The Myth of Success

The Myth of Success

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success.”
- Albert Schweitzer

A couple of years ago my mentor asked me, “What do you want out of life?”

The first thing that came to my mind at the time was, “I want to be successful.”

He looked back at me, puzzled, and replied, “What do you mean?”

I said, “You know what I mean; I want to be successful,” and continued by explaining what at the time I thought to be obvious: “I want to be wealthy, powerful, recognized,” all the things popular culture deems as success.  He chuckled for a moment at my naïveté and then asked, “Alan, why do you believe that wealth, power, and recognition are the definition of success?”  He then went on to explain to me that success is defined as “accomplishing an aim or purpose,” but the definition of that aim or purpose is completely up to you.

My mind was officially blown.

Up until that day, I had never really thought of why I defined success that way; instead, I’d been obsessed with how I would attain those things.  That focus on the how instead of the why really had tripped me up.  It had led me to make some very bad decisions and to experience a couple of very unhappy times.  When you follow the guidance of pop culture—television, movies, or magazines—and hold those values above all else, it becomes very logical to take selfish or negative actions in order to attain “wealth, power, and recognition.”  After all, that’s what we’re told leads to happiness.  Machiavelli’s writings are often referenced to support this point of view—statements like, “the ends justify the means”—but it should be noted that Machiavelli died alone and in exile.

It isn’t relevant if society deems you a success; it’s whether you believe you’re achieving success that matters.  For some this may mean fame and fortune, but for others it may mean putting food on the table every night for their family, having a loving relationship with their spouse, or simply painting everyday.  The determining factor is how you feel and what you desire.  The first and most powerful step is realizing you have the power to determine what success looks like for you.  Only then can you free yourself from the myth and begin the journey of living your truth and sharing your magic.


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