Why do we succeed?

As I sat in a compulsory motivation talk the other day, picking apart logical fallacies and scientific inaccuracies, I got thinking about the above question. Why do people succeed? Now a lot of people will have a simple answer to this question. We succeed because we really want to; the more we work, the more we reap and the more we succeed. Some may, however, put it down to luck – the people around you in life, your opportunities or demographic. Some people may say it’s in the stars or the hands of an external being; our fates are not in our control because we are puppets of a creator.

I don’t know how people succeed because, in my opinion, I haven’t succeeded yet. I have no experience with a feeling that I have done everything I want to, or well enough. I have succeeded in many parts of my life, with a lot on the way, but success is surely also the big picture. Some of this is a product of time, such as a family and raising children in the best way. Some of it is down to dedication and perseverance while some must be down to ability and predisposition.

But then to a large degree, especially in the Western world, we have large control over even this. We have no overarching cast system holding us down and while some may have it easy form the get-go, the majority do not. We all have access to education, social systems and supports. We can forge contacts, work our way up, do degrees and doctorates – apprenticeships and internships. A system I am subscribed to and benefiting from right now.

So if success is the result of yourself and your opportunities, largely equal for all, what about those with limited capabilities? Why is it fair that a mentally disabled person be deemed less successful than a person lucky enough to have genetic gifts? Is this really how life is, only the ‘normal’ people fulfil their objectives?

What about a lot of my friends. People who have depression, anxiety, sexual and physical trauma. No matter how many opportunities they have had, their progress is stunted by an array of disorders, none of which are their fault. Isn’t that a kind of cosmic randomness, at least on paper, which has no specific meaning but a lot of consequence? I don’t think they should see it that way. Their successes are just as important and impressive as our own. It all depends on the person.

Now I would like to think success is subjective and should only be measured by the persons view. You cannot, for example, look on a gardener with no family and say “you could have done so much more” When the person feels both successful and fulfilled in their life. While people will occasionally be devil’s advocate and pretend they have succeeded while they get through the day on drugs and stolen goods, deep down the reality will usually be very different. This is another reason success should only be judged introspectively; if you judge others, they will protect their egos, get angry and start believing it themselves. If you let them alone, the process will be slow, but they will change their priorities.

Thinking about our success may actually help us. Life after all is many little targets and steps, each one building on the rest. In this way, success can be largely quantified. When you have an end target, it is a lot easier to tell when you have succeeded.

What we need to remember is that life is infinitesimally short. Everyone could think up a thousand times more targets than are humanly possible before we die. That isn’t the point. To me, I want to succeed at things but do them well. When I was twelve, I didn’t just want to play guitar – I wanted to be awesome. When I was doing my exams, I didn’t want to pass – I wanted to ace them. When I start my new career, I don’t want to sit under someone for my life – I want to be above them.

When I start my new degree I don’t want to scrape through, I want to work day and night to compete with the top. And, when I’m old and grey, sitting on my deathbed, I can look back at my few individual successes and think “I fucking succeeded the shit out of life”.

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