Jun 16, 2012


Success is defined as a favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; or the achievement of something desired, planned or attempted; accomplishment of an aim or purpose. It is also defined as the attainment of wealth, position, honor or the like. The entire gambit of innovation, growth, prosperity and personal happiness revolves around this seven letter noun called “Success”. To attain success and become successful is the inner desire of every human being on the planet. It is the driving force for achieving something of importance in life. With success comes the confidence and courage to take risk for further attempts. It lifts one’s moral and self confidence. It also brings social recognition, name, fame, glory, sense of satisfaction and increases the power of self determination.

On the flip side, success may also bring vanity, egotism, narcissism, pride and arrogance. In some cases the effect of success may reach to the point of self centeredness, selfishness, ruthlessness, gluttony, anger, antagonism, antipathy, aversion and abhorrence towards fellow human beings. Sometimes undeserving success may lead to blindness towards seeing the truth or reality. It may change the way a normal person looks at a situation or circumstance. Sometime people may link their success to their skills and endeavor while completely ignoring the other surrounding factors which may have helped them become successful. Undeserving success may also lead to the comprising of ethical and moral values. 

Albert Einstein has said - "Strive not be a success but rather to be of value". Therefore I have decided to discuss this abstract topic with all of you while analyzing what is the true meaning of success and how success is defined from one’s perspective. Can we consider success without value as success? If not, then what are those values which determine the quality of success? Does the meaning of success vary from person to person? If yes! Then what are those variances? What are its attributes and how it affects personal or social life? Does success mean achieving everything in one's life or it is one of the means to survive in the world? How many types of successes can be classified and how do they provide a sense of accomplishment? Can success obtained through foul means be considered as success? If not then what is the criteria for determining success or genuine successes? Is one type of success greater or lesser than other types of successes? If not, then which success is of the highest value and others not? What factors leads in getting the successes? What are the parameters of determining these successes?  Etc.

Therefore the nature and importance of success varies depending upon the purposes and it also varies from person to person. Achieving certain things in one’s life can be matters of great importance but may be irrelevant from other’s point of view. Similarly having a promotion or an increment in the job or getting a huge order in business or being awarded for an achievement may be a great success from one’s angle but may look normal by others. Thus, the parameter for determining success differs depending upon its nature and circumstances. The parameter for recognizing a success also depends upon ones personality, position and social status. A small effort by socially recognized people becomes a headline whereas a highly qualified and knowledgeable person may face obscurity.

Furthermore, the prosperous termination of attempts, or endeavors or achievements of something desired, planned or attempted may translate into a success in case of personal achievements but on social levels success needs to be acknowledged by someone else other than the person trying to achieve it. On a social level success is determined by taking into consideration the collective efforts put in by an average number of people for the same goal or purpose. Therefore in that case we may presume that success without acknowledgement is no success. It is incomplete in its essence socially while providing a sense of temporary happiness and self pride. Success is a parameter by which a person’s ability or performance is acknowledged or its resulting potential effects on one’s personal or social or professional life is measured or judged by society.

Since success and achievement of an aim or purpose triggers self satisfaction and happiness, hence success and happiness are the resulting components of each other. But there may be examples contrary to this. Sometime people get success in their lives but it is not acknowledged by their employer or their family or society, hence people feel sadness even after accomplishing a task or purpose of importance. One can go all alone to the North Pole and come back but if there is no witness and there is nobody to acknowledge this fact then the efforts will remain a personal achievement and not a success from the social point of view. Hence, success without acknowledgement may only be a personal effort.

Now can we consider success without ‘value’ as success?  This question was raised by the world famous scientist Albert Einstein; hence we must answer why he discouraged us to be successful over having some values in life.

The word ‘value’ can be described as moral value, ethical value, personal value or social value. These values make the character of a person which leads to qualitative contribution towards personal or family or social lives. These values allow a person to make an analytical approach to a situation with positive and constructive mindset. These values give rise to judicious evaluation of a situation even if the situation is not in one’s favor. These values also tantamount to adjustment and sacrifice and enlarges a person’s personality several fold. A sense of magnanimity and benevolence gets induced in one’s thinking and approach. Even after achieving great success, people become more humble, courteous and generous in their approach. Therefore, if a person becomes successful from the literal sense but he or she has not been able to inculcate some values in their personality and action then those successes are useless. Therefore, a success without value may be termed as immoral success or in management terms NVA or Non Value Added Activities.

Moving forward to my next question-“Does the meaning of success vary from person to person”?  If yes, then what are those variances? What are its attributes and how it affects personal or social lives?

Again if we take the literal meaning of success as defined in a dictionary- “prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors” then we find that any attempt which leads to some kind of gain is a success even if the gain is negligible from others point of view. For example when a beggar is hungry and looking forward to have some kind of food, and at the end of the day if the beggar is able to grab a loaf of bread, it can be considered as a prosperous termination of his or her attempts as the beggar is richer by a loaf. On the other hand if a stock broker is able to buy a large quantity of shares at the lowest value, then that is a success for him. Getting bread at the end of day by a beggar is a great success for him but it may not be considered as a success by the stockbroker in comparison to his gain but both of them had their fare share of success.

Therefore, the end result of an endeavor which triggers the feeling of success varies from person to person. These variances can be classified as follows:

  1. Success for Survival
As per the UNO’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) 2012 World Hungry and Poverty Facts and Statistics, in 2010 about 1 billion people or 14% of the entire estimated population of the world is malnourished. It means that they do not have enough food for survival or they are hungry. In this case grabbing a bag of rice at the time of distribution by aid agencies is a great success for them.

  1. Success for Achievement
This is very common in our lives when we accomplish an aim or purpose such as getting a degree, promotion, winning an elective post, employment, large contracts, prize, award, trophies or becoming recognized in the society for achieving something of utmost value or importance.

  1. Success out of Compulsion
In order to earn our livelihood we all have to work and for that we have to commute in spite of the traffic nightmare, or pick up our children from school, or successfully travelling from one place to another in spite of the airlines strike or reaching a destination in the midst of closure of roads due to some kind of demonstration or protest, or marrying or educating our children or accomplishing a task at work place are the best examples of having a sense of success by achieving our aim or purpose out of compulsion.

  1. Success for Satisfaction
In order to satisfy our mental, physical or emotional desire to have something or to do something of extra-ordinary in nature or to help the family or society, we keep doing certain activities of which the end results provide us a sense of accomplishment or success in achieving the goal, aim or purpose. This gives us a sense of satisfaction while becoming successful in our purpose.

My next sets of questions are - Does success mean achieving everything in one's life or is it one of the means to survive in the world? How many types of successes can be classified and how they provide a sense of accomplishment? Success obtained through foul means can be considered as success or not? If not then what are the criteria for determining successes or genuine successes? Is one type of success greater or lesser than other types of successes? If not then which success is of the highest value and others not? 

Before answering the first question, I will like to deliberate upon types of successes which can be the following:

  1. Material Success:
If one is able to acquire lands, buildings, jewelry or other materials of value with his or her effort or by way of inheritance or gift or by any other means then this type of success may fall under this category.

  1. Financial Success:
Acquiring wealth by way of monetary gain is an important and integral part of judging a person to be financially successful. Again it is a matter of debate to discuss the means of acquiring wealth in order to become financially successful.

  1. Personal Success:
Personal success can be measured from the point of physical or mental satisfaction one gets by doing certain activities which gives a sense of achievement.

  1. Social Success:
Any achievements by which a person gets recognized in the society, gains name, fame and fortune, earns respect power and position, gets the ability to control or influence a large number of people falls under this category.

  1. Religious Success:
Karl Marx a German sociologist of early nineteenth century has said that “the religion is the opium of the people”, hence I will not like to dwell upon this in detail. The acknowledgement of religious success depends upon the percentage of people under the influence of the ‘opium’ or in other words conditioning of their mind.

  1. Spiritual Success:
Under this category, a person realizes the truth of life and one’s purpose of existence in this world. This makes the person humble and ordinary human ills like ego, jealousy, anger and hatred are gone and one’s thought process becomes one with the God. However this success is very personal in nature and hard to find out in the society as spiritually successful people will never go for drum beating or look for any types of endorsement, acknowledgement or advertisement.

Now I would like to digress a bit and would like to quote another proverb which says –“Nothing succeeds like a success”. In a common scenario people generally measure success with the gain of material or financial wealth, power and position. This proverb blatantly ignores the ‘means’ of obtaining those successes.  There are several countries in the world where people have amassed enormous wealth, power or position by way of corrupt practices. Can we consider those successes as successes? These successes obtained through immoral or illegal ways may be temporal in nature and may also have negative fallouts in future. Bernie Medoff of USA is the best example of obtaining success through illegal means. At one time people were dazzled with his financial success running into billions of dollars and now he is behind the bar.

Therefore as per me “unqualified or undeserving success is no success at all”. These successes make people blind to see reality and they may also become arrogant, rude, and full with vanity. Here I would like to quote a poem of Abdul Rahim Khan-e-Khana (or Rahim) –

“Jo Rahim Ochho Badhe, To Ati Hee Itraay,  Pyade Se Pharji Bhayo, Tedho- Tedho Jaay”.

Its translation in English is – “those who were very low in their mental or spiritual background, if they suddenly gain power or position or acquire wealth then their behavior changes and they become full with vanity which is visible in their action and behavior”.

Sir Winston Churchill, the former prime minister of UK has added another dimension of success by quoting “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts”. It means that success alone is not sufficient and it is one’s determination, focus on goals and ability to continue or overcome all odds that matter. I am sure while quoting the word courage he must not have meant negative courage of stealing wealth or holding power or position by deception.

The great king of Macedon (323 BC) – ‘Alexander the Great’ was the most successful and courageous warrior of his time. He conquered many countries and accumulated enormous wealth but at the time of his death he pronounced three wishes to be fulfilled. His first wish was to have his physician bring his coffin home alone; second wish was to scatter gold, silver and gems from his treasury along the path when his coffin is being shipped to the tomb; and the third and final wish was to put his hands outside the coffin.

Upon asking the reason he replied “I want everyone to understand the three lessons I have learned. To let my physician carry my coffin alone is to let people realize that a physician cannot really cure people’s illness. Especially when they face death, the physicians are powerless. I hope people will learn to treasure their lives. My second wish is to tell people not to be like me in pursuing wealth. I spent my whole life pursuing wealth, but I was wasting my time most of the time. My third wish to let people understand that I came to this world in empty hands and I will leave this world also in empty hands.”

Now if we analyze the message Alexander the Great gave to the world we find that material success may be important but it is not everything and in the race of obtaining them one remains devoid of real success which is the knowledge of knowing oneself while creating inner peace and harmony. In other words success is important in our lives in order to enjoy material, financial, or social recognition as long as it is earned in a balanced way and does not affect other aspects of our lives. If these successes results in sorrow or pain or come at the cost of our personal life, married life, family life, social life and spiritual life and if they create an imbalance between our physical, mental or emotional set-up, then these successes cannot be considered as real success. In such cases, an element of failure is also attached with success.

Hence success is important but the quality of success is more important than success itself. Real success is success if one can create a balance between three states of being – mental, physical and spiritual and remain humble, modest, generous, giving, kind, truthful, tolerant, and down to earth even in the situation of getting material, financial, personal or social successes by truthful means while progressing towards the path leading to spiritual success.

I will look forward for your valuable comments for the enlightenment of readers of this blog.

Suman Saran Sinha
Certified Management Consultant and
a pursuer of logical quest