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There’s possibly no person on this planet who does not want to be successful, but the word itself holds different meanings for everyone. Can success be defined in terms of money, or in terms of fame? Or is happiness true success?

When I was a kid, I used to think about the future like any other kid. At that age, education was given prime importance for famously being one of the roads to success. One had to attend a good school, do well, then go for higher education and do well. Eventually all this learning and doing well would pay off with the attainment of ‘success’. But no one mentioned what success was really about. How would you even know if you are successful? Is it the happiness of doing something you love, or is it the fat paycheque at the end of the month, that keeps getting fatter with time? What do you aim for?

There is also the lure of what every other ‘successful’ person is doing. People usually tend to emulate examples of ‘success’. If a society’s definition of success is based on the fact that everyone going into corporate jobs and earning a whole lot of money, then ‘success’ aspirants will inevitably opt for the same path. The path becomes a yardstick for ‘success’. Anything done outside that path looks foolhardy and unsuccessful.

However, does following the same path of another ‘successful’ person make people successful in their own eyes? Since everyone has a different definition of success, do many of the same examples create an illusion of success that everyone wants to imitate? Are individual dreams buried somewhere under the weight of such an illusion?

The reason I write this is plain. I’ve started asking myself what success really means. Is the perception of success an illusion we are chasing? Does being ‘successful’ become the determinant of a ‘good life’? Does it make us better people?

Going back to the idea that success is different for everyone, one can assume what success means to different people. For a writer, success may be writing an award-winning book. For a director, success may be getting the biggest honour at the Academy Awards. For a corporate employee, success may mean becoming a manager in the company. For a beggar, success might mean finding any job, no matter how small. Does that make one’s perception of success better than or more relevant than the other? Does my perception of success have to be the same as yours to make it worthy of attention?

In some societies (I’m not going to be specific), being a doctor, an engineer, a policeman, a government employee, a CEO, is considered successful. However, unstable and low-income (or should I say unsure income) jobs such as those of painters, sculptors, not-so-famous writers, or musicians are not exactly given a complete warm welcome. How many people say they dream of becoming a musician as opposed to those who say they want to become doctors? Does that mean that you are less ambitious, and therefore do not have such a strict perception of success because you want to be a musician?

Why is it that no one is able to define success? Ambiguity is something that runs our world after all, and creates some wonderful differences. However, being judgmental as a result of this ambiguity is actually the biggest problem in modern society.

If I have defined my idea of success (or if I haven’t), does anyone have the right to tell me I am unsuccessful? If I do not meet your yardstick of success, does that make me unsuccessful? Am I a loser? Or should I consider myself unsuccessful if I do not meet my requirements of being successful?

Should success be defined in terms of what an individual thinks it is, or should it be measured by the perceptions of society? Eventually, is success something that should be manufactured? Must I follow in the footsteps of every other ‘successful’ person to be successful? Will choosing a different path make me unsuccessful?

Should I feel let down by those who think my path (which is different from the norm) is not successful? Or should I revel in the fact that I am paving my own path to success? Does it make me unsuccessful if I have avoided the same kind of work ‘successful’ people do?

I thought about this for a number of nights, looking at the so-called ‘successful’ people around me, and then looking at those who are not considered successful. I eventually concluded that one cannot carve his/her life in the manner another person has carved theirs. We are all different – we were born this way. Success, similarly, is different. There is a reason it cannot be defined properly. It should not be. I can never impose an idea of success on you; you must make that choice. Success is eventually what you make of it. No one should ever bog you down with their own perceptions of success.

In a modern life, where wealth and fame are so important, success has come to mean the same things. But we really need to ask ourselves if we want to be defined by a constantly changing society, or if we want to create our own meanings of success in our lifetimes. Will being rich and famous create our successes, or will something else do that for us?