If You Were Asked the Question, “Are You Successful?” How Would You Answer?

What is success? How do we define it?

The first response to the question should be “how do you define success?” which is what I’m going to do, and that may change your answer.

Questions like; Are you successful? Is she honest? Is he trustworthy?,  are always problematic because the answer depends on how each of us define the term.

For example, in the picture of the fish and the bird, understandably each would have radically different responses to that question.

Bird clutching a freshly caught fish in its beak: Image by Anton Lovász from Pixabay

So, what is Success? How is it being defined?

Let’s begin with a dictionary definition; according to the Oxford Dictionary, “success” is defined as the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.

Is that a valid definition of true success? 

I don’t think so because there’s more to it, and here’s why: many of us consider people who are famous, wealthy, or otherwise powerful to be successful, but that’s not really a valid criterion for success because, after all, not everyone seeks fame, wealth, or power and yet – as we’ll see by “our” definition, everyone can be successful.

One of the best examples of defining the meaning of success came from the well-known radio personality and motivational speaker Earl Nightingale.

He shared the story of Herman Melville, who penned the literary classics Moby-Dick and Billy Budd, among many others.

As Nightingale tells it, Melville died in 1891, and he considered himself and his work to be a failure. And from his publisher’s point of view, he was, and yet many years after his death, his work was rediscovered and has since sold into the millions of copies.

This begs the question: Was Herman Melville a success? For that matter, was Vincent Van Gogh, Edgar Allan Poe, or Jesus Christ successful” … because each of them only received their fame posthumously?

The best way to answer this question is to flip it around and ask, “What is failure?”

Failure does not come to a person because he’s not recognized by the multitudes during his lifetime. Our success or failure has nothing to do with the opinions of others. It has only to do with the opinions of ourselves and what we are doing.

The only person who can be called a failure is a person who tries to succeed at nothing.

Success, as far as a person is concerned, does not lie in achievement, it lies in striving, reaching, attempting.

To make victories the only measure of success is to tailor a life of misery because it’s a never-ending pursuit of hollow victories. That’s why any person who decides upon a course of action he deems to be worthy and sets out to accomplish that goal is a success right then and there.

The satisfaction is not just in the great result, but it’s in the good fight.

Therefore, failure consists not in failing to reach our goals but rather in not setting them. Failure consists of not trying. And certainly Melville — and all the others who were only recognized posthumously – were indeed successful during their lives because they strove all their lives and gave the very best that was in them.

As Nightingale so beautifully framed it, for every Melville that we read about, there have been millions of men and women who are equally successful but of whom we’ll never hear. People who didn’t write books or try to save the world, but who, in their own quiet way, strove every day to give the best that was in them.

Success isn’t reduced to a single point of achievement, but rather, it’s reduced to a simple decision to set a goal and then strive to achieve it. Which means that success is available to each of us … all we must do is try.

So, with that definition in hand, let me ask you the question: Are you successful?

A “successful life” is nothing more than the sum of many “successful years.” A successful year is the compilation of a dozen successful months. A successful month is the result of four successful weeks, which in turn, is seven successful days. If you make today a successful day, then a wonderfully successful life will be yours one day at a time, all the days of your life.

Life is about choices. Control is when YOU make them.