That’s right, I said it. Success, as most of us define it, is total BS. Think about it: it’s a completely relative, absolutely arbitrary measure we create in our own minds to judge ourselves against. And when you set that bar high, you end up spending a good part of your life, or even your entire life, knocking your self-worth down a peg when you’re not reaching your own subjective and lofty standards. It actually doesn’t make any sense and is directly related to the innate problems of perfectionism that seem productive but are actually self-destructive. And that’s why it’s bullshit.
Look, it’s great to be ambitious. I am. But it’s so easy in our culture of things and money and “being cool” to have your ambitions misplaced. You set a goal to be the best at something, when realistically you’ll never be the best. You want to revolutionize without realizing that many of the greatest innovations weren’t made by people who specifically sat down intending to innovate. You want to record a classic album only to realize that doesn’t actually solve any of the problems of the world. You want to make a lot of money, then find that financial success doesn’t fill the voids in your life.
Or maybe you already consider yourself successful. But have you really thought about your accomplishments? Do you think the money you’ve made makes you in any way more successful as a person than someone who is poor? Do you think that app you invented actually matters? It’s a great thing to help some people out by making their lives a little more convenient, but nobody, in thousands of years of human existence, ever actually needed that app before, and no one needs it now. Is your status as a human being at all changed by your status in the social structure? Of course not.
Even well-meaning ambition can be a double-edged sword. Maybe you want to start a family, but never wind up meeting that ideal mate to spend your life with. It was a great goal to have, but are you now somehow less of a person because you spent your life single? Of course not!
I’m not saying that no one should have aspirations to invent a popular app or start a family or have a nice car or anything like that–sometimes these ambitions make life more exciting and give us some motivation or a feeling of purpose. I’m just saying that the way we judge ourselves on whether or not we’re a successful person is completely out of whack and counterproductive, and we shouldn’t let things that only seem important fool us into thinking they’re more meaningful than they are.
The True Success Formula
Here’s what people actually, genuinely need from you: to try your best not to be a douchebag while you love your life as much as possible. I completely fail at this myself sometimes, but that’s OK. My ambition is to live my life to the fullest and best extent that I know how, to be true to myself 100% of the time as it’s the only thing I can truly be the best at in this world, to follow inspiration and passion where it leads me, and to accept my place in an ever-evolving, unpredictable, uncontrollable and beautifully chaotic human experience. If I become a well-known musician along the way, that would probably be fun. But I can achieve what I want as an artist and person without aspiring to arbitrary milestones. Remember, it all comes down to quality over quantity.
That’s success. Not perfection. Not achieving goals. Not making your mark on the world before you die. Just simply living, exploring, and welcoming life no matter where it takes you. Plain and simple. Don’t shoot for the stars and settle on the moon; shoot for the stars and embrace the moon. Everything else–well, that’s just a bonus.