According to Merriam-Webster, success is a degree or measure of succeeding, a favourable or desired outcome, or the attainment of wealth, favour, or eminence. It is safe to assume that societal ideas regarding success mirror this definition — attaining one’s goals and getting the praise and recognition for it. If you ask me, however, success is something a bit more personal than that.
2020 has challenged a lot of my perceptions about life, as I’m sure it did for a lot of people. As everyone’s lives have come to a grinding halt, I realized that success is all about what someone does when no one is watching. If I have to summarise success in three words, it will be:
Focus — Keeping Your Head Straight In a Storm
Studies have proven that focus and willpower are limited resources. All of us (some more than others, of course) are currently existing under a constant threat: an illness that could put us, and others in danger. A lot of us are living unregimented daily lives as well. Workstations encroach on living spaces as personal time blurs into work schedules. Nothing feels normal, and every goal feels strangely monolithic.
If you’ve managed to deliver what’s asked of you (by your work, your family, and yourself) in spite of this pandemic, that is a success that should be celebrated. One’s ability to focus, and to work quietly, as hard as they can, in spite of the anxieties and the adversities — that is a mark of a successful person.
Optimism — The Willingness to Persist
The world seems to be falling apart. People are becoming more and more distrustful of establishments, and of each other. The future seems bleak. It’s unsurprising that a lot of people are now harbouring a “what’s the point?” attitude about everything.
While I do agree that things are really bad the entire world over, there are still things to look forward to. I don’t mean this in a toxic-positive type of way: I acknowledge that the systems that we’re in right now are unfair in a lot of ways, and a lot of people are suffering because of it.
Optimism is directly staring at the bleakness of life and deciding to persist anyway.
Persistence is what makes the difference. It’s knowing that the world is broken in a lot of ways, and thinking about what you can do to make things a little bit better. While everyone says “what’s the point”, a successful person says, “how can I help?
That is the attitude that defines success. No fanfare, not a lot of demonstration, just pure, unrelenting mettle.
Integrity — What Do You Do When No One’s Watching?
When it comes to integrity, it’s a little more straightforward: you either have it or you don’t (at least in fortunate societies like Australia.) One of the side effects of living in the internet age is the fact that social media likes and comments are now a legitimate reason for a person to do anything. The effect is at a neurological level: the regions of our brains associated with reward light up when we receive a like or a comment.
Integrity is living according to your morals and values, while you’re alone. Especially when you’re alone.
Integrity ties all these three characteristics together. Successful people have to have all these three when no one is watching. It’s easier to be the best we can be when people are around, and our egos are boosting us. It’s when things are seemingly hopeless that we are truly tested.
This pandemic has challenged everyone, and when I look around me, I see people who, in spite of being in challenging situations themselves, still find the time and the effort to help other people. I see people facing hardships with unbelievable grace, humility, and modesty. In my opinion, these people are the real champions, and theirs are the real success stories.
2020 is probably one of the hardest years in recent history, but it also allows us to see our fellow human beings in a different light. This year has gifted me with a new outlook, and a new goal to strive for.
With all this being said, it’s important to ask ourselves, “Will I maintain my optimism? Will I be as persistent as I used to be?”
The answer to those definitive questions are yours… and yours alone.
What new realizations and outlook has this year given you? I’d love to hear them. Share your thoughts in the comments.