One step at a time.
It’s one of those words we hear so often. “Successful” is a status of sorts that most people, one way or another, are pursuing. But despite success being something highly sought, it’s a slippery term; it’s viewed as kind of a general status, really an abstract bucket of ambitions, goals, and dreams—but only for high-rollers.
We call some people successful and others unsuccessful, but the line between the two has no firm criteria. We can speak of success in monetary terms, but then past what threshold of net worth or income do we consider a person successful? If millionaires are successful, does that mean non-millionaires are unsuccessful? Or maybe you’ve got to be a billionaire. What about the ones who made it and lost everything? And the ones who got back up?
Or success can mean power, fame, or social standing. But where is the threshold, and, more importantly, what’s the ranking system? Does success have anything to do with rank in the first place?
A side effect of our ill-defined idea of success is that it has been taken out of its proper context and aggrandized by association with loads of zeroes, followers, or clout. When “success” means a certain net worth, status, or image, immediately some people are neutralized. The impossibility of reaching “success” in that sense can leave people obsessing over a fantasy and moving immediate goals to the back burner or not setting them in the first place. Or, worse yet, one can just achieve the image of success with money spent on the right brands—until next year.
The truth is that there is no objective line in the sand that welcomes one into the “successful” club. Success is subjective and has less to do with material standing and more to do with an individual’s ability to achieve their own goals, regardless of how big or small.
I’d say I was successful at fifteen. I wasn’t a prodigy, and I wasn’t particularly sure of what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go—success, whatever that meant, seemed so far away. But I knew it had to be gotten one step at a time. And then I experienced my first “big” success, and realized quickly that my only focus should be putting one foot in front of the other, leaving behind all the other noise—what peers thought, what society says, and what my own image of “making it” was from day to day. I realized success was not a singular point in space or time, but a constant, never-ending series of achieving goals I set for myself.
My first big success was getting hired at McDonald’s. And I didn’t get hired out of a vacuum either; I’d spent months (at least) biking every day to any establishment I could think of within a five-mile radius, handing in applications and following up. Out of hundreds of job applications I got one interview and no second call back. And then as a last resort, right before I was about to throw in the towel because nobody wants to hire kids, I tried the one place I didn’t want to work. The next day I got a call and scheduled my training.
I knew I was successful then. Not because I’d made millions or even gotten the job I really wanted, because I hadn’t. But I set a goal for myself and I achieved it. That was good enough for me. Success is not a singular point in space and time—it wasn’t long before I would set the next goal, and the next, and then the next. And, as I pursued each goal with everything I had, the next goals would manifest themselves clearly and in time the right doors would open. But it had to start with my willingness to face two things: a lot of unmet goals along the way and a commitment to pursue every tangible opportunity, no matter what.
It’s not about setting a high goal and one-shotting it. That’s a sure-fire way to give up before you even get started. It’s about setting realistic goals—things you think you can achieve that will improve the lives of you and your loved ones just that much more. I say “think” because without an element of uncertainty it’s not a goal, it’s a rest-stop. But without the uncertainty, without taking a chance and pushing through fear and the apathy induced by “identity” success, you will remain exactly where you are—with no one to blame.
Take enough chances and, while it might not be your fairy tale, you’ll find yourself successful now and again. And that’s a great reward that keeps you coming back for more. The people we consider successful for one reason or another have simply demonstrated a pattern of consistently achieving and then reaching again.
What’s frustrating though is that on a high level, all of that is fine and dandy. In real life, each step of the way is hard, and every day brings its challenges. Well, that’s true, and it’s true for every single person alive. Everything takes work and sacrificing immediate comforts for a future reward. But that’s what goals are for—why pursue something better if your life is perfect?
Forget the flashy lights and name dropping. Focus on yourself and your own goals formed by your own needs, because if you don’t, who is? I can assure you anyone who suggests you outsource that responsibility is a con artist.
Success is about you and your own goals, regardless of how big or small.
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