This is a blog about life’s best practices. As I wrote in the introduction to the blog, I believe there are practices that lead to greater achievement and more personal satisfaction in life. This inevitably raises the question of what it means to succeed.

Five minutes of Googling will produce see plenty of definitions of success.  One writer defined success as “the degree to which a person manages to be satisfied with the general contents of his or her routine.”  Another defined “true success” as “simply the realization and obtainment of a worthy ideal or result that your heart is deeply connected to . . . .”  A third defined success as “creating what you want the way you want it to be.”  Still another proposes that success could mean “trying until the day you die.”

I don’t endorse any of those definitions, but I’m glad the writers are thinking about the issue. For one’s definition of success is one of the most important issues one can think about.

The answer is almost unimportant: the importance instead comes largely from the examination that flows from the question.  As I’ve noted elsewhere, the research is clear that having goals leads to greater achievement. Pondering the meaning of success leads a person to think about basic issues of motivation, meaning, and goals.  Those are powerful topics.

I don’t plan to provide answers to what success in fact should mean to you.  I may write later about the best insights I’ve found into creating  a working definition of success.  For now, I raise the question because it leads to personal insight, and that personal insight is much greater than anything I can speculate about.

I will not resist some self-disclosure, however.  As you might expect, I have my own working definition of success. That definition stems in part from the fact that I value creativity and using one’s talents to their fullest, and also from my belief that we do not know the answers to life’s ultimate questions.  Because our ultimate end point is unpredictable (so that we are never absolutely sure if someone’s achievements are ultimately of particular value), I deem someone a success if they lead a life in which they uncover and use what they perceive as their greatest talents in such a manner that they love the process of living (always provided that they do not use those talents to deprive others of the use of theirs). A proxy I sometimes use in everyday conversation is that someone may be a success in proportion to which they maximize the experience of flow in their life.

I find the best – or at least most delightful – articulation of my definition of success in the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche about the “eternal return.” Nietzsche was provocatively ambiguous about this concept, but I find a parallel between my definition of success and the eternal return in the idea of living one’s life so that one would be willing to relive each moment over and over again. As Nietzsche wrote in The Gay Science:

What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence – even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!”

Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? … Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?

Nietzsche, The Gay Science, section 341 (Walter Kaufmann transl.)

Please give me your thoughts about what success means.  Furthermore, how would you advise someone to go about determining their personal definition of success?