July 03, 2010

What Do You Mean by Success?

“Success is not one of my motives. Because success stands in contrast to failure. But no worthwhile effort in one’s life is either a success or failure.


What do you mean by success? You take a problem and you want to solve it. Well, if you solve it, in a limited sense it is a success. But it may be a trivial problem. So a judgment about success is not something about which I’ve ever been serious about in any sense whatever.”


– Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, Nobel laureate physicist (from the book Creativity, by M. Csikszentmihalyi)


The pursuit of success often leads to the fear of failure, largely because our definition of success is greatly influenced by the culture we live in. That’s partly why I am less concerned with success, as the physicist above, than I am with full engagement, resonance, and flow.


In my preparation for a writer’s conference I will be speaking at in Seattle, I came across the following notes I scribbled while writing Inner Excellence:


“We need a purpose beyond ourselves, otherwise life becomes all about self, which leads to continually trying to satisfy our own moods and desires and that constant pursuit of instant gratification can never be filled.


You become self-conscious as your ego, that which always wants more possessions, more money, more prestige, tries to find its identity through pride and comparison to others. A purpose beyond yourself, however, leads to a unifying vision that compels you to seek out the best in others and best in yourself.”


What is your purpose? Consider the words of Frederick Buechner if you’re unsure of your purpose:


“Vocation comes from the place of intersect where the world’s great need meets our deep gladness.”


What are you passionate about, that contributes something meaningful to the world, that you would be willing to do even if you were not a “success?”