This Is One of the Biggest Misconceptions About Success

Success isn't, hasn't, and never will be objective


Neeramitra Reddy

3 years ago | 5 min read

Growing up, the idea of success and the importance of achieving success in our life are drilled into our minds by our parents, schools, society, media, etc. How to become successful?— Get good grades, get a good job, earn a lot of money, marry, have kids, and make them “successful”.

Overall, our idea of success is primarily and heavily tied with earning more money and/or fame. Why? I mean earning money is great and something I want to do as well but why?

Success is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as achieving an aim or a purpose but what is the purpose in this “singular” idea of success that we all hold?

Is it happiness? If yes, then why are so many people that are successful according to this definition unhappy? If no, then what else?

Most of us have no answer. It’s scary when you sit down and think about it — blindly pursuing success without even knowing why.

’Cause Others Think the Same

The uncomfortable answer that we all know deep within but refuse to admit is “Because the others think the same.”.

We, humans, are social beings, and “conforming” is something that we feel a strong urge to do — It’s easy and convenient to stay with the “herd” than straying away from it.

The Urge to Conform

Solomon Asch carried out a series of experiments to find out the extent of our conformity behavior and the results are shocking, to say the least.

In one of these experiments, the subjects were subjected to a “vision” test where they had to compare two lines and determine which was longer. Nearly one-third of the time, participants chose the wrong answer just to conform with the group.

This shows just how strong of a tendency we have to conform, believing the others even at the cost of disbelieving ourselves — this is akin to following the herd with shut eyes, even if it’s to the slaughterhouse. Apart from wanting to conform, there is another strong driving force that makes us want to stick to the “traditional” definition of success — because others view it as a success too.

Freidrich Nietzsche, the famous German philosopher, and Alfred Adler, an Austrian Psychologist spearheaded the idea that the primary driving force in humans is the “Will To Power” — to attain mastery over others, ourselves, and the environment.

“What is good? All that heightens the feeling of power in man, the will to power, power itself. What is bad? All that is born of weakness. What is happiness? The feeling that power is growing, that resistance is overcome.” — Nietzsche

The idea is that since we are born weak, inferior, and helpless, we are wired to constantly try to overcome this sense of inferiority by striving for power and superiority.

This is exactly why we strive to attain the traditional idea of success — to succeed in other’s eyes and in a sense, become “superior”.

The problem here is that in pursuit of succeeding in other’s eyes, we tend to lose sight of succeeding in our own eyes.

Dare to Stray From the Herd

No, I am not telling you to become an antisocial rebel that stands against society and everything it stands for. You just have to refuse to blindly accept, take a step back, and think.

There Is No “one” Success

Coming back to the idea of success, let’s think for a while, shall we? Success is the achievement of an aim or purpose and with every one of us having different aims, how can there be “one” idea of success?

As a kid, I used to wonder whenever I came across stories of how a successful businessman quit everything and went into obscurity or how a lifelong topper quit his high paying job and started teaching in a village school.

“So becoming a hermit and spending your life meditating can be as successful as becoming a billionaire.”

It was incomprehensible to me. Why abandon “success”? Poor me didn’t know back then that there was no “one” success.

The very idea that success is objective is flawed. As long as you have a strong sense of purpose, nigh anything can be successful. So becoming a hermit and spending your life meditating can be as successful as becoming a billionaire.

The Power of “why”

Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, and an Austrian psychologist strongly believed and popularized the idea that the primary driving force in human beings is the will to meaning.

“But he persevered by finding meaning and purpose in his suffering.”

Frankl met with a fate that most of us shudder to even imagine — Locked up, starved, tortured, surrounded by death, and at the risk of dying himself. But he persevered by finding meaning and purpose in his suffering.

His purpose was to reunite with his loved ones, complete his life work — logotherapy, and help the other prisoners find their own purpose. As Nietzsche himself says,

“He who has a why to live for can endure almost anyhow”

Meaning = Happiness

The funny thing with power is that if everyone sought power and superiority, no one would have them. What if life hits you hard and throws you into a situation where you don’t have any power?

“Power depends on other people and circumstances while meaning doesn’t.”

Power depends on other people and circumstances while meaning doesn’t. So by seeking power, you are not in control of your happiness but with purpose and meaning, you are. In fact, only you are.

Power is succeeding in other’s eyes while seeking meaning is succeeding in your own.

“To live is to suffer and to survive is to find meaning in the suffering.” — Friedrich Nietzsche.

Another fundamental distinction to make is that power gives pleasure while meaning gives happiness. Research also shows the same.

“The funny thing is that if everyone sought power and superiority, no one would have them.”

Finding Your Own “why”

It’s simple but hard. We think simple is easy and complex is hard which is far from true. The simplest things are often the hardest too.

All it takes is asking yourself two questions — “What the hell do I want” and “Why do I want it” and answering them in an objective and brutally honest manner.

What others think doesn’t matter. What you think matters. Bare yourself naked in the mental mirror and look closely. You will find your “why” and fulfilling it is true success.

It is extremely simple and extremely hard at the same time. The ones that abandoned society’s ideal of success to pursue their own like the businessman and topper I mentioned earlier had to make a very hard choice. As I said earlier,

“We think simple is easy and complex is hard which is far from true. The simplest things are often the hardest too.”

It takes a lot of courage and an iron will to choose to pursue your own purpose but that’s exactly what makes it worth doing as well.

“One of the greatest challenges in life is being yourself in a world that is trying to make you like everyone else.”

It’s a war between the will to power and the will to meaning — take the easy way and stay unhappy and unsatisfied for the entirety of your life or take the hard way and live a happy, meaningful, and fulfilling life.

All in all, we are humans living in the real world, and in the real world, absolutes or black and whites are never feasible. It’s all about treading in the gray region and the real question is “how” gray are you willing to tread?

Originally published here


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Neeramitra Reddy

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