How do I know I’m succeeding?

Success is an interesting concept to evaluate. After all, our ideas of success are profoundly influenced by the societies in which we live. In Western democracies, we tend to equate success in largely monetary ways: the kind of job you have, the number of things you own, the house you live in and where said house is located, how much you have saved for retirement, etc. These barometers of success are quite simplistic and do not consider the plethora of other factors that contribute to one’s life and livelihood.

Essentially, success is relative. But this relativity is primarily more introspective (looking towards yourself) than extrospective (looking towards others) than one might expect! People tend to compare themselves to others (primarily the rich and famous) when determining success. This is ultimately a fallacy: your circumstances were never the same as theirs. They likely had more advantages from the outset than yourself, and you cannot rationally know all the factors that contributed to their lives.

If you consider the above, the only way you can truly know your personal success is through self-reflection and introspection. Consider: where were you in the past? How are you doing now? What are your prospects like for the future? What kind of support networks do you have? In this sense, it is better to measure success qualitatively (through observation) than quantitatively (through numbers.)

Theorists such as Abraham Maslow have argued that happiness and personal growth are the best indicators of our success. For Maslow, it was not enough to have just our basic needs met (food, water, warmth, rest, security and safety), but rather, true happiness stems from higher-order needs being met. These needs include esteem (prestige and feelings of accomplishment) as well as self-actualisation (meeting your full potential and expressing your creativity.) Under Maslow’s Hierarchy, it is therefore possible that the rich and famous may have their material needs completely met, yet still be unhappy as they are unable to meet their needs for self-esteem, self-actualisation, or belonging for instance. In that way, a poorer but happier person who consistently loves their life and uses their potential on a daily basis is ultimately more successful as a person.

Finally, a key component of success is located within possessing mental and physical strength and resilience. By having these, you are more far likely to withstand adversity and persist through times of difficulty. This involves making the effort to exercise, and live and eat healthily to better hone your body and physical condition. In addition, you can equip yourself with emotional regulation, positive thinking, goal setting, and critical thinking and reflection skills. If you possess all of these, you are well on your way to ensuring your personal success!