Monday, February 7, 2011

Defining Success

I work in a training centre which trains some groups of young people for some vocational qualifications. As a trainer/assessor, you learn that  it is more useful to evaluate the learner against a standard than against the performance of other learners. This means measuring each candidate’s performance against a set of standards which the discipline requires as a proof of capability/competence to do a particular task or set of activities is a true measure of how successful they complete the requirements of the training.

A discussion I had with some acquaintances recently made me ponder more on what true success really is. One person said the dad could have achieved more in comparison to one of his friends (the dad’s). He wondered why even though the dad worked very hard, he still wasn’t as “successful” as a particular friend of his (the dad’s). He however admitted that growing up was not so bad as he had friends who thought he was the richest, most opportune and luckiest among his peer group. It clearly shows that there are different levels of achievement for different individuals.

The thought struck me afterwards that our definition of success is plainly in terms of how much money is made. But I dare say it is the wrong concept. Years of impoverishment, corruption and dictatorial rule in the country has done this to the psyche of the people. It is as though success now means the “naira” sign on the eyes of the average Nigerian. Everything is seen and grasped from this definition. I am not about to go into the Nigerian’s definition of success by embezzlement, yahoo yahoo, scams, fraud and the likes. My write-up focuses on true success.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, success is defined as a favourable/desirable outcome; the attainment of wealth, fame, eminence. It is the achievement of something desired, planned, or attempted. As the example I made above, there is a standard which every candidate is measured against. In real life, this standard is not same for all as we differ in talents, abilities, perseverance levels, tenacity, knowledge, e.t.c.
Supposing A and B are sisters. A could achieve “success” in music while B fail to do likewise in the same career. I would explain it this way: A was born to do music while B looked to A to do music. A demonstrated the natural ability which lacked in B. If B searched deep in herself, probably she could have been born to write or act or something other than music and become very great.

I think true success really come from identifying what one’s natural abilities are and passionately pursuing the dream. The height of the standard depends then on the individual; you can go higher each time like in the game of high jump. Each time you achieve a predetermined height, you up the horizontal bar or you could get accustomed to being a champion on a particular level on the scale not advancing past it. But we all know that true champions of this game raise the bar each time, they never stop trying to beat their own records. A height of 2.00m which won gold in the early 80’s was not sufficient to win against a new record set as 2.09m in the late 80’s. The bar has been raised in this game. This is what I have personally understood success to be. Being able to identify (firstly) the standard in your own ability, field of expertise, and then meet this identified standard and subsequently raise the bar by oneself.

Comparing oneself to a friend, sibling or colleague would only put one at a disadvantaged position. If the person you use as the standard (comparison) for your success is not up to what you deem successful, you may tend to gloat over your little measure of success and retain the “local championship cup” for a long time if the person remains in the position for that length of time. On the other hand, if the person is more “successful”, you may feel as though you are underachieving, unsuccessful, like a failure around such individual (s). You thereby shortchange your own life. Each one of us is unique, talented, gifted, and endowed with takes discovery of self to reveal what this is. Successful (true) beings are those who having identified their uniqueness, pursued vigorously, passionately, fearlessly, uninhibitedly, religiously, abandonedly until they got to some certain level in the performance of it that the whole world now recognized it with them (fame) although the criteria for fame in our present world may not apply to everyone but that does not remove from one's success.  Although it is natural human tendency to evaluate ourselves against others, we ought to endeavour to remind ourselves of what is important to us, learn from others and take cues from people who have had more experience in the field or who have achieved some level of success in our chosen careers or life paths.

Oh yes, there is always an element of luck in life but I prefer to call it “opportunity” rather than the 1 in 6 chance of the dice in a ludo game. A popular saying which I like so much says “opportunity comes to the most prepared” and when it knocks, it doesn’t wait for you to brush your teeth, apply make-up or get a degree but be grabbed by the throat.  Some say “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

The world is replete with people who have made success of what they do. From musicians, sportsmen/women, actors, speakers, broadcasters, comedians, leaders, teachers, engineers, lawyers, doctors e.t.c. Many who have followed the inner compass and arrived at a destination which feels like home or second nature.

Let’s not forget that success does not come cheap and just because someone has a natural ability does not guarantee success. Some elements are required to make it happen namely: hard work, diligence, patience, consistency, devotion, commitment and never forgetting to tune in to the creator’s frequency for divine wisdom, inspiration, and guidance whatever the path. 

Caveat: there is no shortcut on this path. 

I wrap this up with quotes from some great people


  1. I totally agree with Christopher Morley ' definition of success. Living on your own terms is true happiness and success.