What is True Success in Life and How to Achieve it?

The is no easy answer but we can say what it is not

Image credit: photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

What is success? This is possibly the most important question that one can ask. It is a question that answers to which will provide a guiding principle in life and determine our response to events. It will determine what we value and what we don’t value.

At this moment I don’t know what success is. But I know what it is not.

Over the last few years, I came across a lot of people who told me that the definition of success is “to be financially free”. When you further enquire into what it means, “to be financially free”, you hear responses such as “it means not being forced to work for money”, “it means doing what you love and have passion for it”, “it means being able to choose what to work on with no regards for money”.

OK, suppose we reach the goal of being “financially free” as per the explanations given above. This entails that we wouldn’t have to go out and work. What happens then? Well, we can decide on one of the two options. Either we decide to devote our remaining life to hedonism, seeking perpetual pleasure which we can afford since we’re “financially free”, or we decide to find a new meaningful goal to pursue. Of course, choosing a new goal doesn’t mean giving up on pleasure altogether, it only means that pleasure is not the primary focus of life but rather it exists to support our primary function of achieving whatever goal we may put ourselves.

Let’s assume we decide to pursue the path of seeking pleasure. Can we flourish in that condition? It is very innate to human beings to grow and develop. However what growth is there to be achieved by indulging in pleasure-seeking? Probably none. This thought reminds me of an experiment conducted on a mouse whereby the poor creature had an option of either eating cheese or pressing a button that results in the stimulation of pleasure centers in the mouse brain. What do you think happened? As far as I remember, most mice chose to press the button. Ultimately they died. This is the exact opposite of growth.

It is therefore possible to say that the first (purely hedonistic) choice is not a wise one. We are left with a second choice. That means that once we achieve our goal of financial freedom, we are in a position of setting ourselves a new meaningful goal. But doesn’t that mean we’re exactly at the same point where we were when we set ourselves a goal of financial freedom, except that we have a different goal? In that case what was the point of having financial freedom as a goal, if we are going to set a new goal anyway? We may just start with that goal anyway and put the whole notion of financial freedom aside. Moreover, the goal of financial freedom seems not to be a decent one to have as it has too much focus on the self rather than on the service of humanity and the addition of value.

So one thing I know for sure. I don’t know what success is but it is not about financial freedom, which people falsely imagine enabling some sort of eternal bliss. Having said that though, here I am not advocating being reckless from the financial point of view. By all means, it is important to be financially savvy and have at least a minimum level of financial education to, at least, be ready for the dark days. Having a meaningful goal and being financially aware are not mutually exclusive but rather they both should support each other. Just be wary of the shallow logic that says that once you have enough money to retire you’ll have a ticket to paradise.