7 Myths About Success
Monday December 9, 2013

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“Success is not measured by what you accomplish, but by the opposition you have encountered, and the courage with which you have maintained the struggle against overwhelming odds.” -Orison Swett Marden

Often it is the news media that tells us when someone is deemed a success in our culture, world or community – the star of the basketball game who scored 33 points, the company whose stock hit a record high or the video that went viral for that particular day of the year. The problem with accepting others’ definition of success is that it skews and mutes our own talents and often discourages us from celebrating simply because no one else deems it a success.

True success can only be defined by you. Only you know how far you came or how hard you worked to arrive at where you are today. Only you know the obstacles which were placed in your path, and even if no one recognizes your accomplishments, you must celebrate them for yourself. For in the celebration we give ourselves recognition, validation and revitalize our energy sources so that we can continue to strive forward even further.

Today I’d like to share with you five misconceptions about what success is. I hope to remind you, as I have to remind myself regularly as well, that we on any given day, can only do our best. And so long as we are determined to endless gather information, remain focused and be willing to learn from our mistakes, the success we seek (absent the myths below) will eventually come into fruition.

1. Wealth

“You must have a core purpose beyond making a profit. A balance between profitability and social consciousness.” – Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEO

Simply because one is earning millions, doesn’t mean they are successful. The means by which one has earned the money must be considered, and then of course, how one handles their wealth often reveals insights into their foresight, discipline and purpose. There are absolutely successful people who earn money and inspire others to chase their dreams as well, but the true definition of success can only be determined by the earner.

Perhaps earning the first dollar when your business venture began was the most memorable success as you worked for years to simply arrive at that point. The key lesson to keep in mind is not to place a dollar figure as your goal, but rather a goal that produces something of value. And if by chance it earns a profit that you can live on, what an amazing pairing and way to spend your days.

2. The Destination

“The journey between what you once were and who you are now becoming is where the dance of life really takes place.” -Barbara de Angelis

I can remember the first time I went to France. I was a college student and worked three jobs to save up enough money to have mere pocket change for the month I would be going to summer school. As I shared in my “Cure for the Paris Syndrome” post, I was completely blind-sided by my frustrations and homesickness. But the one tremendous success that came out of my trip was the realization that I could save up that much money on a college student’s wages and make my childhood dreams a reality. I have since returned to Paris multiple times and had amazing experiences, but it was the journey, as it is with many of life’s goals we set for ourselves that often reap the greatest successes we could ever experience.

3. Happiness

“I believe all suffering is caused by ignorance. People inflict pain on others in the selfish pursuit of their own happiness and satisfaction. But true happiness comes from a sense of peace and contentment, which in turn must be achieved through the cultivation of altruism, of love and compassion, and elimination of ignorance, selfishness, and greed.” -Dalai Lama

The bad news about setting happiness as a determiner of your success is that happiness by definition is something that occurs by chance (hap is the native English root for luck, chance or fate). And since there are already enough events in life that are out of our control, why not set as a measure for success something that is within our control – our actions, our thoughts, our reactions to events that occur around us.  After all, one person’s definition of success may be to graduate with a MBA from Harvard while someone else may simply define success as attaining grades that will open the door to a college education. Based on the circumstances of our lives (some of which we have no control over – where we are born, who our parents are, the state of the economy, etc). The same amount of effort can return very different, but no less praise-worthy results. So long as our full and dedicated effort is being put forth, success is already within our grasp. So rather than seeking happiness, seek contentment which is long lasting and doesn’t require us to cross our fingers.

4. “Good” Looks

Every generation ushers in a different definition of beauty and while being the proper height and having the ideal bone structure may help models acquire a contract in order to earn six figures, for the rest of us, high cheekbones are not a requirement.  Having intelligence, compassion, loyalty, a strong work ethic, thoughtfulness and optimism are also traits which reveal our true attractiveness and none of which can be determined by our outer appearance. While dressing well and presenting ourselves appropriately to convey the attitude and tone we wish to set in any given situation plays a role in our path to success, the entire package will ultimately seal or lose the deal we seek. In other words, it is our behavior and what we do with what we’ve been given that will determine our success.

5. Possessions

“It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that prevents us from living freely and nobly.” –Henry David Thoreau

Simply because someone has ten cars to your one doesn’t make them more successful. A bigger house, more clothes, the latest technology – you name it, things do not equate to a successful life. While  living without anything at all may be comfortable for some, we all need certain items in our lives to thrive – a roof, a bed, clothes appropriate for doing our job well, etc, but pursuing a goal for the mere fact of how much more we can buy is not a means to live a successful life. Why? The materials we attain should be a byproduct of the life we wish to live. And the life we live should be in alignment with what we value. And what we value should correlate with wanting to leave the world better than how we found it.  Each of us will master this dance in our own unique way, but we must always keep in mind why we are bringing material items into our life. Ask why and let your answer determine if you should purchase.

6. Relationship Status

Whether or not we are in a relationship, have 2 1/2 kids, are single, divorced, or divorced for the second time does not determine whether or not we are successful. The outside world may wish to judge our state of success based on their experiences and societal “rules”, but others cannot determine in which relationship status we find the most success. Depending upon our passions, our personalities and values, thankfully we get to decide who we do or don’t spend our time with in our private hours. And if we wish to change it, that too is up to us. The key is to stop letting what others deem to be a successful way of living affect what we seek to achieve in our lives. We must seek out what we know to be true for ourselves.

7. Awards/Recognition

“Not everybody can be famous but everybody can be great, because greatness is determined by service.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.

The Nobel Peace prize, the Medal of Honor, the Elie Wiesel Humanitarian award – very few truly inspiring and reverent recipients of these awards and similar accolades do what they do to earn such deserving recognition. Similar to the journey being far more valuable than the destination, an award is a wonderful opportunity for the community, the country or the world to say thank you, but simply because one is not chosen for the award doesn’t mean that their efforts, which were more or equal to those whose name is engraved up on the plaque, aren’t worthy of being deemed a success. At all times, we must live a life that we are proud of and that which allows us to sleep at night knowing we did our best. While the applause and public recognition may come, it should not be a necessary ingredient in the definition of success.

As the year comes to a close, take some time to reflect on what has unfolded in your life these past twelve months. Hopefully, what you will realize is that you have attained much more success than you initially realized. Use this realization as fuel as you step foot into 2014. Have a wonderful Monday everyone.

“Believe in your dreams. Dream big and then dream bigger.” -Howard Schultz


~4 Steps to Certain Success

~Why Not . . . Consume Less?

~True Contentment

~Why Not . . . Live in a Smaller Home?


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5 thoughts on “7 Myths About Success

  1. This post is so timely for me. I have been leading a project at work in a role I had no experience in, on a type of computer application I had never heard of before, with no clear expectations of the result for the end of the year. I was recently told by upper management that they were “disappointed” in the progress. But rather than feel disappointed in myself, I feel that I have been successful in overcoming all the obstacles that I had. You put it so well in your article: “True success can only be defined by you.” I am going to share this with others. It is a point that we all can miss.

    1. Marcia,

      Thank you for sharing your experience. While it may be difficult to do at times, so long as we keep in mind our personal growth and gains, we are the true measure of whether or not we are successful. Keep up the diligent effort and thanks for stopping by!

  2. Though I am still learning. but I don’t think success can only be defined by you. If whatever you do does not positively impact, inspire, encourage and motivate others, I wonder if one can call that success no matter how good i feel in it. And reference to Dalai Lama’s quote above, what if my definition of success is based on ignorance?

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