What Success Looks Like

In a recent conversation with a friend, the word ‘successful’ came up. Now, it is a rather overused word in professional contexts. It reminds me of a suited executive who spends majority of hours on an airplane, makes presentations in oak-paneled boardrooms, and is the muse for hundreds of elevator speeches.

But the use of this word in a personal conversation was so unique that I kept repeating it in my mind, as one does with a new word learnt. I had almost brushed it aside with a thought like, “No, thank you, success means happiness for me. Pursue happiness, not success.” And yet, the sincerity with which he had said it made me reconsider: How does success look, in a personal/ holistic space?

I tried thinking about areas where I consider myself successful, and where I admire others as successful, and sure enough, the common thread emerged. It turns out you can tell rather easily whether someone is successful: they are able to give.

I don’t mean this in any altruistic or moral way, but in the most objective way. You can only give when:

  • You have something to give
  • You feel you have enough

These are really two completely different things: which is why someone can be rich in a mud-house, and another still not rich enough in a mansion. This feeling of being enough, of having enough, is the closest I could define success.

How can you tell if someone is successful in their profession? If they are able to give back, by sharing their expertise with others, training new people, encouraging them.. or creating something that enriches people’s lives, or even just by giving credit to someone who has done something well. A lot of conventionally ‘successful’ people cannot find it in their heart to praise someone else’s work, because in their heart they still don’t feel they are enough. So everyone else is a threat. They live in constant insecurity. I am sure that’s not what success looks like.

How can you tell if someone is successful in their relationships? If they are able to give to others freely- their time, their affection, their forgiveness, their advise/ help…

Clearly ‘successful’ must be a term not just reserved for reaching a certain professional pinnacle. How can you tell if a home-maker is successful? Or your domestic help? Or someone just beginning their career? Or a child? I think I’ll be able to tell now 🙂


4 Comments Add yours

  1. Sushmita says:

    It’s refreshing to see someone define success this way 🙂

    I always believed this in my heart but my mind is quite calculative. So, I don’t think I’m successful yet.

    BTW, have you heard about Adam Grant’s work? He has researched a lot about different kinds of people in organizations: givers, takers and matchers. The results are quite interesting 🙂


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very interesting article, Sushmita. Thanks for sharing! I do notice that the term success in the article is used in an objective (conventional) way, rather than a subjective way. Similar to measuring GDP rather than Gross National Happiness. But it’s heartening how giving still correlates with success in the conventional sense. Also, I think the ‘why’ behind giving is important- it can be an instinctive action based on a sense of abundance, or it can be, say, a need to be liked. The latter then is not giving, because it is basically creating a context for taking (attention/ affection etc).


  2. Sushmita says:

    “The term success in the article is used in an objective (conventional) way, rather than a subjective way. Similar to measuring GDP rather than Gross National Happiness. ”

    Yeah, I just wanted to add that even conventional success requires giving or to put it in other words, I wanted to say that even conventional success requires you to be unconventional. Ultimately, even the conventional kind of success is also about love and giving. You cannot be successful in the long run without giving! It’s just that in conventional kind of success, that love and giving is ‘visible’ in physical terms. Human beings focus a lot on what they can see, so this kind of success is popular.

    Also, maybe, these people were not even chasing conventional success in the first place…because if they were obsessed with conventional kind of success, they wouldn’t have been givers. They were more worried about doing their job well and helping others. It reminds me of the concept that if you seek ‘Saraswati’ i.e. knowledge, excellence, wisdom (which will definitely tell you to give more) etc, sometimes, ‘Lakshmi’ comes to you.


    1. Great observation, Sushmita. You’re right, conventional success is sometimes a by-product of being something else ( giver/ creator etc) without necessarily having thought about the outcome. Goes back to the thought you had written about being vs becoming 😊

      Liked by 1 person

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