Success as a concept has always felt daunting and difficult to me. It's been something I've tried not to dig too deep into while simultaneously trying to attain it. But how does one attain something when they don't really know what it is, especially something so subjective and ever changing? So I challenged myself to define what success looks like to myself.
I started out with the thought process of filling in the blank with the sentence: When I reach _____, I'll consider myself a success. However, that blank changes with every little part of my life. That's when I broadened my view a bit and expanded success into categories. For me, I currently have 3 types of success I strive for. Each of those types also has different tiers of success as well. The first one I strive for is financial success. The second is personal success. The third is professional success. There is overlap, of course, but that is to be expected.
For financial success, I feel like the base is financial stability. I define this one as having all needs and expenses met. It can feel like anything but successful when you are living paycheck to paycheck with little to no wiggle room. But it is, in my opinion, a success to get to the point where your bills are paid one way or another even if it feels minor when you look around and it seems others have more or better. But if you're staying above water in a system designed to drown you, I feel like that's pretty successful. The step above financial stability that is what I'll call financial flexibility. I personally define this as having expenses all covered with a little bit of a safety net to fall back on in the event of an emergency without pay. I will strive to keep 1-3 months of enough savings to cover my monthly expenses. I feel like this is typical to strive for, but it is difficult to attain and then to maintain once reached. So congrats on that level of success if you got it! The final level of financial success is one I'll call financial generosity, where you have enough to take care of yourself, both needs and wants, and you have enough left over to give back to those around you and society in general. I often criticize those in the 1% because I cannot wrap my mind around the thought of that much money being at anyone's disposal. But that brought on the personal question: how much money would I consider too much? I won't go into much detail on this one because I don't know if I'll ever see my success in this area. But it would be nice to reach it and be able to just tip servers 100%+ or just fill up the gas tank of the person who pulls into the pump beside me or fill my cousin's fridge while he's getting through college or any number of other good things to just help the people around me without jeopardizing my own financial well being. Obviously the exact number would change as different budgets take place, but it's definitely something to think about in terms of putting a definition to success in terms of financials.
Personal success seems much easier to define on the surface, but it's actually the one that's been most difficult for me to put into measurable terms. It pretty much just asks what it is you want from life. That is usually answered with things like happiness, peace, love, etc. How do you measure those, though? They're so flexible. Does one moment of happiness mean you reached success but failed at maintaining it the minute the happiness fades? For some people, that might work into their thought process. For me, though, that just seems like one heck of a roller coaster. So I moved away from general emotions and other concepts to define the concept of personal success. I came to the conclusion that, at least as of right now, what I want from life is to be remembered. It goes beyond that in many ways, but that's the ultimate goal for me that will tell me I've reached personal success. As a storyteller, I want people to remember not only the stories I told but the emotions they felt when encountering the stories. As a songwriter and musician, I want people to listen to the melodies long after I'm gone and know that I'm still rooting for them. And just as a human, I want my loved ones to remember all the times we've gone through and to think of me when creating new memories. These things aren't really all that measurable to me. For one, they rely on others and I can't control how others interact with me. For two, I am talking more about leaving a legacy so that means thinking forward to a time where I'm not here. I can't keep track of things if I'm not around. So for right now, I'm coming to terms that I may never truly even know if I'll reach my personal success.
For the final type, professional success is proving to still stump me a bit. It has the most overlap with the other two. Professional aspirations, in the current society I live in, is how you make money. So it heavily ties into financial success. Regarding my day job, if I make enough money to be a financial success then it is arguable that I'm successful professionally as well. However, in terms of personal success, my day job is severely lacking. Nothing I do is memorable. I am nothing but a body to the people around me and the company I work for. Therefore, I struggle to call that successful. My "career" in entertainment, on the other hand, is quite the opposite. I make things that have been called memorable and fulfilling. That in itself is a massive success to me personally. But financially, it is not lucrative. Does it have the potential to be someday? I suppose. But that's why I call it a "career" because it is entirely just potential energy with no guarantee of anything beyond giving me meaningful connections and heartfelt expression. So anything I can see as a professional success would ideally meet both the financial and personal definitions or at least progress them.
As a final thought on this subject, I still find success as a concept daunting. But I am working to put measurable definitions to it to make it at least somewhat attainable since it's such a big thing we seem to strive for. Am I successful? Am I going to be successful? Will I keep that success? All of these remain to be seen.
What does success look like to you?