Monday, August 24, 2015

Success is Personal

One of my favorite podcasts is The Tim Ferriss Show where Tim, the author of The Four-Hour Work Week, interviews people who are thought leaders or highly regarded as being successful in their field. Two recent episodes I recommend are discussions with:

One question he always asks these people is: When I say the word success, who is the first person who comes to mind?

The first couple times I heard that question I admit that the first person who came to mind was Warren Buffet. After all, he's worth a shit-ton of money so he must be successful, right? He figured out how to win at picking stocks so that must mean he's successful because it's something that our culture seems to value highly.

But after I thought about it more I began questioning what it means to be successful and why my mind went straight to one of the wealthiest men on the planet. Because when I really think about it, money has very little to do with my idea of success, and yet I feel like culturally it's where many of us Americans go initially when presented with such a question.

What is Success?
At its basic level, successful means completing a task or reaching a goal. It's when a person accomplishes the thing they set out to do. Due to lack of food resources, the smoothie I made for myself this morning was an experiment that consisted of a base of frozen broccoli, layered with beets from the farmers market, bananas, cucumber and cinnamon. It actually tasted really good. Success!

But when we examine the idea about a life lived as being successful we realize that it is an extremely personal question. We cannot accurately say that someone else is a success unless we intimately understand their personal goals.

For instance, I think that Tim Ferriss is a successful gentleman. He's written 3 best-selling books, has a very popular podcast and has helped thousands of people live better lives because of the ideas he has explored and shared. He's also worth millions of dollars and hangs out with other wealthy Silicon Valley angel investors. He travels the world regularly and is a champion tango dancer. 

But when I listen to him, it's clear that he doesn't consider himself successful. He's still striving for a level of success that he has defined as being far higher than where he is now (which feels plenty high enough for me). So for me to suggest that he is successful and should be happy with his life is insulting to him because it's his life.

Success is Personal
So I guess what I'm saying is that success is personal. It isn't right for us to suggest that someone else has lived a successful life unless we truly understand what makes them tick. The question shouldn't be only "when I say the word success who is the first person who comes to mind?", but should be "what is your definition of living a successful life and who is an example of someone that you emulate in your striving to achieve it?"