05/27/2014 01:31 pm ET Updated Jul 27, 2014

What is Success?


As a kid, I was always told that "success" was measured quite clearly by the amount of money one makes. At least that was the significant barometer, because if you had money, it meant that you held a respectable job, had a big house and a nice car and could go out for fancy dinners. Maybe even have an expensive watch. I was taught, through observation, that these were the kinds of things to strive for in life, and that obtaining them would be the key to happiness. It seemed like a final destination, and if I could just manage to arrive in this mysterious place my worries and concerns would cease to exist. I had no idea that behind the veil of a "successful" appearance, for many people, there could be a mountain of turmoil and unhappiness.

There's no denying it: Money is a major motivation for a lot of what I do. I am always in pursuit of something higher, but my whole life, I've been so conditioned that money will probably always be part of the equation. At least some of it is necessary for survival. But I've found that once my basic needs are met and I've achieved relative financial stability, excessive wealth is somewhat irrelevant to my own happiness. No matter how much money I have, it's never enough, and it certainly does little to appease my fears and worries. If anything, the more money I'm making, the higher the stakes, the more room for failure and more anxiety. I have often found myself overworked, sleep deprived, neglecting my family and friends and tolerating a general state of unhappiness, all in pursuit of somebody else's version of "success".

If the commonly accepted measures of success don't work for me, then, how do I define it for myself? How do I know if I'm successful, according to my own standards?

It seems that one of the most important factors, more than money and things, is the ownership of my own time. It might just be the most crucial thing of all. I have to be free to pursue what I believe to be right, what I think is most important. In essence, it's the freedom to fulfill my life's purpose, whatever that may be. If somebody else is dictating how I spend my time, are their beliefs and goals in accordance with my own? Am I stuck in a hamster wheel? Spinning in an endless, cyclical system, working for somebody else's goals? Or am I following my own path and building something I can believe in? I don't necessarily always know what it is, ultimately, that I should be doing with my time, but having that freedom is essential in discovering that and serving to the best of my ability.

These days, success seems less like a final destination and more like an action or a journey. Am I helping others and doing something positive? Am I going through my day completing my to-do list mechanically and automatically, or am I being present and conscious and deliberate with my actions? Am I taking care of myself, getting enough sleep and staying healthy? (I have a tendency to neglect myself when I get into intense work mode). Did I make time for a few minutes of meditation? How am I handling conflicts with others? Am I working and spending my time with people who I care about and who inspire me? Am I engaged, and approaching things, with my full enthusiasm? Is my work creative and exciting to me, and am I enjoying it?

How I answer these questions at the end of each day determines my level of success. By breaking things down into small measures, it helps to identify what I can work on and allows for tangible and realistic improvements. In this way, "success" becomes less of an abstract. and impossible final destination, and more of an always attainable state of being in the present.