Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Emily Dickinson, Success is counted sweetest

We obsess about success. Our work, our lives, our loves and our relationships are woven through with focus on achievement, recognition, status and success. Oddly, few are content with their success. Those with the most are often the most dissatisfied.

Success is rarely a measure of happiness and content. Each new relationship, promotion, business achievement, and award starts a new challenge. Nothing is ended. Nothing is complete. Nobody is content to discover that reaching the next level just means fighting a bigger and badder boss. The worst boss of all is our own feelings that there is more to do and more to be. We can’t live our lives for what we will be in the future. We must live our lives today, here, now.

“A winter world. Ways icy. Most men fall”
To speed on ice, pick filthy spots, is all.
Follow the dog’s way; praise it, nose alert.
Feet that go further faster move in dirt.

John Frederick Nims, Wordly Success

A focus on competitive success into the future is also likely to draw us away from what matters most to us. The demands of the marketplace are demands to ‘go further faster move in dirt’. Success demands compromises and tests our priorities, our ethics and our compassion. Too many times in my life, I have had to give up a potential mark of success because I could not live with the taste in my mouth. Success can be cold and metallic, far from Dickinson’s nectar.

The hardest and most important element of a life and a life’s work is to set your own definition of what achievement means and what matters for you. Nobody comes from the perfect place, has the perfect resume, achieves everything they ever want, is loved unreservedly and has untold wealth. External measures of success are for the demanding landscapes of politics and competitive sport.

Much of what we achieve in one life is reversed in the same life by others. Much does not endure beyond our meagre efforts to sustain it. The goal of a fulfilling life is the way, the company in the striving and what we become through that process, not the goals.

Next time it feels like your falling behind, let go of the measure. Ask what matters most to you. Focus your life, your work and your love on that. There lies the best chance to find a success that you can embrace, sustain and carry as yours alone.

I can’t compete: what I’ve done
stands toward the back of the courtyard near the church wall,|
a few fuzzy words from several years ago.
That one of the words has turned a shade of ochre
that’s hard to come by—that I’ve been trying to put my hands 
         on for years—
purely by chance (plus exposure to a few
back-to-back winters) is most discouraging.

Alexandria Peary, In the courtyard

2 thoughts on “Success

  1. Great post Simon. Yeah, the older I’m getting, the more I realise that success to me means the realisation that I have achieved what I wanted and quite happy with the results. Everything is as it is and how it should be. Why would I want anything more? Anything over and above is just icing on the cake.

    1. So true, Helen. We are so busy much of our lives striving for the next thing we fail to understand what we want or need or that we might just have enough.

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