The definitions of success vary with one’s culture, upbringing, inclinations and inherent desires. In some societies, success is measured by how many skins, cows, wives or sons one has.
In ours, of course, success is wealth, fame, glamour, owning homes, cars, yachts, planes, real jewelry and the fastest computer around that froths your cappuccino and massages your shoulders. Success is being a doctor and having your parents finally approve of you. Success is earning more and having a higher position in the company than your high school rival who beat you to the class presidency. Over a century ago, in a 1906 letter to a friend, William James called it “our national disease.” It’s still chronic.
Is This Really Success?
Reams have been written about the short-lived satisfactions of our touchstones of success and what happens after we get them. When we don’t have them, we console ourselves reading of movie stars’ depressions and addictions, billionaires’ health problems and broken marriages, idolized athletes’ slumps and abusive behaviors.
Yet we still crave these goals and possessions as the ultimate success. These prizes aren’t wrong in themselves. Money—or cars or yachts—is not the root of all evil: “For the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Tim. 6:10). The operative phrase is love of money. Maybe you’re saying, “What’s so bad about loving money, like you love apple pie, breakfast burritos and American Idol?” Well, Paul makes sure to explain to Timothy: “For the love of money is the root of all evil; which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith” (1 Tim. 6:10).
It was the same over 2,000 years ago as it is now: the inordinate, extreme, radical, unbalanced love of money—or anything else—instead of keeping faith with ourselves and our Source is what brings suffering. When we value insubstantial things above all else, distort ourselves, and maybe even act dishonestly to get them, we pierce ourselves through with many sorrows.
We may rationalize that we're doing the right thing by chasing success in the wrong way or doing the only thing we can under the circumstances. But we really know we're doing the wrong thing and not being true to our Selves.
Success and Fame
After reaching the sought-after thing, as so many attest, too often the recipients feel a huge letdown, a disappointment, a punctured balloon. Attaining the goal may give us joy, satisfaction, fulfillment, gratification, deep pleasure. That’s fine. Realize, though, it’s only for a while. Maybe that’s why it’s also said that the most dangerous time is when you reach a cherished goal.
The famous must still wake up the next day after winning the Oscar, Super Bowl, beauty pageant, book contract, Pulitzer, tenured appointment, painting commission, Nobel, National Endowment for the Arts grant, bake-off, or salesperson of the month. They, too, must still wash, shave, and, most important of all, face the next script, camera, empty stadium, mirror, page, classroom, canvas, laboratory, music score, mixing bowls, order blank.
Success as fame doesn’t stay. If we’re looking for a specific event to fill us full, we’ll inevitably be let down. Julia Cameron points out the addictive quality of fame: “When fame is sought for itself, we always will want more, more and more.” [Walking in This World: The Practical Art of Creativity] One remedy is, as she suggests, to make something for someone else rather than strive to be “somebody.” This new solution is an aspect of the larger remedy: to create another goal by which you measure success.
Another truism you’ve probably heard applies here. “Success is not a destination but a journey.” True, but I never liked this statement because it implies that you shouldn’t have goals. What’s called for is a fine balance between enjoying the trip, yes, and also creating successive goals that empower and propel you.
What Is Success?
Success can be a good day’s work, whatever your field. Some mothers see success as raising their children without drugs and delinquency. Other mothers think of success as seeing their children married to stable, good-earning spouses. Success to other people is building a business, building a barn, building a long-term relationship. Sometimes success is landing a decent job and having enough left over to buy pizza and beer on weekends. Sometimes success is not taking a drink for yet one more day.
More takes: Henry Ford pronounces, “The whole secret of a successful life is to find out what it is one’s destiny to do, and then do it.” In Walden, Thoreau sees success in other daily terms: “If the days and the nights are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal—that is your success.”
The great psychologist Abraham Maslow recognizes that “a first-rate soup is more creative than a second-rate painting.” The Unity Daily Word suggests we bring joy to whatever we’re doing, “whether we are placing flowers in a vase or actually creating a vase on a potter’s wheel.” In Return to Love, Marianne Williamson says “Success means we go to sleep at night knowing that our talents and abilities were used in a way that served others.”
Business writer and journalist Srully Blotnick, in Ambitious Men, wrote of a 20-year study of men who became millionaires. Among them were automobile magnates, industrialists, publishers, real estate developers and creative artists. The single thing they all had in common was not an overriding desire to make money or gain international reputation, but an overriding love of and determination to do what they loved doing. They practiced the principle embodied in the title of a self-help classic for reaching one’s dreams, Marsha Sinetar’s Do What You Love: The Money Will Follow.
Writer, poet, journalist and English professor Donald M. Murray confessed that he “lusted after recognition.” He continued, “Still, having sipped that wine, I know the most satisfying part of writing is the making meaning when I am alone at my desk with language.”
Richard Carlson, author of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff ... and It’s All Small Stuff (there’s a lesson!), suggests redefining a “meaningful accomplishment ... the true measure of our success comes not from what we do, but from who we are and how much love we have in our hearts.”
I believe, with these wise authors, that success is the realization and actualization of our life purpose, identifying and doing what we love to do, following our bliss. The more we do what we love, the more we’ll enrich the quality of our lives, and the less we’ll envy others’ perceived successes. Then the more we’ll experience our own.
Success, in the end, despite the world’s, society’s, or your Aunt Harriett’s wanting to see an engagement ring on your finger, is whatever makes you most fulfilled. Success is what resonates in you and, unbidden, wells up, singing in your heart: “Yes! This is it! This is why I was born!”
Throw out all the old voices of the past that haunt and stick. Listen only to your heart, your Inner Guide, and your God-given desires. These alone will point you to what is success for you.
Four Exercises to Guarantee Your Success
1. At the end of each day, review your activities and list your successes, from the mundane to the sublime.
Sometimes stocking in the groceries is a success. One client, who had a nine-to-five job and whose goal was to establish her own party planning business from home, made this list at the end of the evening: Finished the laundry, made three cold calls to prospects, wrote to two companies about their products, kept on my diet (except for a really small hot fudge sundae), did two miles around the park.
2. Forgive your self-perceived failures.
My client had to forgive herself for the sundae (which she loved), for not making four calls, and for watching a TV game show when she felt she could have been making that fourth call.
3. Replay how you’d do it better.
Our minds don’t know the difference between our imagined thoughts and feelings and our physical ones. Go back to the beginning of the day. Rerun what you’d do first, second, third, instead of what you did. Rehearse your will power—say no to the sundae and take an apple instead, stick on the phone for one or two more calls. Then, watch TV.
4. Acknowledge yourself.
You’ve identified your mistakes and taken corrective measures, so congratulate yourself for what you did do. Each thought, each activity, each addition to a list, each new idea is a step toward your dream.
Accept your progress, recognize it, embrace it. You deserve it.
Bloom Where You Are Planted
Part of the divine plan for our success is to make the absolute best of where we are at a given moment, to approach it positively, give it our all. As we let go of self-pity, resentment and rage at our present situation, accept it, even love it, and listen inside for guidance, ideas will come. All it takes is trust.
Quieting our minds and reassuring ourselves, we’ll take more steps in the right direction and keep blooming. J Douglas Bottorff, in A Practical Guide to Prosperous Living, advises, “Bloom where you are planted, yes. But the real key to successful living is to work toward planting yourself where you will bloom biggest and best.”
The talents and abilities that flow through you, as Louise Hay says, are unique; they speak to others who are always looking for them. [You Can Heal Your Life] As you listen to your Self, hear the guidance, and carry out the directions with your all, you cannot help but arrive at where you will bloom biggest and best.
When we do this, our blooming cannot help but reflect back on ourselves. It's a law: as we give we receive. This is why withholding ourselves from pursuing our Dream shrinks us and gives us less. The more you invest—develop and use—your talents, the more you'll get in return. And you'll feel and experience real success.
©2011 by Noelle Sterne, Ph.D. Reprinted with permission.
Published by Unity Books, Unity Village, MO 64065-0001.
Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams
by Noelle Sterne.
About the Author
Noelle Sterne is an author, editor, writing coach, and spiritual counselor. She publishes writing craft articles, spiritual pieces, essays, and fiction in print, online periodicals, and blog sites. Her book Trust Your Life contains examples from her academic editorial practice, writing, and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. Her book for doctoral candidates has a forthright spiritual component and deals with often overlooked or ignored but crucial aspects that can seriously prolong their agony: Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping With the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (September 2015). Excerpts from this book continue to be published in academic magazines and blogs. Visit Noelle's website: www.trustyourlifenow.com