output.

This means, for example, while losing weight, keeping a track of your input (how many times you hit the gym, how many clean meals you had, how long is your sleep, etc) instead of obsessing about your weight. You would lose weight at a different pace every week. But if you keep looking at the scale to judge your success, you are likely to be more disappointed and feel like a failure.

However, when you measure your inputs, it is easy to track your consistent progress and feel like a success every day irrespective of what the scale says. The former is called a leading indicator whereas the latter is the lagging indicator.

This idea is also aligned with the philosophy of ‘nishkama karma’ or ‘action without expectation’ mentioned in the Bhagwad Gita. All you do is focus on the action without getting attached to the fruits of action.

But it is easier said than done.

Why would someone do anything if not for the expectation of an end result?

The whole premise of goal-setting literature and 90% of self-help is having 100% clarity on what you want and then breaking down the steps to reach that goal.

Moreover, we are wired for instant gratification. Small actions don’t have the appeal of big, lofty steps toward an ambitious goal.

One obvious way out is to fall in love with the process itself.

That’s what popular self-help recommends anyway. It is the journey that matters. It is not the niche but the streak that counts.

So, another way could be to stay in the present as much as possible. This not only includes while taking action.

But it can also include while setting goals.

It sounds counterintuitive but setting goals based on complete immersion in the present moment while tapping into your intuition could help in letting go of the expectations of the future.

This is perhaps like what they say about having complete faith that the situation is already true in the metaphysical world.

All it needs is just sustained attention and work to materialize in the future.

So, the definition of success becomes mindful action that stems from intuitive goal setting.

Do you resonate with it?
What do you think?
How do you define success?

Share your thoughts in the comments below!


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