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City University of Hong Kong

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What is your definition of personal success?

There is tremenduous need in today's world to "be successful." But what does that really mean? And who is really successful? How does failure affect our sucess? And how a failure can be a milestone in your personal life?

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    Jun 27 2011: 'To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.'
    Ralph Waldo Emerson
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    Jun 26 2011: Doing what you really want to do, maintaining a balance between necessities and luxuries as well as work and time with loved ones and helping alter the lives of others without the expectation of seeing it yourself.
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    Jun 30 2011: I think that my definition of success would be that if you can wake up in the morning and love your life, that you have achieved success.
  • Josh S

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    Jun 28 2011: To answer your first question, I believe success can come at both a personal level (private life, professional life) and a level which consists of how one impacts the world around them. Success at either of this levels can be enough to lead a fulfilling life but I have full admiration for those who expand their personal successes and reach for success in their interactions with the wider world. Personal successes could be raising a happy family, achieving goals such as visiting the places you've always wanted to visit, building your personal skill set, etc.

    Professional goals to me would include building wealth, gaining a position at a company you've always wanted to work at, marching up the "ladder" of the company you are currently at, etc.

    Success in one's interactions with the wider world, to me, includes things like philanthropic pursuits or simply giving your time and personal labor towards helping people or the natural world around you.

    I think failure affects our success greatly. For some, failure is unfortunately a hurdle that they prefer not to jump over. They hit a barrier and prefer to stay on the "safe" side of that barrier rather than risk further failure. However, for others failure represents a chance to step back and evaluate themselves in order to push past the barrier on to bigger and better things.
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    Jun 26 2011: I would define personal success as developing one's gifts and potential to respond to opportunities to improve the lives of others and our world. In short, to love well.
  • Jun 26 2011: My definition of Personal Success is = the ability to remain happy, peaceful and unperturbed
    in any given unfavorable situation/environment/ incident/event.
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      Jun 28 2011: I would have to disagree, how is one supposed to remain continually happy during every unfavorable incident? Do successful people not grieve at the loss of a loved one? I agree that a general positive, happy disposition is the root of success, but without being down, we would not be able to to recognize what feel good. There would be no happiness without sadness, no peace without violence, etc...
      • Jun 29 2011: Hi Mike, if I may reiterate. I'm referring to my own goal on personal success and not referring to successful people. I know the norm that we do grieve at the loss of a loved one but it would be a personal success (at least, for me) if one does not have to suffer in grieving at the loss of a loved one, by understanding and accepting the natural law of birth, death and sickness realistically. By happy I do not mean laughing or being insensitive/ not compassionate, but being calm and not being stirred up by unhappiness or sadness /sorrow over an unfavorable situation that we have no control over or over a past event or anything subjected to the law of natural occurrences. I'm saying this from my own personal experience when I grieved at the loss of my brother. It is for one's personal well-being and welfare over drowning in sorrow causing more emotional sufferings detrimental to oneself and others. JMO :)
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          Jun 30 2011: I am sorry for the loss of your brother, Carole. I think you made an important point that happiness is not pain free. If we accept and do not resist pain it either passes (emotional pain) or becomes part of the background (physical pain). I have had chronic pain for almost 20 years and work with people who are suffering. It is possible to be at peace while experiencing physical pain and while feeling sad, and hurt. Physical and emotional pain are part of life. In order to be truly happy, we need to experience life as a whole package.

          Resisting pain builds tension which actually increases pain. When tension builds, we focus more narrowly on what’s wrong in our lives which further increases tension setting off a self-escalating process. It sounds like you were able to separate thought from emotion in your grieving. Allowing emotions to run their natural course while letting go of patterns of thinking that feed them transforms mourning into an experience that deepens our capacity to appreciate the fullness of life. “To wound the heart is to create it” (author unknown, at least by me)
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        Jul 1 2011: QUOTE: " ... how is one supposed to remain continually happy during every unfavorable incident?"

        By not making happiness a consequence of circumstance.


        QUOTE: "Do successful people not grieve at the loss of a loved one?"

        Certainly. And although this sounds counter-intuitive, it is possible to grieve and be happy at the same time. [I am speaking from experience so it has happened - at least once.]

        QUOTE: "... without being down, we would not be able to to recognize what feel good."

        I disagree. Happiness is not the absence of sadness. It is possible to experience happiness without ever experiencing, well, anything else. Just as peace is not the absence of war and we can experience peace without ever experiencing war.
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    Jun 26 2011: Happiness.
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    Jul 7 2011: I believe Bob Dylan put it well, "A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do."

    For most people, what you want to "do" is reach some goal, and the goal can really be anything. To add to Bob Dylan, I would say success is being conscious of your goal, being conscious of the steps to reach that goal, and applying focus and attention to each one of those steps.

    Now, I see a trend upon the comments that success is happiness, but how do we achieve happiness? And the answer is focus. Your life is the sum of what you focus on. If you can skillfully manage your attention toward your goal, you will find happiness and fulfillment. That is my definition of personal success.

    Live the focused life.
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    Jul 1 2011: Hi Elohim,

    You say, "It is difficult to achieve happiness."

    I would have to agree with you. Not because that conforms to my personal experience but because I have heard it from so many people.

    Apparently, some of us are predisposed to experience happiness more readily than others. That is, some of our brains are wired in such a way that they tend to generate feelings of happiness more than other brains do. And some brains, seem to be wired so that happiness is an unlikely experience (we call that "mental illness.")

    Regardless of our individual base-state, I think our ability to feel happy is affected by our expectations. I also think it is affected by our ability to make distinctions.

    For example, we can make distinctions between success in life and success in business; or success in love and success in math. And so on.

    One of my foundational definitions of success is: "breathing." (I am not kidding.)

    As long as I am breathing, I am a success.

    Everything else is "extra."

    Now, I have found that I can be breathing and happy; and I can be breathing and sad.

    I prefer the former so I usually offer "happiness" as my definition of success. It's easy to understand and most people "get it."

    However, if I had to choose between being sad and breathing and being happy and NOT breathing (if that were possible), I would pick sad and breathing - every time.

    There is a 1975 French movie called "Cousin Cousine," in 1989, it was remade, in English, and called "Cousins."

    In the English version, the lead character's father is talking about his son; his son, played by Ted Danson, is a dance instructor and has never amounted to anything, meaning he has never had a successful career or made much money but he is happy - his dad says something like: "My son is a failure at everything, except life."

    That sounds like a success to me.
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        Jul 6 2011: QUOTE: "So you say, he loves his profession and with that he is happy."

        I don't remember all the details of the movie so I am not sure if he loved his profession or not. I think the point was, he loved life and so it didn't really matter what he was doing as a profession. He would have "loved" anything.

        QUOTE: "So if we find our true passion will we be happy? no matter what happens ... What do you think of this?"

        I think there is some truth to this. But it depends how you define "true passion."

        If you have read any of my posts, maybe here or in other threads, you will notice a "theme" - I do not think the secret to success lies on the outside. I think it is an internal affair.

        "Loving life" sums it up as well as lots of other phrases might.
  • Jun 30 2011: I agree with Subu.... Figure out your purpose in life and furfill it to the best of your ability!
    What a wonderful way to heal the world.
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      Jun 30 2011: Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it. – Buddha
  • Jun 29 2011: Balance!
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      Jun 30 2011: Excellent point, simply stated.

      Without balance we will neither see nor realize personal success.

      When we restore and maintain mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual balance, we are more able to see gifts, limitations, opportunities, and obstacles in order to discern and navigate a path to personal success.
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        Jun 30 2011: QUOTE: [Balance] Excellent point, simply stated.

        Just to "play the other side of the argument" - I am a BIG fan of imbalance.

        I think we should should live a completely imbalanced life and embrace happiness while we eschew sadness.

        Enjoy, appreciate and feel gratitude and not balance them with sorrow, criticism, or diminution.

        Of course, if balance helps us reach imbalance ... I'm all for it!
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          Jun 30 2011: Let me clarify what balance means to me: Physical balance is the absence of tension (literal balance between opposing muscle groups). It is a state of health that includes balance regarding food, rest, and activity. Mental balance is seeing clearly, (viewing the world through a large frame, clear filter with flexible focus) and being able to redirect thoughts that build tension or restrict vision. Emotional balance is being open to the experience of emotion without resistance, while not feeding or recycling them through negative thinking. Spiritual balance is having an open heart, filled with compassion, hope, responsibility, and humility.

          All of these aspects of balance allow us to more fully embrace happiness. Eschewing sadness tends to build emotional tension which, in my experience, leads to depression.

          Please clarify what you mean by "imbalance." I look forward to continuing the discussion.
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        Jul 1 2011: Hi Bob,

        Of course, I am playing a bit of a word game and surreptitiously "shifting contexts." And, as you point out, "balance" can be applied and practiced in many arenas or contexts in our lives.

        And I do agree that, in many contexts, balance is important. However, I do not think there is a "formula" or "equation" for success (which I define as happiness.)

        That is, we cannot, say, balance our social responsibilities with our "heart's desire" and expect to find success as a result.

        Many people who we call "successful" have been anything but balanced. Many have been obsessed. Think of successful people from any field and I do not think we would call many of them balanced. Newton? Einstein? Gandhi? Bill Gates? Christ? Buddha? Beethoven? Dylan? C.S Lewis? Da Vinci? Zheng He? Arjun? Bob Van Oosterhout? [I'm not sure about that last one.]

        Children do not practice nor do they seek "balance" and yet they are, by my definition, successful. They are happy. Unless, of course, they are not and then they embrace their unhappiness, experience it fully, and thereby "eschew" it. They embrace it, consume it, and spit it out. Why? - So they can get back to the serious business of having fun. [And I don't actually think there is a "why" floating around within their lovely, undeveloped little brains. That's just what they "do."]

        Adults, on the other hand, [well some adults I have known, at any rate] often embrace sadness as a badge. They define themselves by their unhappiness.

        So, yes, I agree balance is a good thing - particularly within many of the contexts you have identified -but I do not agree that balance should be seen as a formula for happiness or success.
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          Jul 1 2011: Hi Thomas,
          Your “shifting context” for balance threw me off balance. If I extend your definition, I would have to balance being in balance with being out of balance. But then, I would not be in balance while I was out of balance in my attempt to balance balance.

          This is starting to make me crazy (does that mean I’m mentally unbalanced?)

          I give up, you win!


          Seriously, I appreciate your challenge to my use of the term, balance. It is such an integral part of my work that I don’t stop to think about other ways the word could be applied.
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        Jul 2 2011: QUOTE: "Seriously, I appreciate your challenge to my use of the term, balance. It is such an integral part of my work that I don’t stop to think about other ways the word could be applied."

        My pleasure. Thanks for the opportunity of the exchange.

        I play little thought experiments. One of them is asking myself "What would I like the 'outcome' of _____ to be?" [Fill in the blank.]

        Then I ask myself if I could, would I like to achieve the outcome without the "_____." (For example, living a "balanced" life.)

        If the answer is, "Yes," I place the "outcome" before "_____." [Fill in the blank.]

        I do the same thing when I read other people's ideas. (That's how I "secretly" shift contexts.)
        • Jul 7 2011: Thomas, while I appreciate your comments, it is interesting to me that your profile wears a business suit and tie. I really believe that you have the right frame of mind. I'm just wondering if you are doing what you really, really want to be doing.
          Your thoughts of success (on this page) don't mimick your idea of success in words.
          Not saying, just saying......
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        Jul 3 2011: Hi Bob,

        I think you'll like this talk [mentioned above]:

        http://www.ted.com/talks/alain_de_botton_a_kinder_gentler_philosophy_of_success.html

        Have you watched it yet?
  • Jun 28 2011: To do what like.Especially the thing that you believe(don't care if it can come true or not) will change you and the world.
  • Gord G 50+

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    Jun 28 2011: Success is a value judgement that impedes progress.
  • Jun 28 2011: That depends on what kind of "success" are you talking about. For some people, success means to be whealthy, or to reach certain goals before certain age, being famous, master a certain skill, etc. These are esterotyped ideas about success, and are most of the time related to something personal and egoistic (I did it, I made it, I am successful, I, Me, Yo, etc).

    But there is another kind of success, which I think it is the real success, which is to get to the realization that no matter how frustrating and painful your experiences may be, you will still working and living, doing whatsoever you have to do, knowing that sooner or later you will be successful, and if not you, someone after you. For example: an art student tries to master a certain skill, and he tries a few times, with no result, and then he quits. Another art student does the same, but he tries a million times until he achieves. He (the latter) is successful not because he has aquired the skill, but because he knew from the very beginning that he was capable of doing it, and he knows that he is capable of much more. And to extend this thought to humanity is being even more successful, because you know that is not your personal affaire to get the thing done, is not only your desire, is the desire of many, many people trough many generations, so you may not reach your personal success, but you will help the process, specially if your share your findings with others. Some other artist in the future will continue the work of the previous one, and so on, and art will not die with the artist. In this sense, each success contains a million failures behind.

    And the phony success that is being sold to us, with the facade of money, power, and personal reward is no more than a ghost. How can you be successful on your own when you depend so much on others?
  • Jun 26 2011: Success has different meanings for different people of different culture at different points of time.
    To find a common denominator & define is an arduous task. Different people equate success differently.Some equate it with enhanced wealth, some with enhanced power/influence, some in accomplishing of goals,etc....the list can go on ,but to generalize it is accomplishment of the desire taking you to a higher level. It keeps on evolving/changing as your desires change and with changed priorities your definitions change.Look back and you will realize what success for you as a five year old was may not be of any relevance today...so we all are successful if we are happy and at peace with self.
    It is said Failure is the stepping stone to success, and it right. It teaches us not what to do if we want to succeed.its a learning and at times,puts us back to the starting point but then it gives the opportunity to reflect and move ahead. We should not give too much importance to failure. It is only an event which leaves a bad taste,but we have the ability to respond the way we want to keep on thinking about the bad taste or move ahead and work for the future.
    One cannot do anything to what has happened but can work for the future.
    Having stated all I want to say that very few think success is conquering one self.....ability to be thoughtless and be a peace with one self away from the whirlpool of emotions, and being happy.
    So let us enjoy and be happy !!!! Happiness brings success rather than success happiness.
  • Jun 26 2011: when we are useful to other people
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    Jun 26 2011: reaching and maintaining work-life balance
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    Jun 26 2011: Success is the word oposite of faliur , as we know "faliur is the pilar of success ", this sentence is applicable every where . Wht ever be the situation when u get success in that u feel happy and i felt happy very happy when i learnt to ride bicycle in my childhood and honestly speaking the tremendous need of todays world to be sucessful is money and talent . so both the things coinside wid each other. if one has money and talent then he will be the sucessful person .
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    Jul 11 2011: Failure, if you learn from it is an asset if you ignore it or miss it, it is the premonition of another related mistake unless you are lucky in your next related experience. Experience in every form is nothing more than sensory input, if you don't process the data it doesn't serve any purpose. I think accumulation and processing of data thus creating further data (output) is the sole engine of this universe or should i say Raison d'être. If you ignore what you see, you'll fail, if you see(read) what you look at and comprehend it you'll survive, if you 'further take a lesson from'(process) what you see using your brain(processor) you'll succeed. Failure is simply failure, as long as you can get over it, it is only an experience yet repeating mistakes sooner or later leads to extinction, survival is to get by in an everchanging enviroment, it is the natural evolution slow and steady, to succeed means you've find ways to deal with your enviroment namely you've conciously evolved. One can think about survival, evolution or extinction in their literal meanings in above example though if one(concious being with cognitive intelligence) uses it's thalamus or similar hardware that one can see above example applies to every aspect of existence. Sorry for my weird comp.freak explanation, even though i am more interested in philosophy than computers, my half assed education and my career warped my use of language. I hope you find it helpful.
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    Jul 7 2011: QUOTE: "... it is interesting to me that your profile wears a business suit and tie...I'm just wondering if you are doing what you really, really want to be doing. ... "

    Hi Mary,

    Thanks for your comment.

    I could probably be the "poster boy" for people who do what they really, really want to do.

    Unless I have too, I never do anything for money that I wouldn't do for free.

    What that means is if I HAVE TO take a job to earn money to support myself and my family, I might take a job doing something that I wouldn't otherwise do.

    Fortunately, I have been in a position that I have not HAD TO work for money for about 30 years.

    That does not mean I do not work for money.

    I do.

    Sometimes.

    When I want to.

    QUOTE: "Your thoughts of success (on this page) don't mimick your idea of success in words."

    I'm not sure what this means.



    PS What I really, really want to do I can do whether I am making money or not. So I can do what I want (no matter what is going on in my life financially) and I do not have to do anything I do not want to do (simply to make an income.) It's a good gig, if you can get it.
  • Jul 1 2011: Success is the sudden realization that your momentary existence in this world wants for nothing more but what you have achieved already and is sufficed with the process of growth you have chosen to follow intellectually, spiritually and physically even if you are yet a long way from reaching your goals
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    Jun 30 2011: In my humble opinion succes is the thing one recieves on the road to a goal. In my (young) life I have only found succes when I was reaching out for something else. Because of that I think that succes is the feeling that one gets when he realises how great an achievement was. In a way succes is nothing more than a form of nostalgia.

    In another way succes is achieving the goals you set for yourself. Although when I finally reach one of my goals I only feel relieved or ecstatic for a couple of minutes. Other people talk about a succes but I'm just focused on the next goal (or finding one). So I would say that a succesful person is focused on the tasks at hand and not (or less) at how big the feat was.

    As a concusion I daresay that at your succesful moments you are simply too focused (or relieved) to notice the scale of the succes. The only moments you can really feel succesful is afterwards. So you either achieve personal succes or you remember being succesful.
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    Jun 30 2011: What I find most interesting is how we are judged not buy our own definition of personal success, but by the judges definition of personal success.
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    Jun 30 2011: Depends on one's personal objective to achieve.......

    For me being able to engaged in bring positive outcome from things or acts I am passionate about.
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    Jun 30 2011: Once you identify your destiny and align your actions towards reaching the same, you achieve ultimate success. You may call it "Karma" or by any other name. This also ensures you are creating a minimum entropy situation that adds to the stability of the whole universe.
  • Jun 30 2011: Do what you love and be able to meet your material needs with it.
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    Jun 29 2011: Some others have said something similar and it may sound kinda lame, but I believe personal success is personal happiness. Only you can really determine if you are successful because it is your life and your opinion should be the only one that matters. If you can go to sleep at night feeling that you are happy with your life at this point then you are successful in my book.
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    Jun 28 2011: success is a first step to reach your destination.
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    Jun 28 2011: Eudaimonia is my personal success! It's about things that make me happy. Even at this time of crisis.
    And it's relevant to anyone in crisis... http://bit.ly/iBaBCa
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      Jun 28 2011: "Eudaimonia means literally “the state of having a good indwelling spirit, a good genius."

      (I had to look it up.)