06/26/2013 05:30 pm ET Updated Aug 26, 2013

Defining Success


Living in Silicon Valley, sometimes it's incredibly obnoxious how surrounded we are by successful and ambitious entrepreneurs and engineers. You can't sneeze in downtown Mountain View without spraying at least one Google, Facebook or LinkedIn employee with a few particles of your plebeian phlegm.

If I had a nickel for every time I sat at a cafe downtown and overheard a couple of guys no older than me discussing their latest project for their hot new startup that'll make Microsoft look like children's play, I'd have enough money to fund my own hot new startup that would totally make their startup look like a preschooler's lemonade stand on a winter evening in Winnipeg.

Honestly, hearing these conversations makes me alternate between feeling intensely motivated to succeed, and wanting to kill myself. Given all the opportunities life has presented me with, I'll be pretty pissed if I blow it. I kind of owe it to the world to give back.

Hearing about other people's stories of wild success also makes all my small accomplishments seem so inconsequential. I've created a post that reached the front page of Buzzfeed with over 75,000 hits, and another couple that have gotten to the front of Reddit with even more views. My personal website has finally gotten over 10,000 unique visits in spite of being incomplete and in the past couple weeks I've gotten several articles published with Huffington Post.

But in most of these cases, reaching each goal was pretty anticlimactic. The only accomplishment that was particularly exhilarating was getting published in HuffPost for the first time, until readers quickly took a crap all over my story and assaulted me with negative comments. I found that the excitement of having reached a goal wears off relatively quickly, and I'm usually left feeling empty and thinking, "Now what do I do?" while basking in the dull light of my own mediocrity.

I imagine people experience similar emotions when they start earning a lot of money, or accomplish something they never thought they could have done. Or maybe that's just me, and I have low self-esteem. But I don't think being "successful" will really affect my happiness unless I feel it adds some value to the world or has some positive influence on other people. I'd rather work the job of my dreams for minimum wage than punch numbers into an Excel sheet full-time for a six-figure salary. I'll just probably have to marry rich.

I think the secret of success is to always be learning, always be developing yourself, always try new things and always bring yourself outside your comfort zone. Thank goodness whenever I'm in need of a more eloquent and thoughtful way to turn a phrase, Emerson is always there to help:

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.