Ignore anything with the word ‘success’ in it
Except this short article.
Most of the ‘how to be successful’ books, stories and articles we read can be summarily dismissed. ‘Success’ is the word that hoists a red flag, pings our BS detector, and sees our arms folded and eyes askance.
In fact, it’s probably best to simply remove the ‘success’ from your vocabulary — it’s just not very useful. Here are a few thoughts as to why.
Success is contextual, and often the result of privilege, luck and circumstance. Tenacity and strategy certainly play a part — but the efficacy of what worked for someone in the past (in their context) does not translate to what might work for you (in your context). We can garner hints and notions, sure—but there is no formula for success.
Success is ephemeral. Most of those who achieve conventional ‘success’ do not maintain it indefinitely. The phenomenally popular business book Good to Great (which still sells well today) highlights the elements that make for successful companies. The platitudes and pseudoscience of this book are mighty persuasive. The only problem is: the companies this book glorifies as successful have since mostly regressed back to the mean.
Success is fragile. Whenever we have finally ‘made it’ (and we never truly do)—we then have more to lose.
Success is finite. It marks an end-point to achievement. You won, game over.
Inevitably, Captain Obvious will merrily proclaim that ‘success is whatever you make it mean to be’.
They’d be right—and there’s much wisdom to be found in the disseminating of this.
But… it can also translate into a pathetically moot point. A kind of tepid ‘cop-out’ from it all.
Best ditch the word and the whole concept of success altogether, I say.
And if we were to seek an alternative concept to invest energy into, we would want to find something that both foils and transcends success. Something that hearkens to a more ‘infinite game’—where the purpose is not to win, but rather: to continue the play.¹ And we would want it to be appropriately open to interpretation, so that it can be imbibed with the wisdom and perspective we accumulate through life.
Ergo, I say: ‘meaningful progress’ is a better beacon to rally to.
- I’m directly quoting Finite and Infinite Games by James Carse here.
I’m on some fool quest to share 50 insights in 50 days. This is day 8. More at drjasonfox.com