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What Is Success?

A Personal Perspective: Success involves making an attempt and learning.

When I was in seventh grade, I was given an assignment in school to write a paper about success. My title was “Success is Simply Happiness.” When I told that to my father at the dinner table on the night before the paper was due, he put down his fork, looked directly at me, and said, “All of my buddies in World War II did not die happy. Are you telling me they were not successful?” In my mind, I thought about changing the title to “Just Don’t Die,” but instead I sat in silence with the rest of my siblings, knowing this moment definitely was not happy, and thus my title, nor my paper, were a success.

I think possibly what I learned from that dinner is that success does not equal happiness, nor does happiness mean success.

Ever since then, the question about the definition of success has been in my mind. While I was a reporter for the student paper in college, I wrote an article about “What is Success?” I interviewed several students and most of them had my early childhood definition: Happiness. So I would ask them, “Are you happy when you’re studying?” “Are you happy when negative circumstances happen that eventually bring happiness?” The unanimous answer was, “Hmmm.”

Our mayor at the time in Cincinnati was Jerry Springer. He was also our commencement speaker. I had an interview scheduled with him on the day of Homecoming and I was excited to ask him how he defined success. When we got together, he asked if we could come back and do the interview later because he had an urgent meeting to attend. I am ashamed to say I went back to the fraternity, got drunk and missed our interview. C’mon. It was homecoming! Needless to say, it was not a successful day.

So what is success? That is one of the most beautiful explorations that each individual can make. The dictionary defines it as, “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.” Thus, each person must recognize his/her own goal and purpose. However, I believe that the journey is the destination. The questions are the journey. Goals change. They might be achieved, discarded, or abruptly interrupted. The blessing is that new goals are always waiting. So is the dictionary wrong in saying that success is an accomplishment?

Success for me is learning, not necessarily achieving, but making an attempt and learning. Success is continuing the journey. It will only be achieved when we die. Perhaps success is no regrets, and will be determined on our death beds.

So ironically, my thought about changing the title of my seventh-grade paper to “Just Don’t Die,” should have been, “Just Wait Till You Die.” Or possibly, the title should have been, “Keep Your Fork.”

Knocking the “F” out of Failure

Success blooms from failures along the journey.

“Learn to fail, or fail to learn.” —Thomas Edison

There is such a huge difference between failing and being a failure. Ironically, failing makes you less of a failure. You can only grow from failing. If you’re not willing to fail, you cannot innovate and make change. If you don’t step through the uncertainty of making an attempt, you will never achieve success.

Failure and success are exactly the same direction.

That is why the journey is the reward, and success is taking the journey, not the end result.

Remember that each step is progress. Each step, no matter how small, gets easier than the last. Soon they will become giant strides. Each time we adapt to change, it allows us to adapt sooner and more productively the next time. Even when mistakes happen along the road, those mistakes come from the courage of taking a step. Every time you take that one small step, you are stepping further away from the fear. Take pride in those steps! As you move past the fear, you begin to appreciate and feel accomplishment and joy. The answer is not in finding your goal, but learning to enjoy the search. Enjoy the search! How can you make it fun?

One of my all-time favorite expressions is:

“Life is not about the door that will open or the door that closed. It is about enjoying the hell in the hallway.”

In taking the next small step, always remember that it might be the wrong step. That’s ok. The important part of any step is the insight that follows. Not the result, but the lesson. In school, they call learning “lessons.” Learning is the lesson. Life is about learning.

Eventually, with work and progress, our fears and our darkness will become what we are most proud of. Our scars are symbols of courage and growth. They represent our passion.

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