What is your definition of success?


Someone asked me that the other day. It got me thinking and made me realise how much my understanding of what success is has evolved and changed over the years.

Coming from a South Asian family it started off by thinking in terms of exams and qualifications. Surely, it seemed at the time, the better the exam results meant that the more successful you were and even more so if you got into a respectable profession like medicine! In hindsight I got there by playing the system so as to get top grades in subjects I knew I was best at to be accepted into medical school. However, I quickly became unstuck as I found myself struggling to keep up with the work and failing most of my exams! You can learn more about my experiences in this short 15 minute video 

Eventually getting through medical school and the ‘success’ of becoming a doctor only revealed to me that I had got to the top of one ladder to find myself at the bottom of another one that looked just as high and as daunting as the previous one. Fortunately for me I found my niche in psychiatry and started on that track. The opportunity to interact deeply with patients and their carers in a holistic way at times of deep need I began to find enormously satisfying. Fast forward another 10 years or so to become a consultant and there is the realisation that lasting success, whatever, that was, appeared somewhat elusive.

Then there is the constant allure of measuring success by money and the things that money can buy – vividly described as bright shiny objects. Advertising and the media keep on trying to tell us that if only you had that car or those clothes or that highly prized real estate then you would know you are successful. The problem is that there is no limit to the accumulation of material objects. And no matter what you get, there will always be somebody who has more or something better than what you have got.

This is how Tom Morris, a professor in philosophy who went on to set up a think tank that applies the wisdom of the ages to business and modern life put it:

“The greatest case of mistaken identity in modern society relates to the four marks of public success: money, power, fame and status. Success should never be confused with wealth or power. Rather success should be linked to excellence and fulfilment…. I have no problem with money, power, fame or status – as long as they are treated as resources, rather than as goals in themselves. But that’s precisely the problem for most people – and why? It’s so hard for people to answer the question ‘how much is enough?’ If acquiring money or fame is your goal, how do you know when you have enough? Everyone I know who has a little wants more. But everyone I know who has a lot also wants more.”

The other side of that is it is so easy to then become successful at those things that in the end don’t really matter – which is really failure! Wanting more is certainly not the answer and yet that is what is so often what is presented to us in society and through the media.

The Jewish Carpenter put it succinctly when he said in the English translation of the original Greek (Mark 8;36-37):

“What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?”

Or more famously, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”

 In the next blog post we will look more at how lasting success starts from the inside out along with how the process or journey can be, as important as the final outcome. We talked about the law of process in a previous blog post.

But how about you?

How would you define success? It would be great to have your comments, thoughts and ideas. We will continue the conversation in the next blog post.