Just don’t be an asshole.
Okay, while true, that doesn’t exactly tell the whole story. Being successful is slightly more involved than avoiding the qualities of an asshole or asshat. Yes, you shouldn’t be one. But, what else? What is the secret to success, and can anybody reach success?
First, success means different things to different people. Ultimately, our goals and ambitions serve as the foundation on which success is built. OUR goals, not someone else’s.
The secret to becoming successful
Thus, lesson number one: Never judge YOUR success on the success of someone else. Otherwise, you’ll never feel successful. In virtually all walks of life, there will always be someone at a higher position than you. Better than you. More experienced than you. A better public speaker. More wealthy. A math wiz. A seasoned pool shark. Don’t let their successes diminish your own.
In today’s society, it can be tough to remain focused on yourself. As selfish as our culture has become, strangely enough, we still tend to care way too much about what other people think of us. We like to give off the illusion of “success” with the clothes we wear, cars we drive and homes we live in. Watches and jewelry make us feel better about the way we look. Expensive gadgets help us to keep up with our friends. We buy crap for the benefit of others. We give too many shits.
This brings us to lesson number two: Reject society’s definition of success. Yet again, success is virtually unattainable if we let our culture govern its definition. Simply put, it always changes. Fashion magazines highlight the latest “hot buys” in the industry. Electronics publications give us new “must have” gadgetry that is in vogue this month. Car websites spill out the low-down on what cars the rich and famous are driving.
The funny thing is it’s all arbitrary and based to some degree on the highest bidder. Sponsored content drives popular opinion. If we base our level of success on the well-funded marketing efforts of corporate America, the “success target” will constantly move. We will spend tons of money on stupid landfill-bound items that may have represented success…last week.
I remember back in the 90’s, Starter jackets were all the rage. You needed to have a Starter jacket or you weren’t “cool”. Somewhere down the line, Adidas seemed to take the top spot. Nike’s “Air Jordan” shoes were the shit, too. Quite honestly, I have no idea what’s in vogue today, but it’s something…something that will change next week, month or year.
Therefore, success is internal. It is derived from our lives, our thoughts and our fortunes. We make ourselves successful, not some arbitrary external force or governing body. It comes down to us.
Lesson number three: Success demands context. It does not materialize from the accumulation of things. Rather, success is achieved. It begins with a goal – a personal goal. Through our own efforts of working smart and making the right decisions, we focus on achieving that goal. When we do, we become successful at those goals.
We don’t stop and call it good, though. Once a goal is achieved, do we deem ourselves, once and for all, “successful”? Is that it? Are we done? Life mastered?
The more successes we enjoy, the more successful we feel. For example, few would argue against the notion that Metallica is a highly successful band. Hanson, the one-hit-wonder boy band from the 90s, is a different story. They had a single hit, called something like “MMMBop”, that exploded onto the radio airwaves, then faded into oblivion. That song was successful, but are they?
Or, remember the Miami Dolphins’ undefeated season in 1972? They slammed through the competition in the regular season without losing a single game, then proceeded to win the Superbowl and finish the season 17-0. Miami Dolphins, highly successful football team? Maybe, maybe not…they finished at the bottom of the heap in their division last year with a record of 6-10.
Last lesson (and perhaps the best!)
This leads us to our last lesson, which is perhaps the most important: Success is utter bullshit. Make no mistake about it – achieving our goals is a wonderful thing, but who’s to say whether or not we are “successful”? Our society? Our friends? When we worry about whether or not we’re “successful”, we lose focus. We make dumb choices. We let ourselves buy certain things and act in a particular way because of that presumed success.
What if the whole concept of success is pure nonsense? What if “success” was cleverly designed to divide us up into groups based on superficial accomplishments, where possessing certain items or doing certain things qualifies us for membership into those groups.
Perhaps our nation’s clever marketing departments hold the key to this definition by driving public opinion and assembling the components of fame and fortune into an easily-digestible package that virtually anyone can simply buy – success or not?
Wouldn’t that be interesting…buying success? Write a few checks and you’re suddenly “in the club”? How easy would that be?
The true secret to becoming one successful mofo: Don’t worry about “success”. Who cares? Instead, focus on your goals. Your life. Your accomplishments. Because in the end, that’s what truly matters in your life. You.
Not me. Not society. Just you.
Steve is a 37-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.