The concept of success is a central aspect of our lives and is one of the key factors that guides our behaviour, shapes our views on the world and also heavily influences our well-being. We act in certain ways, as we believe that this behaviour leads us to outcomes that would make us feel accomplished. The reason why people behave differently is because they value things in different ways. Therefore, people also shape their actions in ways that reflect those priorities. Because of that we are able to make certain assumptions on a person’s character. In principle, we could end the discussion here, saying that whether a person is successful or not is heavily dependent on the preferences and views of each individual, but that is not the whole story. In fact, that is not even a tiny bit of the story.

The Main Measure: You

By nature, success is a dependent and relational concept. We will always need to put something or somebody into context with other things and persons, in order to make an assessment on the level of success. Success cannot exist on its own. A sign of a strong character is that the measure of success is not tied to an external point of reference, but to factors within oneself. Those people evaluate the success of their actions, inactions, thoughts and feelings in relation to what they intrinsically believe is honourable, desirable and valuable. In other words, a person with a strong character does not compare herself with other people to make an assessment on her own success. The reason why this approach to success is of higher quality, than to compare oneself with other people, is that success is benchmarked against reference points that hold intrinsic meaning to the person. Comparing oneself to others, in order to evaluate whether oneself is successful, would implicitly mean that the other’s norms, values and principles are of higher value than the own. It means that one undermines the own ability to form a meaningful framework of norms and values for one’s own life. In order to fill that gap, one relies on the normative views from other people. It is needless to say that a person with a strong character would very well be able to build such a framework on her own. It can be reasonably assumed that a strong character’s main precondition is that a person knows herself very well and, hence, gains clarity about her preferences, desires, norms and values and can shape meaningful principles around those. So, it can be summarised that a person with a strong character knows herself well, which enables her to be reflective about her prioritised norms and values. This, in turn, takes away the need to rely on what others think are desirable norms and values. Accordingly, those people only evaluate their success in the light of how coherent the own actions, inactions, thoughts and feelings are with own norms and values. This puts them ahead of people who compare themselves with others. It follows that it is a success in its own right to develop a strong character, in order to build a tailored normative framework through being reflective about ourselves. But there is more.

A Whole New Level

Above, we found out that the person-to-person comparison is the lowest form of measuring success. The person-to-self comparison is of much higher value and indicates that the person has a stronger character compared to people from the first level. However, there is a third level, which is the highest among all: the person-to-being comparison. This comparison is derived from the notion of societal progress. Now, those of you who closely follow Essydo Magazine’s articles are certainly already familiar with it. Societal progress (or societal advance) is defined as the production of genuine knowledge. This special form of knowledge production is very special, in that it is the sole factor that can advance us as a species. Everything in the history of our species that put us one step forward was the result of the production of genuine knowledge. Although it might intuitively sound like it, this form of knowledge production is not confined to technological achievements or scientific achievements in general, but also encompasses concepts like arts, music, sports, philosophy, friendship, love, politics and compassion. Putting genuine dedication in the advancement of these areas is the only way we can actively add as individuals to the progress of our species. A singer who is dedicated to her craft with all her heart is going to create work that is unique and bears a genuine beauty, which adds to the pool of useful knowledge of humanity and, thus, adding to societal progress. The same holds true for politicians, architects, authors, scientists and generals. Our history books are filled with those people.

The third form of success is based on this principle of societal progress. It is called person-to-being comparison, as this is the single most – if not only – core meaning of our existence as humans. So, people who compare their actions, inactions, thoughts and feelings to the principles that fall under the concept of societal progress are the most successful people. They reflect themselves in the universal understanding of wisdom and beauty. Naturally, this creates a high standard, which they feel obliged to adhere to and strive to conform with it. This attempt to live in accordance with these standards is already more honourable than any other person from the previous two levels of success. For example, when we think about Vincent van Gogh, who many would argue lived a miserable life, riddled by poverty and depression, we can surely say that the majority of people in his time lived a more convenient life than him. Certainly, we can not know what his inner relationship with himself was, but based on his mental illnesses, depressive state of mind and eventual suicide, we can assume that he was most likely very unhappy with himself. However, his genuine dedication to his craft is was sets him levels above anyone else, although he probably never knew about it.

Tips for Success

When reading works like this, people naturally tend to apply the read to themselves and immediately try to categorise themselves. You probably did it, too! The main conclusion that one should draw from this view on success is that there is a concept of ‘good’ that exists independently from our perceptions. The only way to connect to it is through finding the craft that our deepest level of self is genuinely committed to. Obviously, this requires a great deal of work. First and foremost, it requires an honest discourse with oneself. This will reveal what we are made for. Once you start working on it, you will find out what you are made of. If you benchmark you actions, inactions, thoughts and feelings against the greater essence of being, namely genuine knowledge production, then – and only then – you are truly successful.