I had a friend recently ask me, "What is your definition of success?" I had to contemplate that question for a while and think about the things that validated my life as worthwhile.
Originally, I gave a cop-out explanation that it was dependent on the individual and what that individual defined as important in their individual life. I saw it as a cop-out because under that logic, well, success could be anything the person wanted it to be. While that technically is true, I think our definitions of "wants" and "desires" always need to be investigated beyond what we're conditioned to believe. Why do we want the things we want? Why do things like money, recognition, titles, accomplishments or whatever, define who we are? Why do we give value to these things?
I guess the point I was trying to make was that I felt we needed to understand if it came from a place of living in accordance to our own expectations or the expectations of others. Do we want that car and that house because our neighbor has that car and that house? Do we want that accomplishment just so people will acknowledge our accomplishment? Even our "noble" intentions: Would we still be motivated to act on the behalf of others if nobody applauded our efforts?
It's not to say that these things shouldn't be part of our lives. Every underpaid teacher deserves a reminder that they're changing someone's life. A humble display of gratitude to an overworked social worker probably aids their service to others. But it shouldn't be the core motivation behind our choices. External validation should be a supplement to our driving principles, not at the core, and I just think finding that core is a much more complicated and painful process than what we have probably invested. More often than not, we're still operating from an expectation of others (at least I know I am) and I think that is how success eludes us.
In the end I answered that my definition for success was the ability to pay back your dues. I don't know if I believe any longer that we should strive towards the things we enjoy. In some ways it's incredibly selfish to think only of our personal fulfillment. I'm beginning to see that many of these things I'm able to realize are due to opportunities I've been given in life, so I think a large part of my definition is related to the ability to pay back what I owe. That is the driving motivation behind most of my choices. Which choice will put me in the best position to repay that which I owe? And even that needs to be questioned of its true intentions. I'd like to think that it comes from a place of personal belief, but I clearly haven't reached a full level of sincerity if I still find the need to post it on a blog.
Who knows, in two years time, my answer will probably change. But I'm starting to accept the fact that each epiphany I too hastily label as a universal truth has a smaller lesson packaged inside of it. And I think this time the hard lesson is that sometimes you don't do things because you like them; you do them because you have to.